Friday, 25 September 2015

You deserve a pay-rise - how to appeal and organise against performance-pay

Teachers are awaiting the outcome of their 'performance-reviews' which, thanks to Gove’s imposition of ‘performance-pay’, can now decide whether or not they progress up the pay-scale or, in the latest divisive twist, even if they will receive their annual pay award. Since the 1920s, teachers’ pay has been structured around annual increments. Teachers could rightly expect to progress up the pay scale as they gained experience. However now Governors are allowed to pick and choose who gets a pay rise - and who doesn’t

In the first year of the new performance-pay system, most teachers continued to receive pay progression. However, too many teachers still lost out. For example, figures suggest that as many as a third of main range teachers were refused progress in some of the biggest academy chains. Upper pay range rejections were even greater. This is just the start. We have to act firmly to make sure this becomes the exception, not the rule. 
Performance-related pay is divisive, demoralising and discriminatory. International research shows that it fails to improve pupil achievement. It certainly doesn’t help teachers! It is, of course, really about cutting the pay bill. 

After all the long hours of work teachers put in, they deserve their salary increases! Rejection of pay-progression won’t just set teachers back for one year. They will then be further down the pay-scale than they should be for years to come.
So, denial of pay-progression, even for just one year, could mean losing over £10,000 overall. 

The NUT was founded in 1870 to oppose ‘payment-by-results’ and we must do so again today.  Such robbery has to be fought.

I have produced advice for Lewisham NUT members on how to appeal and organise against attempts by schools to prevent teachers being awarded the pay rises that they deserve. Here's a little of what it says:

Don’t suffer in silence, tell your colleagues

Being rejected for progression can make teachers feel like failures, but it’s not staff who are failing, it’s the system we are working under. Unreasonable workload, growing pupil needs and a lack of time and resources all make it hard to meet the ever-growing demands put on teachers and their schools. So don’t be ashamed, be angry and organise to win the salary you deserve.

Performance-pay is designed to be divisive but trade unions have always said ‘unity is strength’. If you are rejected for pay progression, don’t just accept it. Talk to your union colleagues and make a plan of action - both for your individual appeal and for collective action against unfair policies that could threaten all teachers. 

Further detailed advice follows which can be downloaded as a leaflet or, for copying to use elsewhere, downloaded as a text file from

Sunday, 13 September 2015

A weekend when the pendulum swung back to the left

This has been a historic weekend. For decades, Westminster politics has been dominated by right-wing, pro-big business policies. Now, after the crushing victory of Jeremy Corbyn in the Labour Party leadership election, that pro-austerity consensus has been shattered.

For years, the press and the Tories, echoed by those in the New Labour machine (like Tristram Hunt the now EX-Shadow Education Secretary!) and even some in the trade union movement, have been telling us that 'anti-austerity is unpopular'. That's just not been true, it's just that the real mood of the majority has never (certainly south of the border) had a significant outlet. Now it has!

The news of Jeremy's victory coincided with a march of perhaps 100,000 through London in defence of refugees. That alone showed that the real public mood is in sharp contrast to the anti-migrant rubbish that is printed in too much of our press. Of course, the 'divide-and-rule' propaganda will resurface but a battle against austerity and for jobs and homes for all can help make sure it is cut across successfully.

I volunteered to steward on behalf of the NUT and, as luck would have it, was stationed by the stage when Jeremy Corbyn came to give his first public speech - just hours after his election. Here's my footage of the opening of his speech:


The confidence boost that Corbyn's victory had given to trade unionists was also visible at today's packed pre-TUC rally in Brighton hosted by the National Shop Stewards Network, addressed by many of the main left trade union leaders. A determined note was struck by all who attended - that we won't allow the Tories to steal away our rights and that we must strike together to defend any trade unionist who falls victim to these new laws - just as we have in the past.

A different period now lies ahead of us. Things will certainly not move in a straight line in building a mass anti-austerity movement - as Greece has shown. The old guard of New Labour will fight tooth and nail to keep hold of what they won for big business. There are some in the new Shadow Cabinet, not to mention the rest of the Parliamentary Labour Party, that cannot be relied on to stand firm. A battle will have to be fought both inside and outside the Labour Party - as Hannah Sell of the Socialist Party explained on Sky News:


Jeremy Corbyn’s victory has lifted the confidence of all those who oppose austerity and has already dealt a blow to the establishment. Now teachers have to take heart, take courage and take action to fight for our pay & conditions and for education.

