Monday, 1 September 2014

Norway: Strike forces employers to retreat

http://www.newsinenglish.no/2014/09/01/teachers-strike-finally-over/
Reports from colleagues in Norway have informed me that their national teachers' strike has come to an end after the employers' federation were forced to back down from their original proposals to worsen teachers' working conditions.

Some reports in English from the Norwegian press are posted on: http://www.newsinenglish.no/2014/09/01/teachers-strike-finally-over/ and http://www.thelocal.no/20140901/norways-teachers-strike-over-as-unions-agree

While the debate on Norwegian teachers' forums shows that there are parts of the new agreement that are still being questioned  (and the new deal still has to be voted on), colleagues are also rightly congratulating each other for standing firm and forcing the employers to retreat.

Sunday, 31 August 2014

Workload and Conditions: a checklist for the start of the year

In the first hectic days of a new school year, teachers will be concentrating on making sure they get to grips with new classes and timetables. It's well worth each union group also taking time to make sure that some essential Conditions of Services issues are sorted out too. A little effort now can smooth things considerably for the year ahead:


PPA  - your planning, preparation and assessment time should be identified clearly (and be, at the very least, not less than 10% of your timetabled teaching time). NQTs are entitled to a further reduction - the NUT has packs for newly-qualified staff that list their entitlements.

School Calendar - you should be told in advance when to expect staff meetings, training days, parents' evenings and other key deadlines like reports and data collection. Once set, these should not be altered without consultation and a reasonable period of notice. If you are unhappy about the proposed calendar, it's important to raise your concerns now - when it's easier to resolve any issues. Remember, NUT guidelines advise that directed-time meetings outside session times should be held on average no more than once a week.

Holiday Dates - Lewisham schools broke up at the end of last term on several different dates. In 2015, the official term dates for our Local Authority end on Monday, July 20. It's well worth asking now to make sure that adjustments are made (perhaps through use of 'twilight sessions') to make sure no school goes beyond the last Friday, July 17.


Directed Time Budget - schools should be providing a breakdown of the allocation of the contractual 1,265 hours of directed time in which teachers, (but not those on the leadership spine) are required  to be available for work. Part-timers should particularly check that their personal allocation is correctly calculated. Directed-time calculations can be a point of debate between unions and management. Lewisham NUT Officers are happy to advise.


Salary statement, pay and appraisal policies. As we explain further inside, this is the first September when the new performance-pay legislation allows schools to start blocking pay progression - although we would hope that Lewisham Heads will not pursue this damaging policy.  If staff are told that they are not receiving the 1% pay rise, or don't receive incremental progression, we strongly urge teachers to appeal - backed up by their colleagues.

This article is taken from the latest Lewisham NUT newsletter (and thanks to City of Leicester NUT for the original article that I adapted from their newsletter!) - it can be downloaded from http://local.teachers.org.uk/templates/asset-relay.cfm?frmAssetFileID=13041

Back to the same fear and workload ...

Meanwhile, an article in the Independent that is being widely-shared by teachers on Facebook gives a timely reminder of the stress that will soon be piling on teachers.

Yet another teacher who has left the profession writes that "The culture of fear is endemic .. the fear seems to permeate from above: I've had three head teachers and the thing they've had in common is an inability to change things, as their hands are tied by the same external demands for accountability and good data ...The only way to do a good job is to work breathless 12-plus-hour days every day, which I cannot keep up". http://www.independent.co.uk/news/education/schools/a-teacher-speaks-out-im-effectively-being-forced-out-of-a-career-that-i-wanted-to-love-9695706.html

The same story keeps getting told - but with the fear and workload getting worse every year. Isn't it time we put a stop to it?

Friday, 29 August 2014

October 14 strike - National Executive to debate NUT participation next week

Support staff unions UNISON, GMB and UNITE have, true to their word, called further strike action on October 14 to build on the co-ordinated action of July 10, with UNISON extending their ballot to include many academies as well. Next week, on Friday September 5th, the NUT Executive meets to decide if the National Union of Teachers will also be joining that action.

