Saturday, 28 February 2015

Say NO to the Prendergast academy plans

On Thursday next week, NUT members at the four schools threatened with academy status in Lewisham - Sedgehill, and the 3 schools in the Prendergast Federation (Hilly Fields, Ladywell Fields and the Vale) will again be taking strike action - this time joined by members of GMB and the NASUWT.

Teachers were buoyed by the excellent support given at a packed meeting of SAiL, Stop Academies in Lewisham, last week.

Following the meeting, I have helped produce a leaflet setting out the arguments against the proposed plans to turn the three schools in the Prendergast federation into academies. It can be downloaded from:

Here's just some of the points it raises:

Isn’t it true that academy schools give children a better education?  
“Current evidence does not prove that academies raise standards overall or for disadvantaged children”
All-Party Select Committee of MPs, Jan 2015.

Can academies be trusted to act fairly when they are given control of admissions policies? 
“Charter School has been criticised for setting its catchment area to exclude children from two council estates with the risk of skewing its intake”
Guardian report on Schools Adjudicator, 2012.

Aren’t academies better than non-academy ‘maintained’ schools at supporting students from all backgrounds ? “Converter Academies, on average, take far less than their fair share of disadvantaged pupils. They aren’t helping increase social justice in education. Maintained schools should be preferred”.
Professor Gorard, listed in Governors’ own report 

Won’t becoming an academy “secure greater accountability” for staff and parents? 
“Parents are sidelined from all important decisions, over whether schools convert in the first place, and over how they’re run once they become academies”
From All-Party Select Committee Report, Jan 2015 

Don’t most Heads and Governors agree that schools have to become academies to successfully run a Federation of schools? 
"Why on earth should I go academy? What are the advantages? We already have a reasonable amount of freedom with the curriculum … unions are happy because their members' terms and conditions are unaffected, the extra money that was given to academies has disappeared"
Chair of Governors, Dartmoor Schools Federation 

Won’t the schools be better-off if  they convert into academies? 
“There is no funding advantage to being an academy” … but there is a “risk of losing PFI funding rebates”
From the Governors’ reports on the school website 

Can we trust academy governors when they are given control over school budgets? 
“Nearly half of academy trusts have paid millions of pounds in public money towards the private businesses of directors, trustees and relatives”
Investigation by the National Audit Office, 2014 

Weren’t the Governors just following normal practice when they voted to apply for Academy status without asking parents first? 
“Conversion to academy status is a significant step” … “No governing body should submit an application unless and until they have consulted”
Advice from the National Governors’ Association

As the leaflet concludes, "we hope these facts help you understand why SAIL opposes the academy plans - but every parent should have a chance to decide. That’s why SAIL is calling on the Governors to hold a full consultation where parents can read and hear both sides of the debate. They should then hold a ballot so that parents can vote on the future of their schools. If the Governors are so sure of their arguments, why won’t they agree to ballot parents?"

The question everyone's asking: Can you tell the difference?

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Executive votes against national strike before the General Election

This afternoon’s regrettably brief debate, over my proposal that the NUT National Executive should respond to Nicky Morgan’s total failure to meet the Union’s workload demands by calling a national strike on 24 March, ended in the strike proposal being rejected, by 24 votes to 13.

I believe that decision means that the NUT has missed a real opportunity to allow teachers across England and Wales to demonstrate their collective anger at the Government’s failure to do anything to address teachers’ completely unacceptable levels of workload. It has also missed a chance for the Union to make sure that the attacks facing education were placed firmly in the headlines in the months leading up to May’s General Election.

Worse, however, the debate showed that the argument was about much more than just a tactical difference over action timetables. Regrettably, some of the arguments used to oppose action revealed much sharper differences over the possibility of successfully organising to oppose the ongoing attacks on teachers’ pay, pensions and conditions.

I would have hoped that everyone on that Executive understood from their own experience, from the support they give to stressed colleagues, from the figures we have publicised about working hours, lack of pay progression and mounting resignations, from the thousands of heartfelt responses to the Government’s ‘Workload Challenge’, that teachers are facing completely intolerable conditions.

I hope that everyone on the Executive recognises that we face the risk of a completely broken profession if we don’t act to turn the tide of mounting workload – particularly now Nicky Morgan has completely failed to meet the Union’s demands. Unfortunately, I did not feel that the recommendations presented to the Executive in any way grasped the urgency with which the Union needed to respond to Morgan’s failure.