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Another Tory 'achievement' - breaking the 48 hour Working Time Directive

TUC research released today reveals that "the number of people working excessive hours (more than 48 hours per week) has risen by 15 per cent since 2010".

As the TUC explains:  "Regularly working more than 48 hours per week is linked to a significantly increased risk of developing heart disease, stress, mental illness, strokes and diabetes. Illnesses caused by excessive working time put extra strain on the health service and the benefits system, as well as impacting on co-workers, friends and relatives. Many people are working unpaid overtime and at least a million report that they want to cut their excessive hours".

There is an alarming rise in the numbers working these excessive hours in a number of professions - including teaching. The TUC reports that many employees report that they feel pressured to ‘opt-out’ from the 48 hour limit ( legislated for under the "EU Working Time Directive" ) - as individual opt-outs are currently allowed by law. However, for teachers, there is no such contractual opt-out - the Working Time Directive is included in the Schoolteachers' Pay and Conditions Document. It's just that schools are ignoring the law!

As I wrote on this blog earlier this month, "Perhaps in the past, teachers have felt wary about complaining when they know that the issue of ‘teachers’ long holidays’ will be thrown back at us. However, even assuming (completely wrongly) that teachers only work during term-time (and never in their holidays) then a 60-hour week for 39 weeks a year amounts to 2340 annualised hours. Someone in a different job working as much as 40 hours for 46 weeks a year still works only 1840 annualised hours. That’s broadly equivalent to teachers working the supposed ‘legal maximum’ 48-hour week for all 39 weeks of term-time. If the worker was contracted for a more reasonable 37 hours a week for 45 weeks a year, that would come out as 1665 hours – equivalent to a teacher working 43 hours over 39 weeks ... The issue is complicated by the Regulations stating that workers have to calculate their average hours over a 17-week ‘reference’ period, which would then include holiday periods. However, even including holidays, surely most schools are breaching the Working Time Regulations in the demands they are putting on teachers over all but the summer break?"

Kevin Courtney, deputy general secretary of the NUT, responded in the TES that the TUC figures were “alarming” and that “so much of teachers’ extra work is unproductive ... the work is done to feed the accountability machine, not to help children grow intellectually. That makes it all the more outrageous.” Kevin adds that "schools faced a “quadruple whammy” of teacher-supply problems: rising pupil numbers, rising numbers of teachers leaving the profession, fewer people entering the profession and a growing economy that would make other jobs more attractive to potential teachers. Teachers’ heavy workload would worsen the problem".

Of course, these figures will be of no surprise to teachers. They only continue a trend of increasing workload that has been continuing now for years. The question is, what action can teacher unions take to stop it?

The NUT's 8-point action programme called on Nicky Morgan to "adopt an immediate target for a reduction in teacher working hours across England and Wales and begin the phased introduction of binding limits on teacher working time". She failed to introduce any such limit and, as today's TUC figures show, the problem is getting worse, not better.

Nobody can teach to their best when they are working 60 hours a week - yet even Government figures concede that this is typical for many teachers. To protect our working conditions - and children's learning conditions - we have to start taking action - whether at a school, employer-wide or national level -  to start to make that demand a reality.

How can we build the action needed? Come and join the discussion at the next LANAC Steering Commitee on Saturday Oct 3, 12 to 4pm, Jack Jones House (Unite the Union building), 2 Churchill Way, Liverpool L3 8EF. Even better, stay overnight and join the Lobby of the Tory Party Conference in Manchester the following day!

Read and download the latest LANAC bulletin here 

Friday, 4 September 2015

APPRAISAL: Stay ‘SMART’ Don’t accept unachievable targets

The NUT recognises that a fair appraisal system can support staff development needs as well as improving pupil outcomes. However, linking appraisal to performance-pay presents a very real danger to both teachers and education.

International research warns that performance-pay fails to improve pupil achievement. It divides, discriminates and demoralises, distorting teaching  and undermining collaborative work. It is, of course, really about cutting the teachers’ pay bill. 