July 10 in Trafalgar Square
As I posted earler in August (http://electmartin1.blogspot.co.uk/2014/08/nut-must-join-co-ordinated-strike-on.html), "surely, as on July 10, the NUT must take strike action alongside these trade union colleagues again. 

The July 10 strike had a significant impact with well-supported rallies in towns and cities across England and Wales. I don't think that it was any coincidence that, soon after, David Cameron decided it was time to ditch Michael Gove from his post as Education Secretary. That decision should give teachers renewed confidence that, with a clear plan of continuing action, we can force Cameron to change policy too - not just personnel.

It was the mass co-ordinated strike of November 30 2011 that forced the Government to concede the limited - if insufficient - gains that we were able to make over pensions - such as protection for the over-50s. Further mass co-ordinated action provides the best opportunity to force further concessions from the government - particularly in the lead-up to the General Election. It is an opportunity we have to take".

However, the outcome of the Executive meeting is not certain. In particular, there may be some arguing that we cannot call further action until the 'affirmative ballot' consultation of the national membership has been completed. 


The timing of that consultation has now been set to run from late September, closing just before a Special Meeting of the Executive meets to consider the responses on October 23rd. This timescale has the benefit of giving sufficient time to alert members to the importance of responding positively to the ballot but does, of course, mean that the consultation will not be finished in time to influence any decision over action on October 14.

I hope that, on reflection, those on the Executive who were arguing in July that we cannot call further action until the consultation has concluded will reconsider and back the NUT joining action in October. We have to take account of the specific circumstances we face and, in line with Conference policy, be "seeking to co-ordinate with other education and public sector unions where possible and showing flexibility to any timescales they may have".

As I posted previously, "the fact that October 14 has now been called as a joint strike day must surely now be paramount - even if consultation on further strike action is still ongoing ... not to do so would not only weaken the NUT's hand, it would also undermine other unions, not least our support staff colleagues" 

Indeed, if the Executive were to vote against participation in the October action, the NUT delegation at TUC Congress the following week would have some difficult questions to answer - and I don't think they could be satisfactorily answered. When unions are coming together to co-ordinate strike action, very probably with the backing of Congress as a whole, then the NUT has to be taking a full part in that co-ordinated action.

In the next few days, NUT members should contact their Executive members to make their views known. Hopefully, they can be reassured that we will be able to start to prepare for joint action alongside support staff colleagues in October, working together to build on the July action, identifying less-organised workplaces that can be brought into action this time.

NUT reps and Local Associations should also start to alert colleagues to look out for the consultation materials - starting with preliminary information that should be arriving with their copy of the Union's 'Teacher' magazine that is being issued in mid-September.

Monday, 25 August 2014

Prepare to battle performance-pay - collectively, not individually


When teachers return to school for the new academic year, we face a new threat: the threat that some colleagues will not be awarded annual pay progression based on their ‘performance’. Teachers and their union groups must resist this threat collectively.

Up to now, it was rightly understood that, at least on the main scale, teachers should expect to progress up the pay scale towards M6 based on their addition of a year’s experience. We must set the tone from the start of term that this expectation should remain this year too.

The introduction of the ‘threshold’ and the Upper Pay Scale in 2000 means that teachers already have experience of how performance-management targets can be used to block pay progression. Often introduced fairly benignly at first in most schools, many teachers have seen the expectations being made on teachers to progress to U3 become increasingly harder. We must not allow the same barriers to be placed on main scale progression.

If we are to succeed in defending teachers, especially those on the main scale, then teachers must approach performance-pay decisions as a collective issue. Too often, teachers who were denied progression to or up the UPS felt that this was an ‘individual’ issue that they had to struggle with on their own. Teachers must feel confident to share their situation with colleagues – and colleagues must stand together to defend each other.

Union groups should make clear that they are prepared to request support for strike action if colleagues are denied pay progression up the main pay scale. That may seem a big step to take but, if left to individual appeals only, teachers will start to be picked off and performance pay will start to divide and demoralise staff. It’s far harder to pull things back once implemented. That’s why a firm stand must be taken now. Such local action must be taken alongside ongoing unifying national action to reverse the new performance-pay regulations entirely.

Preparing for strike action doesn’t mean that teachers shouldn’t also pursue internal pay appeal mechanisms. In fact, pay appeals can help expose the divisiveness and unfairness of performance-pay decisions and give Governors an opportunity to correct such unfairness. However, while well-prepared appeals can win, they certainly have a lot more chance when backed up by the threat of collective action!

The NUT has already issued initial advice on pay appeals and pay polices (to be found via http://www.teachers.org.uk/paytoolkit) and there will be more advice, briefing materials, model letters etc. to follow at the start of term. This will be a task that individual school groups and reps will need to take on as the volume of appeals could well be far too great for Local Association officers to take on alone.

Local NUT officers will obviously be on hand to advise but school reps and are often in the best place to advise on pay appeals as they will know the context of the school and its policies better than a local officer.

Reps should start the term by asking for the latest copies of the pay and appraisal policies applying in their schools, as different schools will have adopted different policies. There may well be some useful sections in school policies that can be used to defend teachers.

The National NUT advice also refers to three new DfE guidance documents published last term. While these documents, arising from talks between the DfE and the teacher unions, are still very much in line with Government policy, they do offer some useful points in particular on evidence requirements during appraisal and on pay portability. They are a limited gain secured by NUT members’ ongoing strike action (See documents in full via www.teachers.org.uk/payandconditions/pay ).

Potentially useful phrases for pay appeals from the DfE documents include: 


a) The use of evidence in appraisal and pay decisions
 
“It would not be appropriate for schools to introduce evidence requirements that are not directly and explicitly related to the formal appraisal process and with the objectives and standards that have been agreed with the teacher” (para 4).

“The appraisal process should be supportive and developmental and the school’s pay and appraisal policy should set out clearly how the outcome of the appraisal process will feed into pay decisions. The school should manage the appraisal process so that there are no surprises at the end of the year – throughout the appraisal cycle both the teacher and line manager should understand what objectives are in place, the evidence that will be used and the criteria to assess performance, and progress towards meeting these” (para 6).

“Schools should provide feedback where necessary during the course of the year on the areas where the teacher might need to improve in order to secure a positive assessment at the end of the appraisal period” (para 7).

“Under the Regulations, teachers’ performance must be assessed against the relevant standards and against their individual objectives. For the majority of teachers in maintained schools in England, the relevant standards are the Teachers’ Standards, and in Wales they are the Practising Teacher Standards (para 10) [BUT!] ... It is not necessary for schools to adopt rigid models that seek to set out exactly what the relevant standards mean for teachers at different stages in their careers and teachers should not be expected routinely to provide evidence that they meet all the standards” (para 11). 


b) Equalities considerations as part of the appraisal and pay determination process

“When formulating pay policies and making pay decisions schools should take care to avoid discriminating against teachers on grounds of their protected characteristics. They should also ensure that part-time teachers and fixed-term teachers are not treated less favourably” (para 2).

“Where a teacher is away from school because of maternity leave, it is unlawful for the school to deny that teacher an appraisal and subsequent pay progression decision because of her maternity. When a teacher returns to work from maternity leave, the school must give her any pay increases that she would have received, following appraisal, had she not been on maternity leave” (para 11).

“Schools need to take a practical and flexible approach to conducting appraisals and making pay decisions for those absent on maternity leave, including where a teacher has been absent for part or all of the reporting year” (para 12) ... Schools should consider conducting appraisals prior to individuals departing on maternity leave, even if this is early in the appraisal year, and basing any appraisal and pay determination on the evidence of performance to date in that appraisal year. Account could also be taken of performance in previous appraisal periods if there is very little to go on in the current year” (para 13).

“Schools should ensure that their pay and appraisal policies incorporate any adjustments which can reasonably be made to give a teacher who is absent for disability related reasons an equal opportunity to participate in appraisal and to access pay progression (para 14) ... When a teacher returns to work to work following a disability related absence, the school must not refuse a pay increase that the teacher would have received, following appraisal, had he or she not been absent for a reason related to disability, if the reason for the refusal is the teacher’s disability or the refusal cannot be objectively justified (para 15).

“Even where individual schools have robust pay policies in place and make pay decisions for individual teachers that are compliant with the direct discrimination provisions in the Equality Act, there is still the possibility for equal pay issues to arise. This may be where, for example, teachers seek to demonstrate that the pay policy in one school disadvantages teachers in that school compared to teachers in another employed by the same employer” (para 16).

c) Managing appeals against pay determination

School reps should check the procedure for pay appeals set down in their school’s policies. They should at least allow the three stages set down in this final one of the three DfE advice documents (which usefully allow teachers to appear before governors and present their views before final decisions are taken) :

Stage one – informal discussion with the appraiser or headteacher prior to confirmation of pay recommendation: a teacher who is dissatisfied with a pay recommendation has the opportunity to discuss the recommendation with the appraiser or headteacher before the recommendation is actioned and confirmation of the pay decision is made by the school.

Stage two – a formal representation to the person or governors’ committee making the pay determination: if, having had an informal discussion with the person making the pay recommendation, the teacher believes that an incorrect recommendation has been made, he/she may make representation to the person (or governors’ committee) making the decision. To begin the process the teacher should submit a formal written statement to the person (or governors’ committee) making the determination, setting down in writing the grounds for not agreeing with the pay recommendation; the teacher is given the opportunity to make representations, including presenting evidence, calling witnesses and the opportunity to ask questions, at a formal meeting with the person (or governors’ committee) who will make the pay determination.

Stage three
– a formal appeal hearing with an appeals panel of governors: should the teacher not agree with the pay determination, the teacher may appeal the decision and have an appeal hearing before an appeals panel of governors (who were not involved in previous discussions regarding the teacher’s pay determination and should be familiar with the school’s pay and appraisal policies); In the hearing before governors, both the teacher and the management representative will have the opportunity to present their evidence and call witnesses, and to question each other.

In conclusion, the detail above can all help to use pay appeals – and the threat of pay appeals - to put pressure on school managements not to inflict the damaging divisiveness of performance-pay on their schools. However, it will be a collective dispute with staff as a whole standing together to defend colleagues that will best defeat performance-pay.

Ofsted Exposed

Along with exam league tables, the Ofsted inspection system has long been used as a key tool for successive Governments to implement their divisive, pro-market, educational agenda.

Ofsted's supporters try to rubbish their detractors as simply being 'inadequate' school leaders and teachers, unwilling to face up to rigorous 'accountability'. Yet news this summer has exposed, once again, the true bias and unreliability inherent in the Ofsted system.

Exposed: Bias against schools with less advantaged intakes

This market-driven accountability system was inevitably always going to be biased against schools serving more disadvantaged communities. After all, whatever excellent work is carried out by teachers and schools, class and home background will always remain a key influence on educational attainment. However, the extent of that bias has rarely been so clinically exposed as in a recent analysis by Trevor Burton (@JTrevorBurton), headteacher of Millthorpe School in York. 

He has carried out an analysis comparing Ofsted judgements of over 2,600 secondary schools with the prior attainment of their pupils, based on Key Stage 2 results. The graphical results posted on his blog, speak for themselves:

See in full on: http://jtbeducation.wordpress.com/2014/06/29/whats-the-easiest-way-to-a-secondary-ofsted-outstanding/

In case anyone from Ofsted might object that their latest framework reduces this obvious bias, Trevor has also produced results for the 242 schools judged since the start of 2014. If anything, the results are even more polarised:

See in full on: http://jtbeducation.wordpress.com/2014/06/29/whats-the-easiest-way-to-a-secondary-ofsted-outstanding/

Trevor Burton lists some suggestions to explain the results of his analysis. Please read his full blogpost for more detail but I would personally highlight his suggestions that "Schools with able intakes are more likely to have pupils with the middle class values that prize education, making it easier to demonstrate the sorts of things inspectors want: good behaviour, strong progress, a thirst for knowledge" and that "the Ofsted framework is biased against secondary schools with weaker intakes and expects more of them". 

As he concludes, "If you want your secondary school to get an Outstanding Ofsted grade and you want to avoid RI or Inadequate, make sure your pupils’ previous attainment on intake is as high as possible". Regrettably, of course that's exactly what some schools try to do.

Exposed: Bias in favour of academy schools?


A worthwhile inspection and evaluation system would offer genuine support and advice to schools - particularly those schools facing the greatest challenges. However, that has never been the purpose of Ofsted. It has been designed to rank schools under the illusion that the 'market raises standards' - while condemning those who it deems as failing to be taken over by privatised academy chains.  

Scandalously, evidence of other kinds of 'bias' has been revealed this summer, bias in favour of those academy chains that have been created out of the Ofsted regime.

Firstly, the new Chair of Ofsted was named in July as David Hoare, who, at the time of his appointment, was a trustee of the Academies Enterprise Trust, one of the largest academy chains.  If this latest example of blatantly political appointments to public bodies is no longer enough to shock, then the accusations made by the Observer in August -  that three Norfolk academies were tipped-off in advance of the dates of their Ofsted inspection - should be.

In the article, http://www.theguardian.com/education/2014/aug/17/academies-run-superhead-advance-notice-ofsted-checks, Warwick Mansell (@warwickmansell) and Daniel Boffey state that "Evidence uncovered by this newspaper suggests that three schools in Norfolk, all overseen by Dame Rachel de Souza, knew of impending visits by inspectors days, and sometimes weeks, before Ofsted arrived".

Those outside education may not appreciate how such a (totally unauthorised) 'tip-off' would put these academies at a significant advantage. Schools can be kept on tenterhooks for months awaiting the call from Ofsted, with teachers under even greater pressure keeping everything up-to-date ready for a sudden inspection. In the case of Ormiston Victory Academy, the Observer alleges that, not only were they able to be prepared in advance, they even had a chance to draft in outside teachers to 'perform' in front of the inspectors.

The political connections are clear. De Souza was made a Dame in the New Year honours for services to education, The Observer writes that when Michael Gove visited one of her academies in 2012, he announced: "If anyone asked me what my ideal education policy would be, it would be to clone Rachel 23,000 times."

The article continues that "De Souza left Ormiston to become full-time chief executive of the Norwich-based Inspiration Trust, an academy chain chaired by Theodore Agnew, a Conservative party donor, who also heads the Department for Education's "academies board", which promotes academy sponsorship". Guess what? The Observer alleges that De Souza received tip-offs about Ofsted visits to two further Inspiration Trust academies last term.

Time to expose Ofsted


Ofsted has become a key part in a demoralising chain of bullying that extends from the DfE down to the classroom as too many Heads, in fear of their futures, pass on the pressure onto their staff. Schools change their practice according to what fits the latest Ofsted criteria, regardless of whether informed educational research supports their methodology (with the reliance on unreliable clasroom observation of teaching quality based on Ofsted gradings being an obvious example). Yet, as the revelations above show, the system is inherently unfair and biased, and perhaps worse than that.

Heads have complained about the unfairness of the Ofsted system for years. Unfortunately, most have concluded that the only way to protect themselves is to 'play the Ofsted game' and dance to their latest tune, pressurising their teaching staff to do the same. Regrettably, too many Heads may choose to do the same when it comes to implementing the latest, closely-linked and equally unfair Government policy, performance-related pay.

It's time that Heads and teachers, and their unions and professional associations, refused to go along with these disastrous policies any longer. Instead of succumbing to pressure, Heads should refuse to implement performance-pay and work with teachers in exposing the tyranny of Ofsted and all the damage that is being done by Government policy. 

Instead of being bullied into trying to undermine further strike action by teaching unions against these policies, more Heads should follow the good example set by some of their colleagues (in July and previously) by making sure their schools are closed to pupils for the day, teachers encouraged to take action and parents fully informed as to why, together, staff and parents must act to rescue education from the damage being done by Government policies.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Performance Pay - an "absolute dictatorship of the employer"

The latest issue of the National Shop Stewards Network's weekly bulletin contains a tale that will regrettably strike a chord with too many teachers getting ready return to school and our own performance management meetings.

For the full bulletin, read: http://shopstewards.net/2014/08/nssn-206-performance-management-turn-on-log-on-tune-in/

The CWU in British Telecom has just undertaken a survey of members whether to ballot for strike action over Performance Management (PM). A majority are in favour. But PM is increasingly being used throughout the world of work. This week, a CWU member lifts the lid on this bullying culture (names have been changed):-

“A confidential meeting between a line manager and team member is taking place. Targets have been revised and raised. Now each member of the manager’s team must hit 100% of expected job standards, but not to worry as the individual has achieved 130%; an increase of 30%. They are continuously improving and being Right First Time.  However, some of the job activities have had their time allowed to complete cut by 33%, and in others, 50%. Well done, no matter, the individual seems to be coping well with this new revision and is on track to meet expectations. But hold on there. The manager has been informed that within the 130% productivity, not enough risk is being taken. It turns out that 16% of that 130% should in fact be 30%. On that alone, the 30% increase in productivity and meeting targets must be put aside. It also turns out that on one occasion, when the manager wanted an Instant Messenger chat, the individual had been 10 minutes late back from lunch. This same technology, the manager is informed, did not pick up the extra 20 minutes yesterday spent saving a job from ending up as a Service Level Agreement for the company. No matter. The member is told to watch their timekeeping, put on a development plan and is marked “Development Needed”. When they had walked in the room they had been on a mark of “Achieving Standards”.

Reports come in the tea break. Another manager elsewhere has marked all of his team as “Development Needed”. For 30 minutes A pissed off worker has been held back by team mates as  he verbally berates this manager who, after marking all the team down, is still sits sitting amongst them on the same floor in open view of all. It is regarded as crass piss taking. The team member sits down exhausted, it is never ending, and they are always on your back. What’s the point, no one is doing f**k all about it.

Archie is screaming, swearing and kicking all his desk drawers. Everything is falling on to the floor. He is literally in tears. “What’s up mate?”

“F***ing software, cancelled out all my macros again. Got to get this f******g job out ‘cos I’m expected to do two jobs a day; they’re on my back again”. Poorly designed and replatformed software has meant that jobs get stuck in being processed on the web based computer tools. The pressure is on for despite Senior Managers knowing full well of this known but unresolved problem, targets were recently raised. Archie is on a final warning and is desperate.

Welcome to the working world where for the working week, in the world’s oldest democracy, an absolute dictatorship of the employer rules the floor. It is suffocating.”

NSSN News: Lobby of TUC Conference on September 7th in Liverpool – The 2014 NSSN conference agreed that the Network will hold a public rally at the TUC Congress in Liverpool to lobby delegates to keep up the pressure for further co-ordinated strikes – 2pm Sunday September 7th in Jury’s Hotel opposite Echo Arena conference centre in Albert Dock. PCS General Secretary Mark Serwotka is one of the confirmed speakers alongside Ronnie Draper BFAWU General Secretary and Steve Gillan POA General Secretary. 

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Teachers' strike builds in Norway

From http://www.nrk.no/rogaland/tusenvis-av-laerere-demonstrerer-1.11890042
Now the summer holidays have come to an end, the strike by Norwegian teachers - of the Utdanningsforbundet union - is escalating. This follows a membership rejection of a deal that was put to them following negotiations earlier in the year (see previous posts under the 'International' label for more background to the dispute).

Colleagues who I visited in April have sent me a brief report: 

"Fantastic turnout at the strike rally today! More than 4000 teachers gathered in small Stavanger... Tomorrow more teachers are starting their strike. Approx 8000 nationally now, and 800 locally. What's fascinating now is that our employers are really under tremendous pressure from politicians, media and people in general - and they do not seem to know how to manage this situation!" 


Look out for more updates ...

There's a summary of the dispute posted on the EI's "Unite for Quality Education" blog: http://www.unite4education.org/quality-teachers/norway-teacher-strike-intensifies-as-schools-re-open