Members of the National Education Union (NEU) at Havering Sixth Form College were on strike today (December 10) citing Covid-19 safety concerns.

The union says it has been trying to resolve the issues with CEO of the New City College group, Gerry McDonald, but they have not managed to reach an agreement.

John Delaney, Havering and Redbridge NEU district secretary, said: “Our members at the college have serious safety concerns."

Principal of Havering College, Paul Wakeling responded: "We are disappointed that a minority of teaching staff at our Wingletye Lane campus have voted to take industrial action. The college will remain open on this day and all students who are timetabled to attend lessons should do so.

"We are further disappointed about the claims made by the NEU in relation to this strike. The union representative quoted in their press release does not work at the college and is clearly unaware of the facts about the college environment, Covid-safety actions, and the CEO's ongoing engagement with unions."

Mr Delaney claimed: "Management have refused to carry out site specific risk assessments and won’t agree to 50 per cent of classes being taught online. Members want this to reduce numbers in college to safe levels given the high rates of infection in Havering.

"The site is small for the numbers of students and there are continuing issues with mask wearing and lack of social distancing. The college need to engage with us not stick their fingers in their ears.”

Mr Delaney claims that there are 2,300 students at the sixth form who are all in the same “bubble” and says the college "refuses to talk to the union."

The college says Mr McDonald and other senior managers continue to meet with union representatives weekly, specifically about the college's Covid response and says the college’s management has repeatedly requested the NEU to reconsider its dispute and re-join these discussions.

Mr Wakeling added that the government expects that colleges should stay open and provide the majority of teaching face to face.

He said the college has undertaken many actions to ensure a safe teaching and learning environment such as a thorough risk assessment, which is regularly reviewed , additional reinforcement of risk assessment controls, regular contact with public health authorities, effective track and trace, increased security staff to help to enforce mask wearing and other Covid-appropriate behaviour.

He said it also had specific arrangements with some staff to work from home, encourages students to attend college only for their lessons and to go home once they are finished and blended learning arrangements for hundreds of students in order to reduce footfall on campus.