Regrettably, there is already evidence that new performance-pay and appraisal systems are indeed  damaging morale, as well as being used to hold back teachers’ pay. Since schools’ decisions about awarding pay progression have to be based on appraisal reviews, it is essential that NUT members make sure that they oppose any attempts to impose unachievable targets - targets which can then be used as evidence to try and stop them progressing up the pay spine.    

Lewisham NUT has issued an advice document to its members, based on various reference documents on the national NUT website. It can be downloaded here or, in a text version to adapt for use in other areas. 

Monday, 31 August 2015

Rising shortages, plummeting morale – How can teachers turn the tide?

Marching for education, Lewisham, April 2015
As teachers go back to a new school year of excessive workload and imposed targets, what are the chances of winning any improvement in our working conditions – and children’s learning conditions?

On the positive side, the widespread support for Jeremy Corbyn’s anti-austerity challenge – and for local campaigns such as the anti-academy battles in Lewisham – give a glimpse of the real public mood. If teachers are prepared to take action to improve their conditions, linking their campaign to the need to improve education through improving turnover and morale, they can win wider support.

The beginning of term has coincided with a number of good press articles confirming the extent of teacher turnover and growing teacher shortages and calling for a change in Government policy. As Zoe Williams correctly argues in the Guardian, "Teachers, like any other bold professional innovators, will work best if they’re allowed to work together. League tables, Ofsteds, all the artificial ways in which schools are pitted against each other, militate against this cooperation".

Another Guardian article highlighted that “Department for Education figures show that in the 12 months to November 2014 almost 50,000 qualified teachers in England left the state sector. That is almost one in 10 of all teachers – the highest rate for 10 years and an increase of more than 25% over five years”. Teaching unions should be able to take advantage of shortages and turnover and the fact that schools are having to compete to recruit and retain staff. While limited in its effect, the March 2015 ‘Ofsted clarification’ letter “to dispel myths that can result in unnecessary workloads” reflected concerns amongst some of those managing the system that teacher workload has to be addressed.

On the other hand, we face a Tory Government determined to force through more cuts and further fragmentation of conditions and education. Some of them are only too happy to see teachers divided and demoralised – it’s all part of the wider ‘Global Education Reform Movement’ agenda. This destructive approach is replicated at a local level by too many bullying school regimes, especially in academies. While deteriorating conditions mean there is widespread discontent, confidence to struggle is inevitably affected by the fact that, while teacher unions have won some local successes, the 2010-2015 Government largely succeeded in imposing its attacks.

Workload, Pay and Pensions

Despite all her promises, Nicky Morgan’s ‘workload challenge’ delivered next-to-nothing and intolerable workload continues to drive teachers out of the profession. The thousands of heartfelt stories that teachers wrote at the time of the ‘Workload Challenge’ remain the harsh reality in most schools – along with working weeks of 60 hours and more.

The latest letter to the Public Sector Review Bodies from the Treasury makes clear that they expect more divisive ‘targeting’ of pay - so that not all teachers would get even an annual pay award, let alone progression up the pay spine. NUT figures suggest that already there are considerable numbers of teachers being told they won’t be progressing to the next pay point this September. That will only get worse as schools tighten the screw of ‘performance management’, imposing unrealistic pupil progress targets. The threat of ‘capability’ and ‘teachers experiencing difficulties’ procedures will continue to be used to push teachers out and keep others fearful they could be next.

Despite the hopes at the time of the powerful co-ordinated national action in 2011, the pensions changes have been imposed with increased contributions cutting take-home pay. A diminishing number of ‘protected’ older colleagues will still be able to retire at 60 with their full pension but many of the rest will struggle to work on until 67 or more and will retire ‘early’, at a hefty cost to their final pension.

More generally, spending cuts are helping to drive these attacks on pay and conditions. School budgets are getting tighter with employer pension contributions rising in September. However, with some local exceptions, notably sixth from colleges (and of course central services which have already been cut to the bone), there haven’t yet been significant forced teacher redundancies. NUT Conference voted for a campaign on funding including a ballot for national action. However, pay and conditions would seem to be more immediate concerns for teachers as things stand at present.

