Tuesday, 15 April 2014

What Strategy Can Win Our Dispute?

The key question for this year's NUT Conference

As LANAC has always argued, the generally solid turnout on March 26 showed, once again, that our members will respond when called to take national strike action by their Union.

NUT members again showed their determination to stop Gove’s attacks wrecking teachers’ lives - and wrecking education for the children we teach. 

Teachers know only too well how a bullying regime of excessive workload, performance pay, observations and capability threats is driving so many colleagues out of the profession. What they want to be sure about, however, is that the Union has a serious strategy to stand up to the bullies and defeat Gove’s attacks.

So, while teachers marched and chanted against the likes of Gove and Wilshaw in March, they were also rightly asking questions about where our dispute is going. A one-day strike galvanises teachers and registers our opposition but occasional ‘protest’ strikes alone won’t be enough to shift a Government determined to cut the costs of education and undermine the strength of the Unions that stand in the way of their plans.

What strategy can win? There are some things that we can all agree on. We all know that we need to reach out to parents to explain that our dispute is part of a wider attack on education as a whole. We also all know that we will be stronger if we can co-ordinate our action with other unions too.

However, the last few months have surely confirmed LANAC’s warnings that the NASUWT leadership will not prove a reliable partner. The professional unity we need is best forged at school level with NUT members meeting with ATL and NASUWT colleagues to explain the truth about Gove’s ‘negotiations’ - i.e they are only about ‘policy implementation’ - and to urge them to demand that their unions join us in action.

That also means that the NUT has to be clear where we stand on ‘negotiations’ too. Of course we need to make every effort to engage in discussions with civil servants but we have to be honest to teachers: we will not win any serious concessions from talks until we show Gove and Co. that we are ready and prepared to launch a serious calendar of ongoing strike action.

At the same time, we need to encourage school groups to take action on workload, observations and pay policies, consulting with reps to see if we can relaunch a focused campaign of local action. 

LANAC welcomes the fact that, with pressure growing for a more decisive strategy, plans for further action in June are being made. If the NUT strikes alone, then that should be a two-day national strike. The first day could consist of local pickets, stalls and protests with the second day for major regional or national demonstrations.

However, if, as seems hopeful, other public sector unions like GMB and UNISON are looking at one-day action next term, then it makes sense to seek to co-ordinate strike plans. However, that would make it even more important that we announce a calendar for escalating strike action in the Autumn term. 

Last, but by no means least, the NUT needs a clear set of demands to inspire members to take action to win.
Supporters of LANAC have suggested (e.g in amendment 37.2) that we call for:

  • Complete withdrawal of the divisive performance-pay legislation introduced in 2013
  • Confirming ‘68 is too late’
  • A £2,000 increase on all pay points to claim back some of what has been taken from us
  • Clear proposals to reduce teachers’ overall working hours - including at least 20% PPA for all teachers.

Friday 18 April, 7.45 pm, OLD SHIP HOTEL, on the Brighton seafront

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Re-elected to the NUT National Executive - Thank You!

As I was being shown around a fantastic newly-built Norwegian kindergarten school this morning, and discussing how young children learn best through play, my mobile phone started to beep!

First, a text came confirming that I have been re-elected to the NUT National Executive for the Inner London District. My thanks to all those who supported me, particularly those reps who helped appeal for NUT members to vote to support my stand. A particular thank you goes out to the teachers who helped stuff envelopes for my school mailing and to the colleagues from my own school who volunteered to distribute my campaign leaflets on the March 26th demonstration in London.

The toddlers' sleeping room at the kindergarten !!

After that, the phone kept beeping - with news of victories for other candidates supporting LANAC's camapign for a calendar of national action. I will get the full story when I return to London tonight but it seems clear that teachers have sent a message in this election that they want their Union to take a firmer stand to defend teachers and education.

"We are playing on the same team - Learning, Responsibility, Joy"

Initial reports suggest that candidates successfully elected to the new NUT National Executive for 2014-16 include: 

Martin Powell-Davies (Inner London)
Peter Glover (Merseyside / Cheshire)
Jane Nellist (West Midlands)
Phil Clarke (South East)
Liam Conway (Notts / Derby )

From the Norwegian TV news - a warning from England

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Norway: Teachers battle to defend their negotiating rights - and to defend education

I am in the middle of a visit to Norway, at the invitation of the Sola branch of the Norwegian Education Union 'Utdanningsforbundet', the main teachers' union, which has around 157,000 members nationally. 