Of course we should try to continue with local school-based action to oppose excessive workload where we can. Just yesterday, I arranged to meet members in a primary school next week to see if we can protect teachers against the pressure coming from observations, ‘book looks’ and other excessive monitoring. But, to be honest, local action alone is like trying to stretch a sticking plaster over a gaping wound. The time and effort required for each local dispute takes enormous time and resources. For every school action that we can arrange, there are dozens more that we will be unable to organise.

So do we just concentrate for now on campaign stalls and lobbying MPs? First of all, the workload itself means that it’s hard for teachers ground down by marking and planning to take part. Secondly, members aren’t na├»ve – they recognise that, whoever wins the Election, it will take a lot more than lobbying to get any real change.

Our demands – for example to end PRP and to recruit more teachers to reduce class sizes and teaching hours - mean challenging a cuts agenda that Parliament voted for last month by 515 votes to 18! As was discussed during the Executive, whoever wins in May, schools face budget cuts after the Election, not budget expansion. Even Labour’s pledge to ‘inflation-proof’ school budgets takes no account of increasing pupil numbers and known budget pressures on, for example, pay and pensions. Some estimates quoted at the Executive suggest the reality could be 7% cuts under Labour, 10% under the Tories.

What we need is a way to get our message across to the electorate, and to the politicians, in a far more visible way. What could have been better than a national strike in the lead-up to the General Election, asking strikers to participate in local rallies and campaigning events on the day as we proposed in the debate? What better way to divert away from the debate from, say, UKIP’s manifesto to the NUT’s manifesto?

If we had agreed to take strike action next month, we would, after all, have simply been carrying out the strategy agreed by the National Executive last year – to act on the support shown in the consultative ballot and to call further action before the Election if Nicky Morgan failed to act seriously on workload – which she clearly hasn’t.

In a nutshell, why are we not now doing what we told members that we were going to do?

I am afraid that failing to act on our earlier decision sends out a dangerous signal that, although Nicky Morgan has ignored teachers’ demands, the Union is unable to respond. Taking action now would have shown this Government that we are far from defeated – and, more to the point, it would have been a warning shot to the next Government too, whoever they prove to be.

Of course, Easter’s Annual Conference will be debating a new strategy for a new Government, very probably based on a new strike ballot. Of course, I and others have argued for such a new strategy to be debated, learning the lessons of our failure to successfully defend pay, pensions or workload under this Government. However, taking action in March would have helped prepare the ground for those battles to come after the Election.

Those opposing the proposal argued that the Union risked being unable to mobilise members to take a national strike and questioned the turnout of members on the last national strike in July 2014. I feel that those fears were exaggerated and that some speakers were in serious danger of downplaying the success of the national action that we have taken. That will do the Union no favours at all!

Yes, there will always be some schools, and some areas, that are stronger than others, inevitably so. But, whenever we have called national strikes, including last July, we have successfully reached national and local headlines and built good local rallies. This time, we would not have been calling action at the end of the summer term but at the end of March – and in the run-up to the General Election – a much better date on which to build action.

Worryingly, given the troubled history of trying to take joint national action with the NASUWT, the argument also resurfaced that, in effect, we could not build successful action without the support of other teaching unions. While united action is preferable, surely we have also learned that waiting for unwilling ‘partners’ can just hold back action altogether – and at the expense of our members’ pay and conditions?

It was argued that there was no ‘clamour’ from teachers to take action. But our members are drowning in the daily reality of excessive workload. They are looking for a lead from their Union. Given the anger at those conditions, I believe that teachers would have responded to a strike call – if the National Executive had given a lead this afternoon.

Why should teachers have to lobby their Executive to demand action? After all, the Union had explained that they were waiting to see what the talks with Morgan would deliver before considering further action. Our demands have been rejected but we are failing to act.

Today’s vote is another setback in defending teachers and education from the attacks that will continue to pile onto teachers – until we act decisively to stand up to those attacks. However, the ever-worsening conditions mean that teachers will increasingly realise that they have no choice but to take that stand. We need a National Executive that’s prepared to give a decisive lead in the battles to come.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

TUSC ready to answer on how to provide affordable homes

Martin speaking alongside Natalie Bennett a few weeks ago
It appears that the Green's Natalie Bennett was a little lost for words when asked questions about housing today on LBC.

