Thursday, 24 April 2014

Parents defend teachers defending education

As I walked into NUT Conference on Saturday lunchtime with my thoughts on the speech I was about to give in the key debate on the 'Standing Up for Education' Priority Motion, BBC Newsnight 'Policy Editor' Chris Cook decided he wanted to speak to me first.

Chris did his best to try to see if he could get a juicy quote for the 'hatchet-job' he was planning on the NUT, but seemed a little disappointed that I had an answer for every one of his 'final, final questions'. (Chris, you see I've done many a press interview in my time - but I'm happy to do many more!). 

I'm also happy to stand by the points that Chris chose to broadcast in his feature on Tuesday. Firstly, to defeat the attacks on teachers and education, "you can't just have occasional one-day protest strikes, you need to step up to a calendar of action". 

Secondly, I am also confident that there would be public backing for such action. As I explained on Newsnight, "everybody [who] knows that their pay is being cut, that their jobs are under threat [will] respect those who are actually going to stand up for themselves".

Should Chris Cook be interested in real evidence, instead of sensationalist journalism,  he could do worse than looking at the quotes in Newcastle's Evening Chronicle (my thanks to @NUTnorthern, Mike McDonald, for posting this picture):

TOP COMMENT: "Good for those teachers, now all public service workers should do the same"

.. and others include ...

"Have my full support. They are perfectly entitled to strike if they feel their conditions of work affect the way they perform the job they are contracted to do"

"They're striking because the government is trying to destroy the education system in this country"

"Why should people accept being treated like worthless peasants"

Clearly some hard-left plot has taken over the North-East ....

'Mocksteds' - why the NUT says NO

One of the threats debated at last weekend's NUT Conference was the use of demoralising and unreliable 'graded observations' to unfairly compare and label teachers.

Some schools are even using such observations as part of a stressful 'mocksted' inspection of a school (even though that would be contrary to Ofsted's own advice!). 

The NUT has clear policy opposing this damaging and educationally unsound practice. I have produced a summary explaining why NUT members would be supported in refusing to accept an imposed 'mock inspection'. The advice can be downloaded from but is also posted below:


Educational research confirms that the ‘grading’ of lessons through observation cannot be a reliable way of making judgements about teaching quality.

For example, Professor Robert Coe, a former teacher who is now the director of Durham University’s Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring, has highlighted a number of reasons why classroom observation can be an unreliable tool.

He highlights research (such as the Measures of Effective Teaching Research funded by the Gates Foundation) which shows that if a lesson is judged ‘outstanding’ by one observer the probability that a second observer would give a different judgement is between 51% and 78%.

According to Professor Coe there are several reasons why this happens.

1. It is hard for an observer not to project their own preferences for a particular style or behaviour onto a classroom situation and compare what is seen to what that person thinks they would have done. However, what a particular observer may like, may not always correspond well with what helps others to learn.

2. An observer may note that students are busy, engaged, receiving attention or feedback and that the classroom is ordered. Although these factors are all related to learning, it is quite possible for some or all of them to be observed without any actual learning taking place.

3. If observers are experienced, but not necessarily effective themselves, they may be unable to identify effective practice.

4. Accepted good practice may be more fashionable than effective.

5. A number of surprising studies in psychology show that when people try to focus on observing particularly things, they can miss an extraordinary amount – a phenomenon known as ‘inattentional blindness’.


In his February 2014 Report, Mike Cladingbowl, Ofsted’s National Director of Schools, has written to confirm that
 “Since 2009, inspectors have been instructed not to grade the overall quality of a lesson they visit”. He points out that, in “the most recent version of the form, the box for a graded ‘judgement on the overall quality of the lesson’ has been removed”.

His Report includes the following points:
  • Inspectors should not give an overall grade for the lesson and nor should teachers expect one. 
  • If asked, inspectors will provide feedback to individuals on what they have observed, including the evidence they have gathered about teaching.
  • Inspectors must ensure that this feedback does not seem to constitute a view about whether the teacher is a ‘good’ teacher or otherwise, or if they ‘taught a good lesson’ or otherwise. The feedback they give is confidential.
  • Inspection is about evaluating the quality of education provided by the school, by considering a range of evidence, and not about evaluating, individually or collectively, the performance of teachers through short lesson observations


In the light of the points above, the guidance issued by the NUT and NASUWT on Inspections is even more relevant.

The points outlined above show that there is no justification for schools carrying out ‘mocksteds’ that seek to grade individual teachers and without giving notice of when teachers will be observed.