The trip has proved an invaluable opportunity to exchange experiences and build international solidarity between teachers who both face significant threats. I hope that the report below accurately presents the situation facing our Norwegian colleagues - but I hope that they will alert me if anything is inaccurate!

On the one hand, I have been able to warn Norwegian teachers about the disastrous effects of years of attacks on teachers' conditions in England, part of a broader attack on locally accountable comprehensive education. 

On the other hand, I have been privileged to be able to visit Norwegian schools, and to hear from teachers about the threats that they face themselves. It seems to me that they face a combination of threats bringing together attacks that were introduced more gradually in Britain - such as Local Management of Schools, the loss of Negotiating Rights and the intensification of teachers' workload to the unbearable levels that are driving so many teachers out of the profession today.

Up until now, Norwegian teachers have retained national negotiating rights with the Local Authority employers' organisation, allowing national agreements to be drawn up over pay and working conditions.

The advantages of having those national negotiating rights, combined with, in general terms, governments that seem to have sought to work with teachers rather than attack them, are clear in the conditions presently applicable in Norway. However, politicians' attitudes do seem to be changing as they start to look at reducing public spending to aid tax cuts, worry about the international standing of Norway in the PISA rankings, and start to introduce more of the testing and paperwork that English teachers know only too well. 

Pay levels are higher, although there is also a higher cost of living. Pay scales depend on both experience and on the qualifications of the teacher, with opportunities being given to staff to train to add additional subjects to their repertoire. The minimum starting salary is around £35,000. A teacher with a masters' degree would start on around £44,000 rising to around £53,000 after 16 years of service.

Teachers can retire at 62, although some choose to work for longer (which says a lot about the relative conditions faced!) but pay a lower percentage of their salaries for a higher final pension -  66% of their final salary if I understood correctly.

Teachers have contracts which, similarly to England, direct them to work for between 1150 and 1300 hours (depending on sector) but, unlike England, also set down additional non-directed hours to provide a maximum year of 1687.5 hours in total. That equates to around 43.5 hours over 38 weeks of the school year - plus, like England, an additional week for training.

In practice, talking to teachers, a weekly limit of 43.5 hours is not enforced. There may be weeks when marking and assessment demands mean longer hours are worked. However, unlike England where 60 hour working weeks are the norm throughout the year, other weeks might see a lighter workload.

A critical difference is that, for now, teaching loadings are also set down in the national agreements. A primary teacher would teach for a maximum 26 of the 45 minute periods, out of 28 in total for the pupils.  However, if this seems a high loading, it must also be remembered that classes finish around 1 or 2 pm, leaving additional preparation time in the afternoons. The loading would be reduced for teachers with responsibilities. That reduction includes time-off for the school union representative who would also, as far as I could understand, have regular weekly meetings with the Headteacher. In secondary schools, the loadings are lower again, perhaps 19 out of 30 periods. All of these contractual rights to preparation time help reduce overall workload and help ensure that teachers have time to prepare and assess as well as they can to support their students.

These details are critical to understanding the threat that has just been made by the employers' organisation at the beginning of the current round of national negotiations.

First of all, the employers want to discontinue national negotiations. Instead, they want conditions to be set school-by-school with individual Heads consulting over the loadings that would apply in their school. From bitter experience in England, it's not hard to see how this will undermine the collective strength of the Union and lead to a gradual worsening of conditions as schools under budget pressures start to increase teacher contact time.

Heads would also be allowed to direct teachers to cover for absent colleagues, without the additional pay that teachers can earn now if they volunteer to cover.

Another proposal is that teachers' working days are increased to 45 weeks, supposedly to match other Norwegian workers' holiday entitlements. However, that would leave teachers in school for an additional six weeks without students being present. Teacher unions have been trying to explain that you can't prepare and plan ahead in full without getting ongoing feedback from classes. They also resent the implication that this amount of additional 'training' is required, as if the employers are questioning teachers' abilities and professionalism.

The other implication of this extended working year is that, unless the overall working year of 1687.5 hours is also increased, then teachers would have less working time available every week, leaving less time to prepare and support children.