We've all had moments when the mind goes blank but I am sure that a TUSC candidate would have had plenty that they would have been ready to say on such a vital question for working people, especially here in London.

Here's some of the demands I would have wanted to raise:
■ Rent control now! Democratic rent councils to decide fair levels in each area
■ A mass programme of council house building and renovation to meet demand
■ Hands off our homes! Bring all housing association stock and housing services back in-house
■ Living housing benefits that reflect the real cost of renting
■ Councils should use their compulsory purchase powers on long term empty properties and use them as council housing

For more detail, please read this excellent article from last November's 'Socialist' paper:

Monday, 23 February 2015

MPs are living in a different world - I pledge to stay on a teacher's wage

Once again, the news is filled tonight with stories about how MPs 'earn' their money. Malcolm Rifkind reportedly told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that it was "quite unrealistic" to think MPs could live on £60,000 a year without looking for extra income! In contrast, I (like many other TUSC candidates) have pledged that, if elected as MP, I would continue to take only my existing classroom teacher's take-home pay, donating my extra salary towards building trade union, socialist and community campaigns.

Unlike those mainstream MPs, I also pledge to lead campaigns to fight cuts, not vote for them! I and other TUSC supporters spoke at a Lobby of Bromley Council tonight to oppose the cuts being put forward by the Tory councillors.

Of course, as I explained in my speech, on Wednesday I will also be joining trade unionists lobbying against cuts in Lewisham too - this time from a Labour Council. 

According to an article on the Guardian website, Lewisham 'tops' the list of the biggest-cutting London boroughs:

A video of part of my speech can be seen from the link below:

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Taking the TUSC message around Lewisham West and Penge

This morning, TUSC supporters in Lewisham West and Penge took to our cars to do a tour of the constituency with a set of speakers on the back of my car to make sure that everyone knew what TUSC stood for as we drove past!

The support on the street stalls in Forest Hill and Penge was excellent, with a number of new campaign supporters signed up during the activity.

A video of today's campaigning can be found via this link:

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

No Tory cuts, No Labour Cuts - build an anti-austerity alternative with TUSC

Tonight, Lewisham’s Mayor and Cabinet approved recommendations to go to next week’s Full Council meeting confirming a further £40 million of cuts for 2015/16.

Those cuts come on top of around £100 million of cuts that have already been made since 2010. Staff numbers have already been cut by a third, and are due to fall even further.

A further £85m of savings was already planned from 2015/16 to 2017/18. However, as tonight’s papers spelt out “Following the Chancellors announcement in the Autumn Statement of a further £10 billion [sic] of cuts to public sector expenditure these estimates are likely to worsen”.

What the Lewisham Council report fails to point out is that it wasn’t just the Coalition parties that backed the Chancellor’s austerity plans. Osborne’s plans for billions of pounds of further cuts passed through Parliament by a massive 515 votes to 18. Just five Labour MP’s were prepared to defy the whip and vote against them!

The fact is that, whichever combination of the main parties forms the Government after May’s general election it will really just be a 'change of management' only. They will all continue to inflict cuts on local government that will bring councils down to the bare legal minimum of service provision and in some cases below even that. At the same time, as the HSBC scandals are showing, the super-rich continue to squirrel away their billions. What kind of society is it that sees the 1% continue to profit at the expense of the 99%?

This continuing austerity, and the failure of the Labour Party to challenge it, shows the desperate need to building a new mass party for working people. Events in Greece have already led to the election of anti-austerity party Syriza, and in Spain there is a surge in popularity for Podemos too.

The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) is planning to stand 1,000 council candidates and 100 parliamentary candidates in May's elections, in order to start building that alternative to the pro-austerity status-quo. 

The lesson from these cuts is not to vote for the austerity parties on 7 May. Instead trade unions and communities need to prepare for the battles to come whoever wins. That’s why I am calling on voters in Lewisham West and Penge to support my TUSC challenge this May.

Join the Anti-Cuts Lobbies: No Tory cuts, no Labour cuts!
Monday 23 February, 6.00 pm, Bromley Civic Centre
Wed. 25 February, 6.00 pm, Catford Town Hall - 

followed by Stop Academies in Lewisham Public Meeting, 
7.30 pm, St.Mary's Centre, Ladywell.