Firstly, the process would be unreliable. Secondly, it does not even replicate a genuine Ofsted inspection. Last, and but by no means least, such a ’mock-inspection’ is also too often highly stressful and demoralising for staff. Far from improving teaching and learning, it leaves teachers feeling fearful, particularly of outcomes being used to make judgements that could be used for capability or pay progression purposes.

Lewisham NUT is clear that our members are covered by our ongoing action ballot to implement Instruction 7 of our action short of strike action instructions:

7: Members should not participate in mock inspections commissioned by the school, sponsor, provider or local authority. 

If a school seeks to insist on imposing such an inspection, we will support our members in carrying out this instruction. Such action might include non-cooperation with the process, such as asking their classes to carry out silent reading if a ‘mocksted’ inspector visits, and/or consideration of escalation to strike action.

We would hope that such a step would not be required and that, instead, the Local Authority, schools, teachers and their unions could reach agreement on appropriate ways of evaluating schools which do not include such demoralising and unreliable tools as graded observations and ‘mocksteds’.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Dear Newsnight - Where is my right to reply?

Dear Newsnight

From the messages that I am already receiving from teaching colleagues, I have to warn you that your feature tonight on the 'Left in the NUT' has angered NUT members from right across its broad spectrum of political views.

In fact, alongside the anger, the feature was such a blatant distortion that it has perhaps also generated some mirth and certainly also much derision.

You chose to give most airtime to Fred Jarvis, who lost the respect of many delegates at this year's Annual Conference when he sought to take an undeserved side-swipe at me from the rostrum, and John Blake, who became so out of touch with the views of his colleagues that he was left almost in a minority of one at the last NUT Conference where he attended as a delegate. 

John's comment that the NUT was somehow extreme for extending our campaign to include workload was just one indication of just how far removed he must be from the everyday pressures facing classroom teachers struggling to cope with working 60 hours and more every week.

While you gave Kevin Courtney a limited time to try and defend the Union as a whole, I had no opportunity to respond to the attacks made on my character. An edited interview from questions thrown at me as I walked into the Conference hardly provides a real opportunity to answer Fred and John, nor to speak up for all those teachers who support their Union's campaign to defend teachers and education against this Government's divisive and damaging attacks.

Far from being 'elected unopposed' as Fred Jarvis implied, I have just been democratically elected to the NUT's National Executive in elections contested in March. If the programme's aim was to persuade teachers not to vote for me in the NUT General Secretary election in June, then its crude attacks may have had an opposite effect.

The unacceptable attacks on children's education, cuts to pay and pensions, and rising levels of workload, mean that teachers are rightly backing their Union's call for action - and why many are also supporting my proposal that we need to put in place a more decisive action strategy.

I ask that you respond to offer me the opportunity for a right of reply on a future edition of Newsnight

Martin Powell-Davies 

Whoever wins the election, teachers will have to fight for education

My final speech to NUT Conference today was also the last speech in the very final policy debate, seconding an amendment to the motion on 'General Election 2015'.

I pointed out that many teachers will be hoping that 2015 will see the back of Gove and this Government. However, many teachers also recognise that, if Labour are elected, then the Shadow Education Secretary, Tristram Hunt, has already made clear that there may be very little change in policy direction. He has been quoted as saying that there is little point in changing 'reforms that in certain situations build actually rather successfully on Labour Party policy'.

So, whoever wins, the Union will need to campaign hard for our policies up to - and after - the General Election. Parties that we used to rely on to offer a different approach to the Tories can, regrettably, no longer be relied upon.

This is an international phenomenon, not just in Britain. That's why I warned Conference that, if Labour is elected, but then maintains the current policy of cuts and privatisation, it risks its support collapsing, just as Hollande and the PS have seen in France.

In those circumstances, whatever the individual political allegiances of various delegates, I think we would all recognise that there would be an even greater need for parties that offer genuine hope of an alternative to voters. If not, there is a real danger that voters are otherwise enticed by parties that offer only prejudice. 

The amendment was agreed unanimously.

Former Labour MP, and TUSC Chair, Dave Nellist addresses the Socialist Party Fringe Meeting

During the debate, and perhaps showing that my challenge for NUT General Secretary is not far from the minds of other Union colleagues, I got a second 'name-check' in Conference speeches from those who are certainly not backing my stand!

Today's mention was more in jest, but yesterday's mention was a more barbed sideswipe from Fred Jarvis, former NUT General Secretary, about my 'standing' in the press. In fact, as anyone who follows this blog knows, I have a consistent record in the press and media, and I think I am known as someone who can clearly set out my views on how best to defend teachers and education. Unfortunately, Fred, as overheard when he was briefing a BBC Newsnight journalist in preparation for a feature they appear to be running tonight, seemed happy to criticise other members of his Union.

However,  attacks on socialists in the NUT - and the sensationalist reports of a "highly organised minority of hard-left members" 'tightening their grip' on the Executive' in today's Times - are attacks on the Union as a whole.  

Yes, four members of the Socialist Party have just been elected to the NUT Executive. However, we sit on an Executive alongside other teachers with a range of political affiliations - many with no political affiliation at all. But is it really such a sensation that many leading trade unionists are also socialists? There has always been a strong current of socialist ideas in the trade union movement, and rightly so.

Those who want to mount a 'red-scare' in the NUT need to remember that none of us have been 'parachuted' into office. We have been elected by classroom teachers in a postal ballot where union members had a chance to democratically decide which candidate provided the clearest leadership. Should it really be a surprise that, faced with attacks on children's education, cuts to pay and pensions and ever more impossible levels of workload, more teachers are backing candidates that propose a more determined action strategy?

Teachers have democratically voted to elect more supporters of the Local Associations National Action Campaign, the campaign body of which I am the elected convenor. However, LANAC is not a body based on any particular political views. It is united by a belief that the Union needs to mobilise around clear demands, demands which can be won through developing a clear calendar of escalating strike action. 

More to the point, perhaps there is a growing recognition - and hence perhaps the consequent 'red-scare' - that a majority of NUT members voting this June might also make the same choice and support my stand to be the next NUT General Secretary.

Another packed LANAC meeting at NUT Conference - this one on Monday

Stand Up for Supply Teachers

I welcomed the opportunity yesterday to second an amendment on behalf of the NUT National Executive updating the Union’s policy on campaigning to support Supply Teachers.

 Here is a video of my speech:


In speaking on behalf of the Executive, I also acknowledged that the steps taken by the Union over the last twelve months to develop a Charter for Supply Teachers have come about, in good part, thanks to supply teachers in the Union making their anger clear - and rightly so.

Supply Teachers have every right to be angry because they have been at the sharp end of privatisation.

Long before most teachers faced the ending of pay portability and threats to pay progression, supply colleagues already faced a 'race to the bottom' as agencies undercut rivals and offered employment at the lowest rates possible to maximise profits.

Supply teachers have seen their employment prospects threatened by work being offered to lower paid cover supervisors and HLTAs.

While teachers have fought attaclks on their pension scheme, agency teachers have no access to the Teachers' Pension Scheme at all.

To challenge this injustice, we have to turn that anger into action.  We have to:
  • Persuade schools to employ supply staff on the proper rate for the job
  • Lobby the DfE to allow access to the Teachers' Pension Scheme
  • Pressurise Agencies to make sure DBS certificates are portable between different agencies and that they pay their staff properly.
To do that, we have to lobby, protest and organise. That can't be just the job of supply teachers. 'An Injury to One is an Injury to All' - it's a campaign that every Local NUT Association must take up after NUT Conference. 

The motion was passed unanimously.

Sunday, 20 April 2014

LANAC argues for clear demands and a calendar of action

On Saturday at NUT Conference in Brighton, I had the opportunity to propose the amendment agreed at the LANAC fringe meeting to strengthen the Union's Priority Motion.

 Here is a video of my speech


After debate, the amendment was eventually defeated but the arguments for clear demands and a calendar of action struck home - and will have to be taken on board as the union develops its future strategy for ongoing action after the further national action proposed for the end of June.

Here is the text of the LANAC bulletin that was handed to delegates, explaining our case:

Strengthen the Priority Motion

This afternoon’s debate is the key discussion at Conference.

Conditions for classroom teachers are intolerable: 60-hour weeks, stress and bullying, pay and pension robbery, observations and capability threats.

We have a responsibility to teachers, and to the children we teach, to stop these attacks. However, to do so, we need a plan of action that is strong enough to win real gains for members.

The Priority Motion, unamended, does not set out such a clear plan. Yes, it includes points that everyone would agree - like continuing to take the Union’s message to the public.

Yes, reflecting the pressure for a more decisive approach, it does at least, in (H) and (I), suggest that action will continue in the summer and autumn terms. However, once again, it fails to set out a clear calendar of action that we can take from Conference so that Gove knows, and our members know, what action he can expect if he fails to meet the Unions’ demands. It also fails to explain what the demands are that we are striking to win, apart from those about DfE policy implementation.

Reach and pass LANAC’s amendment

Packed LANAC meeting agrees the proposed amendment
That’s why LANAC’s packed fringe meeting last night debated and arrived at a strengthening amendment (tabled in the name of Martin Powell-Davies). It adds two key areas that are missing from the Priority Motion: a clear set of demands that we are aiming to win - and a strategy for how we are going to win them! LANAC urges delegates to support the amendment - and to make sure that Conference debate is not closed down before it is reached.

Fair "implementation" of PRP is not enough

The ‘immediate demands’ in II. - like publication of spine points and positive guidance on portability - have to be made but, even if agreed, these will do no more than sugar the bitter pill of divisive and discriminatory performance-related pay. Surely, we are taking action for a lot more than that!

LANAC’s amendment demands: i) End Performance-Related Pay and reinstate national pay scales.

68 is too late to retire

Of course, as in G), we should make the most we can of any DfE reviews but we certainly can’t settle just for an enquiry into ‘supporting work until 68’.

Given the intensity of teachers’ working lives, many teachers already struggle to work on until 60, let alone 68! We have to make the demand in LANAC’s amendment: ii) A normal pension age of 60 for all teachers.

£2,000 - a pay claim to mobilise around

In building for action, the Union has rightly pointed to the 15% stolen from teachers’ incomes through increased pension contributions and pay rises being held beneath even CPI inflation, let along real cost of living increases.

Many young teachers face severe debt. Winning on pay has to be part of our campaign objectives.

However, if we are serious about pay, we need a serious pay claim that we can mobilise members to take action to win.

LANAC’s amendment calls for: iii) A £2,000 increase on all pay points.

The £2,000 claim is a figure that has been arrived at through discussion. It is a clear flat-rate claim that rightly benefits those on the lowest salaries the most. It is a claim that at least goes some way to getting back some of what has been stolen from us. It would be a 9.2% increase on point M1 in England/Wales, a 4.4% increase on U3 in Inner London.

What’s the alternative on offer? If you read the Executive amendment 37.1, the demand to be publicised is simply "a pay rise for teachers in line with inflation". How many teachers are going to be inspired to take action over a claim for 1.7%?!

Turn the tide on workload

Last, but by no means least, we have to make reducing teachers’ unsustainable workload a key objective. The Union has policy on a National Contract, including 20% PPA for all teachers, that explains the Union’s aims in more detail. We have to make clear that a further demand to win our dispute is, as in the LANAC amendment: iv) A significant reduction in teachers' overall working hours.

A calendar of action to win these demands

The Union’s campaign can no longer consist of isolated one-day strikes that look more like just ‘protests’ rather than a serious strategy to win serious demands.

We have to escalate our action and set out a strategy that can win.

LANAC welcomes the fact that other public sector unions like GMB and UNISON look likely to be balloting to take one-day action next term, probably in early July. It makes sense to seek to co-ordinate strike plans, particularly with support staff colleagues. However, we would also support proposals to draw up plans for two days of NUT strike action in the summer term.

We also agree with the proposal in J) that we try to focus Action Short of Strike Action - and LANAC’s amendment stresses that this should also be an ‘escalation’ not just a continuation of what we are doing now. For example, action could be focused on refusing observations.

What then? - Escalate in the Autumn Term

Above all, LANAC believes that we have to have a calendar that goes beyond just what we are doing next. This time, if we take action in June/July, then we need to be able to tell members what we are preparing for next. That’s why LANAC’s amendment is setting out a calendar of action for the Autumn Term that consists of:

* A week of action before the half-term break and a further week of action in November.

Our Conference would be setting out a clear message that we’re not just looking at another one-off strike, but a continuing calendar of action until Gove backs down.

* In each week, all members covered by the union's ballot will be called upon to take at least two consecutive days of strike action.

There can be further discussion in the Union about precise plans but LANAC’s amendment makes clear that we will be escalating beyond one-day strikes. It could be two 2-day national strikes or a 2-day followed by a 3-day strike. 2-day action could be divided regionally so that some areas take action on Tues / Wed and others on Wed / Thurs, spreading the impact of the strike over three days.

* A Special Conference to look at progress and plan next steps

Making further plans would require bringing the Union together again to judge what progress has been made and where we go next. The months leading up to a General Election can be when politicians are most vulnerable - so we should set down a marker now that we are ready to act further in 2015.

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