The Union has produced badges with the slogan 'more time with the children, to explain that teachers' time needs to be allocated in the school term, not in the holidays! As with the NUT, the Union are rightly keen to point out to parents and the public why these attacks are a threat to education as a whole. They report that, up to now, press and public support has been generally good - but know that will be tested if extended strike action develops in the summer.

Of course, the real danger is that, as in England, teachers end up working longer hours in the working week as well, particularly if their overall loadings are increased. It wasn't lost on teachers that this is also a way to reduce the employers' costs as fewer teachers would be employed to cover the same number of lessons.

All of these threats mean that a significant dispute is developing if negotiations fail to persuade the employers to change their minds. Negotiations continue until the beginning of May. During that period, the Union is not allowed to officially take protest actions although, as tonight in Stavanger, individual teachers are instead organising protests to alert the public to the impending threats to education and to bring teachers together in preparation for struggle.

If negotiations fail to produce a resolution, teachers are preparing for the possibility of extended strike action, which could begin as early as May 25th. In these circumstances, teachers are clear that one-day protest strikes are insufficient. The union is considering launching an all-out strike for the three weeks to the end of term.

Impressively, unions prepare for that possibility at each negotiating round - although usually the dispute is over, say, pay awards, not the whole future of national negotiating rights. Teachers would expect to receive full-pay from the Union for the duration of the strike. However, that may also explain why, along with an impressive ratio of employed officials to local members, teachers expect to pay union dues of around £50 per month - much more than in England.

The stage is clearly set for an important battle. NUT members must do what we can to send support and solidarity should teachers have to take strike action to defeat the employers' attacks on teachers and education.

The pictures below are from a rally in Stavanger tonight where I was also able to speak to bring solidarity greetings from teachers in London.

No to Union-Busting
Trust Teachers
Teaching is Fresh Food - i.e. what sense is there to make teachers prepare when students are on holiday?
Quality Needs Time
More time with each pupil!

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Taking a Warning to Norway - resist the GERM!

Next week, at the invitation of the Norwegian Teachers Union, Utdanningsforbundet in Sola, Stavanger, I am travelling to meet with colleagues that have visited the NUT in Lewisham over recent years.

When these Norwegian colleagues visited London previously, the attacks we have faced had seemed, to their relief, to be unthinkable in Norway. Their economy seemed to be still relatively protected from global crisis - and from the neoliberal attacks that go with it.

However, the world's financial press seems to be putting the pressure on Norway - as their coded language puts it - to stop being 'complacent'. After last year's attacks on collective bargaining in Denmark, Norwegian teachers fear they may face similar attacks.

My trip will be another opportunity to learn from each other's experiences - including about steps that resulted in a union merger in 2002, exchange views and build international solidarity.

The powerpoint that I have prepared can be downloaded from:


Update (Tuesday): My Norwegian hosts have arranged a packed itinerary including visits to union offices, schools, TV and press interviews as well as being both a guest speaker at their AGM tonight and at a teachers' rally in Stavanger tomorrow. My warning was well-received but also well understood - the demonstration tomorrow is in opposition to their national employers' threat to remove teachers' negotiating rights as a step towards attacking their working conditions. As I explained in an interview for the local television news, the lesson from England is that such a step will not only be an attack on teachers - above all, it will be an attack on childrens' education. Norwegian teachers must act to defend education and not allow the stress and demoralisation that has been inflicted on teachers in England to be repeated in Norway.

Preparing for the meeting in Sola

Thursday, 3 April 2014

A Gradgrind Curriculum even for the Early Years

The latest attacks on the Early Years curriculum are another example of how the Government, backed up by Michael Wilshaw, are imposing a policy which ignores international evidence about child development and best educational practice.

As Dr Richard House, writing in today's Telegraph, explains

"At 4, England already has one of the earliest school starting ages in the world; but rather than doing all it can to mitigate the impact of children being forced into quasi-formal learning at too young an age, the Government is doing the very opposite.

There are plans for assessment tests for 4 year olds, less learning-through-play and more teacher-led pedagogy and more preschool literacy and numeracy learning being demanded by Ofsted – there are even ability tests being mooted for two year olds.

In the belief of virtually all informed professional and academic educational opinion, this is arrant madness.

Government has completely misdiagnosed the nature of the problem, believing that our long tail of educational underachievement is due to England’s children not starting formal learning early enough. Yet all informed opinion argues the opposite; that it is precisely because early education starts too young and too formally in England that so many of our children are deemed to be ‘underachieving’."
Read more on:  http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/primaryeducation/10740055/Protect-childhood-from-adultifying-education-policy.html

The NUT has also issued the following press release today:

"We cannot start labelling children as young as two years old as failing. Some parents will be unnecessarily worried about the progress their child is making and inevitably their concerns will be transferred.


“Two is some five years younger than children in many European countries begin more formal education. The difference of course is, that, particularly in Scandinavian countries, there is high quality pre-school provision using a play based curriculum as an entitlement which does prepare children well for more formal learning later. The educational outcomes for these countries are not affected and in fact are often held up as an example of excellence by Michael Gove.


“Equally important to successful outcomes in the Early Years Stage is the necessity of fully qualified teachers and a manageable ratio of children to carers.


“Ofsted’s narrow conception of ‘school readiness’ is in stark contrast to what the term means to teachers and parents. For a youngster to be considered school ready, being confident, independent and curious is as important as cognitive and academic skills and must be defined in the light of children’s diverse abilities. 

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Collective Action to Beat the Bullies

"I have to admit that I spent the weekend after that learning walk sobbing. I was so upset by the feedback I considered leaving the profession. I also work with an NQT who was talking about leaving teaching"   Email from a Primary Teacher

Once again, last week's strike showed the enormous anger of teachers at the stressful conditions they face in their working lives - conditions which, in turn, make it even harder to support the children we teach.

That anger was shown by the big turnout on most of the demonstrations and by the increased numbers of picket-lines as teachers recognise that our dispute will only be won by taking a serious and determined course of action.

The bald facts about hours worked, pension ages and pay policies all give good reasons for teachers to be angry. However, these form the background to a bullying regime, imposed from Gove downwards, which are making individual teachers' lives unbearable - and driving them out of the profession.

Let me relate just a few examples of this regime that teachers that I am supporting have been experiencing in just the last few days. I won't give the names of schools, but some teachers reading this blog will know who I am referring to.

First, the use of the threat of 'capability' to bully teachers into resignation. These are not teachers who are 'incapable' of teaching. Even if, as new appraisal policies put it, they are genuinely 'experiencing difficulties', many problems usually stem from the complete lack of genuine support and training and the impossible workload we are all facing. 

In many cases, however, the evidence for 'incapability' is sparse, based on debatable classroom observation reports. Yet school managers know that, if they threaten putting a teacher on 'formal capability procedures', despite the lack of real justification, they can bully that teacher into resigning rather than take the risk of having 'incapability' on their employment record.

Then there's the use of 'learning walks', 'audits' and 'mini-Ofsteds' to come in to classrooms to criticise, bully and demoralise. Once again, these are based on debatable classroom observations which even Ofsted are now confirming should not be used as reliable indicators of an  individual's performance.

The email that I received this morning - quoted above - shows the demoralising effect of this regime. The anger is added to by the fact that conclusions often appear contradictory, with goalposts constantly shifting for classroom teachers.

The conclusion that teachers are rightly reaching is that this regime has to be fought collectively - through national action such as March 26, but also through local struggles. So, in another school where a 'mini-Ofsted' was threatened this week, teachers met and made clear that they would not accept it, putting in place Action Short Of Strike Action guidelines. Their threat to all refuse to co-operate but switch to shared reading if an inspector appeared, won the changes staff were seeking!

Tomorrow, the National Executive meets to discuss a priority Motion for NUT Conference to set out the next steps for the national dispute. I will be arguing for an escalation of action next term. We can't allow things to carry on like this.

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

March 26 in pictures - on strike to defend teachers and education

From early this morning, teachers have been standing on school-gates getting our message to the public: that, by striking today to defend our livelihoods and working conditions, NUT members are also Standing Up For Education.

Tens of thousands of  teachers will be rallying in towns and cities across England and Wales later today.

Here are some early pictures - with more to follow later:

Over 10,000 teachers marched in London:

There's also good coverage from Reel News on this video: