June 9th 2016 – we received a letter from Ivy House School, informing us that there may be strike action as early as next week, due to an Equal Pay Review dispute.
The following day we received a further letter, stating that Unison would be taking industrial action and had planned a full one day strike on June 16th . The letter went on to say, the decision to close a school or send pupils home is never taken lightly, but where staff have elected to take lawful industrial action, I will have no choice but to take appropriate steps to ensure the health, safety and well-being of all pupils.
June 14th – another letter came back from Ivy House School informing us of industrial action on June 16th, but also informed us that Unison had planned additional strike action starting on June 20th. It seemed Unison wanted to cause as much disruption as possible and planned to take children out of school at midday over the course of a 5 day period.
The planned strike action would cause us a lot of problems, taking Harriet from Spondon to Ivy House School in Littleover, is a 30 minute drive and to then have to come back just over 2 hours later seemed complete madness. We knew Harriet loved going to Ivy House School and that this was about us keeping Harriet stimulated and happy, giving her the best quality of life possible.
The letters from school kept coming throughout the months of June, July, September, October and December of 2016, it seemed as though Unison and Derby City Council, were just unable to resolve this dispute.
It has been extremely hard to look after Harriet on a 24 hour, 7 day a week cycle, since the school strikes had started, having no respite from providing the round the clock care that she needed was now starting to take a toll on our health, especially that of my wife Lesley.
Harriet`s complex medical condition meant that she needed a significant amount of care and attention, in order to keep her alive, safe, well and stimulated.
Someone has to be with Harriet at all times, she requires a lot of suction from her tracheostomy and mouth, in order to keep her safe. During the day and night, there is a 4 hourly medicine plan, which has to be followed, again to keep Harriet safe and well.
We sometimes hook Harriet up to her saturation monitor in the day, but she is always hooked up to this during the night, which will wake Lesley should Harriet need suction or be having a life threatening seizure.
Harriet has a movement plan throughout the day and has to be turned every 2 hours at night. She also requires at least 2 sessions a day of physiotherapy, as she becomes extremely stiff, which in turn causes her a lot of pain and discomfort.
In the morning it takes about 40 minutes to do Harriet`s cares, before she is put into her standing frame, where she also receives a nebulizer. At night it takes about the same amount of time to get Harriet bathed and ready for bed, depending on whether she needs a tracheostomy change.
It is also important to note that Harriet needs constant stimulation throughout the day and into the early hours of the night, in order to keep her mind active and functioning.
All the above is Harriet when she is well, but when she gets poorly, this can become unbearable and extremely stressful and hard to manage.
Harriet`s condition becomes a lot worse in the winter months due to extreme respiratory complications that are triggered by the cold weather and potential viruses.
In late November 2016, Harriet was admitted to the Dolphin High Dependency Unit, at the Derby Royal Hospital, due to severe life threatening respiratory problems.
Harriet had to stay in hospital for 4 days while the consultants looked to correct her work of breathing and respiratory problems with Magnesium infusions and nebulizers. Doctors and nurses had to provide round the clock medical care for not only her respiratory problems, but also her daily medicines and care needs.
Harriet was released from hospital in a stable but poorly condition, which stayed the same for another 2 weeks, she needed regular oxygen, nebulizers and round the clock care, to keep her safe and avoid her being readmitted to hospital.
Having other children meant that we had to try and split our time, I would look after our other children and Lesley would look after Harriet.
I could see that Lesley was mentally and physically exhausted, but there was nothing I could do, we simply had no support or help in place around us, since the strikes came into place.
Lesley continued to do her best during the school strike days, to make sure that Harriet was as stimulated and as happy as she could be during the day, but she was also mindful that she was not a teacher or teaching assistant and was now feeling burnt out.
The stories of children and families affected by the school strikes, continued to be featured in the Derby Evening Telegraph, but there still seemed no breakthrough in talks between Derby City Council and Unison.
January 2017 – The strike letters continued to come on a now weekly basis and sometimes daily basis, as did the misery of the strike action, a total of 13 days were effected in this month alone, which was now having a devastating effect on Harriet and my wife.
Harriet had now been off school for 39 days and it showed, she looked very despondent and lifeless at times, she would not interact in the same way she would of if she had been to Ivy House School, but there was nothing we could do about it.
Lesley and I felt we were letting Harriet down, but we also had to realistic that neither of us were getting the sleep we needed to look after her and there is only so much we could physically and mentally do without sleep and respite, which was provided by Ivy House School during the day.
Over the course of the strike action a lot of parents from Harriet`s school and schools that were being effected by the strikes, went to the Derby City Council House, to offer their support to the Teaching Assistants.
We would have liked to have shown our support at the Council House, but Harriet is an extremely vulnerable little girl, that requires a significant amount of care to simply keep her alive and she would not have coped in that environment.
I wanted to do something to try and help the Teaching assistants get back their pay, as this would mean Harriet and children effected by the strikes, could return to Ivy House School. I contacted the Derby Evening Telegraph and talked to the reporter that had been covering the strikes in depth about the problems the strikes were having on Harriet.
A few days later a story appeared in the Derby Evening Telegraph, the headline was - Dad's plea to Derby City Council to stop school strikes as his 'daughter needs teaching assistants' which can be read HERE .
After reading my own story in the paper, it really dawned on me how miserable and helpless we all were and knew this could go on for some time, without being resolved. I kept telling myself that this was just a bad dream and that it would be over soon, it had to be for all our sakes.
February 2017 – The strike letters from Ivy House School, were still coming, but the strike action seemed to have calmed down for most of the month and did not really start to gather any sort of momentum until the last week in February.
February 20thth, we received a letter from the school to say that Unison has informed the authority of strike action from February 27th, through to March 3rd. The letter was quite depressing and was now really starting to makes us both feel quite depressed and stressed out, but all we could do was carry on and hope this would be resolved soon.
February 21st – Today I spoke to a solicitor about the devastating effects the strike action was having on Harriet`s wellbeing and how this was also causing a lot of problems for my wife, as she was effectively not getting any respite. I also highlighted the fact that there were 83 other children at Harriet`s school that were also being effected and wanted to try and help them also.
Harriet is now being represented by a solicitor.
Ivy House School is now effectively closed most of the time and there simply is no school, we started to get most of our updates through text messages from the school as a way of informing us as to what was happening in relation to strike action.
February 27thth – We received a text from Ivy House school to say they had been informed by the Local Authority of a further 5 full days of strike action from Monday 6th to Friday 10th March every day.
The news of further strike action was really starting to take its toll on Harriet and my wife, there just seemed no hope of an end to the strike action and this was causing us a lot of problems.
February 28th – Another text arrives from Ivy House School to say they had been informed by the Local Authority of a further 5 full days of strike action from Monday 13th to Friday 17th March every day.
March 1st - We were looking for updates in the Derby Evening Telegraph and on social media, when we came across a Twitter post from Derby City Council leader Ranjit Banwait . The Twitter title read “Derby City Council leader Ranjit Banwait calls unison union “ experts at fake news”.
The labour leader became locked in a keyboard battle on Twitter after he shared a story in relation to the strike action, his post seemed to lay blame for the strike action at the door of Unison and was now playing them off against the parents of the disabled children.
I was now really concerned that not only did we have a council leader that could NOT lead, but one that had NO negotiation skills and seemed to be at war with Unison.
If I am honest, I am lost for words as to how a strike of this magnitude has been allowed to happen and why no one has been able to stop it and hold those responsible accountable for their actions. There is no way central government would allow Unions for doctors, police, nurses or train drivers to strike for more than a few days at a time – it would cause a National outcry, but to punish those that are not able to speak out because they are severely disabled seems ok, to punish their parents again seems ok.
It was extremely hard to push through another 14 days of strike action, we were both extremely tired, Harriet was not getting the education and care she was supposed to get and things were getting worse on a daily basis.
March 14th – We received a text from Ivy House School to say they had been informed by the Local Authority of a further 5 full days of strike action from Monday 27th to Friday 31ST March every day.
March 17th was a good day, we received a text from Ivy House School to say strike action has been suspended from Monday 20th March, whilst a new offer from the council was considered.
We both felt as though there was now some light at the end of this dark and depressing tunnel and that Derby City Council and Unison would be able to find some common ground and finally end the strikes.
Harriet went back to Ivy House School on March 21st, she was very anxious at first and started to cry as we drove into the school grounds. It took a while to calm her down and make her feel safe, but she started to remember where she was.
It now seems as though things are starting to return to normal, Harriet is back in special needs education, where she can be looked after and stimulated throughout the day and we can finally get some respite.
All of this could have been avoided if Derby City Council had chosen a different path and not taken this course of action, which in turn has devastated so many lives, especially those of vulnerable disabled children and the parents that look after them.
The teaching assistants now have until April 5th to cast their vote in the ballot, but it looks as though they have run out of steam and Derby City Council have their Victory.