National Action still needed

Although defeated at 2015 NUT Conference, the wording in the LANAC amendment on ‘a strategy to win’ still seems to me to set out a balanced assessment of the union’s campaign since 2011: “In drawing up a balance-sheet of the campaign so far, Conference recognises the successes we have achieved, particularly in opposing the further deregulation of working conditions originally proposed by the previous Secretary of State. However, Conference also recognises that, despite our efforts, the Government has succeeded in imposing its damaging legislative changes to teachers’ pensions and pay arrangements. Teacher workload has also continued to worsen, at the expense of teachers, their families and education as a whole. Conference therefore recognises that, up to now, our campaign has failed to sufficiently protect teachers and education in the way that the Union and its members would have wanted it to”.

Need things have ended up this way? LANAC have argued for a strategy of escalating national strike action that we think could have achieved a better outcome. However, the debate now needs to look at where things stand today. LANAC’s general strategy remains true – for the NUT to make clear demands on the Government and then to go out to members, using all of the organising tools of the Union, to win support for the action required to win them. That is still the best ‘strategy to win’ – so as to achieve national changes to pay and conditions that would have to apply to all teachers nationally.

National strike action is also the best way to give confidence to the whole membership, in whatever school they work, to take united action together – preferably alongside other unions too. However, that confidence also needs to be built and a campaign fought to win support for such a strategy.

The Government also understands the threat that national strike action can make to its austerity program. That’s why it is pushing through its planned Trade Union Bill. The new ballot thresholds would be a challenge to a union organised across so many different workplaces nationally. Even at a school level, they would mean firm organisation would be needed to prepare for a ballot – and for days of action that might see schools trying to use agency staff to break strikes. Campaigning with parents and the local community to win support for teachers’ action will become even more important.

A National Charter - what are the key demands?

The argument that the Union needs to have a clear set of demands to mobilise members around seems to have been generally accepted. Kevin Courtney has raised the idea at the National Executive of developing a ‘National Charter’ to fight for at both a local and national level. Judging what those demands should be is important – they need to be pitched sufficiently strongly to be seen to be worth winning, key points that will make a real difference to teachers. At the same time they need to be demands that reps and their colleagues judge to be achievable – a balance needs to be struck.

National Demands have to address the key issues that Government can legislate for. The agreed final 2015 NUT Conference motion on a ‘Strategy to Win’ set out a set of demands as the basis for our national dispute. These points - with wording sharpened up for campaigning purposes - could easily form the basis of a National Charter that should get general agreement across the Union. The headline demands could then look something like this – although it would be good to also develop the demands on limits to working hours and the size of a catch-up pay award to specific amounts:

  • The replacement of Ofsted/Estyn by a new school accountability system;
  • A requirement for all schools to limit workload related to marking, planning, data, meetings and observations;
  • An end to performance related pay;
  • An immediate target to reduce working hours and a phased introduction of binding limits on teacher working time;
  • Increase teacher numbers in order to increase PPA time to 20 per cent and reduce class sizes;
  • The restoration of the national pay spine and pay portability and a catch up pay award;
  • The reversal of the changes to the teachers’ pension scheme.
Publicising and popularising such a National Charter amongst teachers – and explaining to the public how it would improve education – is an important campaigning task for the immediate period. Of course, that campaign would also spark a debate about the national action needed to be taken for such a Charter could be won.

Reducing Teacher Workload – what binding limit should be placed on working hours?

Alongside (and linked to) performance-pay, the most pressing issue for many teachers remains workload. Overall working-hours have never been limited by legislation. On top of the annual 1265 ‘directed hours’, the STPCD has always stated that ‘a teacher must work such reasonable additional hours as may be necessary to enable the effective discharge of the teacher’s professional duties’. While the STPCD also still states that Heads must ‘lead and manage the staff with a proper regard for their well-being and legitimate expectations, including the expectation of a healthy balance between work and other commitments’, in practice working weeks of 60 hours are typical – and the stressful nature and intensity of those working hours gets ever harder too. A binding limit to overall hours – allowing the teacher to say ‘NO’ to further demands – would be a huge step forward.

Perhaps in the past, teachers have felt wary about complaining when they know that the issue of ‘teachers’ long holidays’ will be thrown back at us. However, even assuming (completely wrongly) that teachers only work during term-time (and never in their holidays) then a 60-hour week for 39 weeks a year amounts to 2340 annualised hours. Someone in a different job working as much as 40 hours for 46 weeks a year still works only 1840 annualised hours. That’s broadly equivalent to teachers working the supposed ‘legal maximum’ 48-hour week for all 39 weeks of term-time. If the worker was contracted for a more reasonable 37 hours a week for 45 weeks a year, that would come out as 1665 hours – equivalent to a teacher working 43 hours over 39 weeks. A more detailed analysis of hours and holidays across different employees would help to clarify these numbers and help arrive at a specific figure for negotiators to use – nationally and locally.

The NUT has developed a model National Contract based on the demand for a 35-hour overall working week, made-up of a maximum of 20 hours pupil-contact time, 5 hours non-contact activities, 5 hours PPA in the working day and a further 5 hours additional preparation time outside the working day. It’s an excellent proposal for allowing teachers to have a genuine ‘work-life balance’ – but a very long-way from where we are at present. The STPCD does make reference to Heads having to at least abide by the 1998 ‘Working Time Regulations’ that set a 48-hour weekly limit on working-time. The issue is complicated by the Regulations stating that workers have to calculate their average hours over a 17-week ‘reference’ period, which would then include holiday periods. However, even including holidays, surely most schools are breaching the Working Time Regulations in the demands they are putting on teachers over all but the summer break?

Putting legalities to one side, then the idea that 48-hours is the most anybody should be expected to work still has a more general currency – and rightly so. How can any worker be sufficiently refreshed and ready to do their work – whether teaching children or other employment - when they’re working 50 or more hours a week? Should we use the Working Time Regulations to at least set an immediate demand of no teacher working more than a 48-hour week? If this is setting our sights too low, then perhaps another figure like 43 hours should be our starting-point for a binding limit (based loosely on the comparison with annualised hours above). That could allow teachers to refuse to do work at home at all during the week – and just a few hours at the weekend. Now that would be starting to win back a real work-life balance at last!

Of course, it isn’t just the overall hours but the tedious, narrow, results-driven nature of so much of that workload that is driving teachers out of the profession. In campaigning on workload, we also have to campaign against any supposed ‘solutions’ that propose even more prescription and reliance on mass produced planning and delivery materials (which the international edu-businesses backing the GERM would be only too pleased to produce and sell – at a profit of course). Genuine workload solutions have to include giving far more control back to teachers about what, and how, they teach. Instead of the blame-culture endemic at present, they also need to be based on building genuine partnerships amongst teachers and schools, giving space and time to colleagues to work together and learn from each other.

Winning school-by-school, employer-by-employer

Campaigning to win a National Charter through national action must not, and cannot, mean that the Union doesn’t also try to win gains where it can at a local level. However, the present approach, based on using the ongoing Action Short of Strike Action instructions, needs a major shake-up. While some schools have used the guidelines successfully, other school groups have found it difficult to withstand the growing pressures on staff to take on even more workload nor been able to protect those colleagues picked-off through performance-pay and capability procedures. Some of the workload pressures are also too complex to resolve easily through a specific action instruction.

In discussions at the National Executive, the outline of a different approach has started to take shape. The Union should seek to approach Local Authorities and/or Academy Chains and win support for local endorsement of a ‘National Charter’ (or a version of it based on the powers available to local employers – it could also encompass issues like maternity and sick-pay as well). The Union can appeal to employers to point out that, firstly, the Charter will actually improve outcomes by freeing up teachers from excessive workload and improving morale. It will also boost their reputation as an employer particularly where they are having to compete to recruit and retain staff as shortages grow. Obviously, if an employer makes clear that it is not prepared to agree to union demands, then the grounds are there for a collective dispute, taking action across a number of schools, not just a few schools in isolation. Of course, the Union might also be able to win support from individual Governing Bodies/Heads too, using that endorsement to add pressure on other schools to come to a similar agreement.

This would be a major job of campaigning and organising work for the Union – but it is an approach that can give direction to local work and start to win some meaningful gains. It will need some local Divisions to take a lead and see what can be achieved, spreading success stories to other areas. The Union’s organising resources should also be directed to areas where they can best help work with Local Divisions and Academy reps to achieve success.

A Local Charter - what should it include?

To succeed as a national campaign, it’s important that the Union has a national understanding of the common demands being pursued in such an employer-by-employer dispute. Inevitably, this or that concession and agreement might differ in different areas but there needs to be some consistency to make sure that a settlement in one area doesn’t undermine a dispute somewhere else.

A ‘Local Charter’ must be consistent with national demands. There are, of course, some demands that only Government can legislate for – but there are other demands that need to be put more concretely to make sure that policies are in place that offer genuine protection to teachers. To conclude, here are my ideas to help discussion, based on some of the demands already included in NUT publications and policy, as well as the points above. I’d welcome feedback and amendments. However, let's not debate for too long but reach an agreed way forward. We need to turn these kind of ideas into action as soon as we can, before it’s too late.

This school/employer:

1) Fully applies the workload protections in the 2012 STPCDocument specifically the provisions for guaranteed PPA time / leadership and management time, a clear calendar for 1265 hours of directed time over a maximum of 195 working days, and limits on cover, the use of ‘gained time’ and over administrative and clerical tasks for teachers.
2) Applies a binding limit of a maximum 43 hours of overall weekly working-time for full-time teachers and agrees that teachers will not be expected to carry out work which cannot be completed within that weekly limit.
3) Adopts policies on marking, planning, data, meetings and observations which minimise teacher workload including:
i) an agreed marking policy which takes into account overall working-time and does not require teachers to generate written dialogue between them and their pupils;
ii) agreeing that there is no requirement on teachers to provide evidence of the work that they do, outside that which arises naturally, neither to produce detailed lesson plans nor to provide those plans regularly to school management;
iii) a broad, balanced and enriching curriculum, not one driven largely by numerical targets, while minimising and streamlining data collection from teaching staff;
iv) holding an average of no more than one directed meeting/activity outside school session times each week of term-time;
v) following Ofsted’s own practice and desisting from grading lesson observations, nor carrying out more than three observations per year, except in cases of concern.
4) Adopts a pay policy that maintains pay portability and the structures of previous STPCD pay scales i.e. a 6-point main pay scale, 3-point upper pay scale, 43-point leadership pay scale and 6-point unqualified teacher scale, with annual increases to be agreed with the teacher trade unions.
5) Expects to award pay progression to all of its eligible teaching staff and adopts pay and appraisal policies that:
i) ensure that no more than three objectives are set annually and that these objectives are reasonable and achievable in the circumstances in which the teacher works;
ii) ensure teachers will be awarded pay progression following a successful appraisal review and that any proposal to deny pay progression will normally only be considered in the context of a formal capability procedure;
iii) do not expect teachers on the upper scale to have to accept additional responsibilities beyond those for which any TLR may have been awarded.

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Another school year comes to an end but the Tory attacks keep on coming

Protesting in Parliament Square tonight with the NSSN
Like so many other teachers coming to the end of another school year, I am looking forward to a chance to take a break and to recharge my batteries ready for the struggles to come after the summer break.

For too many teachers, their personal struggle will just be the ongoing battle to cope with excessive workload and the demoralising regime being inflicted on too many schools. To take just one issue, performance-pay is already biting, particularly in academies where employers are often keenest to make the most of the chance to impose divisive policies. Figures were shared with NUT Executive members today that showed that, in one large academy chain, fewer than half of their teachers were awarded progression to the next point in the pay scale last year! Those figures will only get worse – unless we organise to oppose PRP.

Regrettably, these kind of demoralising attacks mean that many teachers are leaving their posts - as yet another survey shows: ( Some colleagues will be leaving teaching altogether. So one ‘New Year’ resolution for September has to be for Local NUT Associations to work to build our strength in schools, finding new reps and organising collectively to tackle the unacceptable pressures on teachers and schools.
Those struggles can’t be left as isolated struggles either. To build confidence, they have to be part of a national struggle where members across a national union understand that they are fighting together as part of a united battle. So, a second resolution has to be for the NUT to develop its plans for a ‘National Charter’, setting out the key demands that we are seeking to win locally and nationally, and to then organise action to win those demands – across Local Authorities, academy chains and as part of a national dispute too.

Unless we act to win collective action, then budget cuts will only reinforce the divisive use of performance-pay and unrealistic targets to pile on the pressure until even more colleagues go under. Conference policy states that we should be pursuing national action over those cuts – and that’s a policy that mustn’t be forgotten.

Of course, the Tories understand that this kind of collective trade union action has the power to stop their plans to further cut and privatise schools and public services. That’s why they are pushing ahead with planned legislation ( designed to prevent that action taking place. The details published today show the extent of those threats. It’s not just that ballot thresholds will be imposed which will be very tough to reach through the home postal ballots that the law still insists upon – although that’s bad enough. The Tories have gone much further. Their plans include allowing schools to employ agency staff to break strikes and threatening to criminalise reps organising pickets. Unions will have to give employers two weeks’ notice of strike action and reballot members all over again after just four months. All of these measures are designed to throw trade unions into a legislative quagmire and to undermine the confidence of workers to take action. They must not be allowed to succeed.

The last NUT Executive agreed to back a campaign with other unions to ‘defend the right to strike against austerity’ including a ‘demonstration for union freedoms and rights around the time that parliament discusses the new anti-union laws’. This campaign has to be organised and built for urgently. A well-publicised demonstration outside Parliament, not just a low-key ‘Lobby’, must be organised at the very minimum. It should be part of a wider preparation for mass co-ordinated strike action against the Tory laws and their austerity plans.

The NSSN conference is organising a rally at the TUC Congress in Brighton on Sunday September 13th to lobby for that kind of action. It will be held from 1pm-3.30pm in the Charlotte Room in the Grand Hotel, 97-99 King's Rd BN1 2FW (next to the Brighton Conference Centre). Put it in your diary!

At the Education Bill Briefing in Westminster tonight
The other key battle that the NUT has to undertake is to expose and oppose the school privatisation plans legislated for by the Education and Adoption Bill. After supporting a National Shop Stewards Network Protest in Parliament Square tonight over the anti-union attacks, I went into Parliament to attend a joint Briefing that went through the proposed legislation. Speakers explained how it will be used to push even more schools into the hands of Multi-Academy Trusts and academy chains runs by big education businesses. Yet there is absolutely no evidence that these plans will help education – and why should they? Since when has privatisation improved public services?

What’s urgently needed is to get the anti-academy arguments out to staff, parents and students and involve them in a joint campaign to defend democratically accountable comprehensive education. That’s what the Stop Academies in Lewisham campaign has sought to do over the last year, so far successfully, in our battle to stop more local schools being turned into academies. That fight will be continuing again in September and SAiL will hopefully be able to link-up with national campaigns to oppose the Tories’ plans.

Last, but by no means least, as events in Greece are showing tonight, we need to battle politically as well as through trade union action, if we are to defend education and trade union rights. SYRIZA offered Greek workers the hope of a genuine alternative to austerity, putting forward a programme that went far beyond the pro-big business policies of much of the Labour Party leadership. Unfortunately, under the pressure from the banks and their political representatives in the EU, Tsipras buckled in Brussels. However, big business still has to reckon with Greek workers and their fighting traditions. The same processes, if at a different pace, will occur in Britain. We need to build on our own traditions of struggle and build political representation that will genuinely stand up for working people, in opposition to austerity, cuts and privatisation. 

... barring crises that I feel that I have to comment on (which is of course not out of the question!), this may well be my last post for a few weeks so, particularly teachers out there, enjoy the summer and get ready to battle again next term ...

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Education Bill - Morgan takes another step towards total school privatisation

Yesterday, Nicky Morgan and the DfE finally announced the definition of a 'coasting' school - their new 'category' of school to be legislated for in the Education and Adoption Bill and lined up for possible forced academisation. In another undemocratic move, Government-appointed, unelected ‘Regional School Commissioners’ will be given the job of deciding their fate.   

One estimate using the new definition has calculated that there could be as many as 2500 maintained schools under threat, mainly schools whose only 'fault' is to be supporting pupils with greater levels of need. As the NUT's press release rightly responded, the announcement amounts to a "a crude attack on state comprehensive education and a further step towards full school privatisation.” 

A coasting secondary school will be defined as one where in 2014 and 2015 fewer than 60% of children achieve 5 A*-C including English and mathematics and they are below the median level of expected progress”. This compares to the present ‘floor target’ of 40% - putting hundreds more schools at risk of academisation. Henry Stewart's initial calculation suggests that around 810 secondaries might fall into that harsh definition, around 470 of them maintained schools. 
Of course, around another 340 of these ‘coasting’ secondary schools are already academies but Morgan won’t want that awkward fact to get in the way of the greater aim of privatising public services. However, the threat may well be used to push stand-alone academies into the hands of the bigger academy chains or expanding ‘Multi-Academy Trusts’.

After all, the Tories’ real aim is to replace democratically accountable Local Authorities with these unaccountable education businesses. Local schooling will be torn apart leaving no elected body to be in charge of pupil places, admissions and what schools really need – support and advice.

By further driving down staff morale, academisation will also only worsen the growing crisis of teacher turnover and shortages. It certainly won’t improve education – and a gathering volume of information continues to show that there is no evidence to suggest that academisation has educational benefits.

Of course, reducing workload and providing proper support to schools means increasing funding, not more Tory cuts. Instead of meeting real needs, the Tories seem happy to hand over assets and precious resources to education businesses so that they can pay themselves large salaries and, at some point, be allowed to openly declare a profit too.

Shamefully, instead of addressing the real issues, Labour’s shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt has criticised the Bill only for failing to address supposedly “sub-standard school leadership and poor classroom teaching". At least some Labour backbenchers, like Clive Lewis from Norwich South, have been prepared to speak out, describing the Bill in Parliament as “a smash and grab on our schools” and “an attack on fundamental values that we all hold dear: democracy, accountability and transparency." How many other Labour MPs are prepared to do so – including those in Lewisham for example? 

It mustn’t be forgotten that it’s likely to be the primary sector where the Education and Adoption Bill really bites. After all, for now most primaries remain in the maintained sector. A coasting primary school will be defined as one where for three years “fewer than 85% of children [are] achieving level 4 in reading, writing and maths and which have also seen below average proportions of pupils making expected progress between age seven and age eleven.” Stewart estimates this could target over 2,000 primaries.  

Of course, by definition, some schools have to be ‘below average’ – but why let mathematical necessity get in the way of free-market ideology?
What kinds of schools will fall ‘below average’? Stewart’s analysis explains that the ‘coasting’ definitions, based largely on absolute results, of course target ‘schools with lower ability entries’. As he explains, “when Morgan first started talking of coasting schools, I assumed a key target would be schools with strong entries that do not add sufficient value in terms of exam results achieved. Such schools will in fact be almost totally unaffected by Morgan’s new definition”.  

As Kevin Courtney, Deputy General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers, says in the NUT’s Press Release: “Very many good secondary and primary schools – as defined by Ofsted, and as defined by parents – will now be classified as coasting. They will now stand the risk of losing their Heads and other staff as uncertainty reigns in their school.  

He added that “schools are already under enormous pressure to placate the whims of Government and Ofsted. Today’s arbitrary target will only serve to sharpen teaching to the test and a concentration on borderline students. This already results in a narrowed curriculum and, for many pupils, disengagement”.  

At least Morgan’s announcement reveals the reality of her proposals. This has nothing to do with education and all to do with privatisation of public services. The strong support in the local community for ‘Stop Academies In Lewisham’ and other campaigns across the country shows that staff, parents and students can already see through the false claims of those supporting yet further academy expansion. Now we have to build those campaigns further and link them up into a national campaign to oppose and expose the reality behind the Tories’ attacks.

“For secondary schools, a school will be coasting if in 2014 and 2015 fewer than 60% of children achieve 5 A*-C including English and mathematics and they are below the median level of expected progress” - See more at:

Secondaries: 814 set to be targetted as “coasting”

The DfE definition: “For secondary schools, a school will be coasting if in 2014 and 2015 fewer than 60% of children achieve 5 A*-C including English and mathematics and they are below the median level of expected progress”
- See more at: