Thursday, 23 October 2014

Workload - NUT demands real change

The NUT Executive met this afternoon to discuss and reflect on the results of the Union's consultative ballot and the initiatives now being announced by Nicky Morgan around the 'Workload Challenge'.

The 98% YES for continuing the Stand Up For Education Campaign and 80% in favour of further strike action announced at the Executive confirm the continued membership support for continued action to win real gains on workload, pay and pensions.

The fact that politicians are having to recognise that teacher workload has to be addressed is a real step forward. However, as the Report presented to the meeting stated, "whilst celebrating the successes of our campaign we must be realistic about the lack of change so far for teachers in schools. There must be urgent action on teacher workload, on the unfair pay system and the unfair pension changes ... However the movements by the DFE and the  support for our manifesto do open real opportunties of which we must take advantage". 

The strategy agreed was to draw up plans for up to two days of strike action in the spring term. Until then, we continue the talks to give Nicky Morgan and the DFE the chance to prove that their fine words will be backed up by real change. At the same time, however, where schools are imposing excessive demands or threatening denial of pay progression, the Union isn't just waiting for national negotiations. We are encouraging schools to use our ongoing ballot to take action, escalating to sustained strike action, to oppose such attacks.

But what changes would we prepared to settle for? I have argued over years that the Union must demand that Government act on workload - and that we must make clear  demands that we can mobilise members around.

Importantly, the Executive were presented with a draft Action Programme to reduce excessive teacher workload setting out possible demands to put to Nicky Morgan over replacing Ofsted/Estyn, stopping excessive marking and planning demands, ending performance-pay on the mainscale, and winning binding work-life balance policies and a limit on working hours.

However, getting these demands right is key. We have an opportunity to win real change - but we mustn't waste this chance and settle for too little, simply to declare 'victory'.

That's why I was pleased that it was agreed that the Executive takes views on the draft Action Programme and finalises it when we meet again on November 6th.

Update: I have uploaded the draft programme onto http://goo.gl/JF5vvW so you can have a look for yourself - comments and feedback welcome (and there's already a few amendments that I want to suggest myself ...)

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Workload - let's turn politicians' promises into real gains

"Too many of you are still struggling under the burden of an unnecessary and unsustainable workload. We want to work with you, and the whole of the teaching profession, to see what we can do to reduce this burden – to offer you a new deal" Nicky Morgan

"If we want to keep our talent in the classroom, we need to nail the workload issue – before too many teachers think their calling is just not worth the candle" Tristram Hunt

"Talk to a teacher and they'll tell you about their working week of 50 hours or more" Nick Clegg

Politicians are suddenly acknowledging the reality of teacher workload! Yes, of course, there is a General Election in their minds and they are after teacher votes. They are also worried about the damaging effects of teacher turnover. But what's clear is that politicians are having to respond to the pressure built up by the campaigning and strike action taken by the NUT.

It's good to celebrate when our campaigns start to have an effect - but it's also now vital that we make the most of this opportunity and make sure politicians turn words into actions that will genuinely limit workload. 

Our campaigns on pensions and pay failed to stop damaging legislation being imposed - and the pressure from imposed performance-pay targets are now, as we warned, further driving up stress and workload. This time, we have to succeed.

We can't make do just with limited gains such as Ofsted's 'myth-busting' document. As I posted previously in http://electmartin1.blogspot.co.uk/2014/10/morgan-and-ofsted-try-to-placate.html, "Ofsted and Nicky Morgan have chosen their words carefully. Morgan's commitments still fall far short of what is really required to really reduce teacher workload".  

Yes, we have to make the most of Nicky Morgan's latest 'Workload Challenge' Survey - and teachers are already responding in their thousands via https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/Workloadchallenge. If you haven't done already, then give your answers - but teachers need to be firm in their responses - and the NUT even more so! The Union response has to include a clear threat of ongoing strike action in the New Year.

In her TES Opinion piece, http://news.tes.co.uk/b/opinion/2014/10/21/nicky-morgan-i-want-to-build-a-new-deal-for-teacher-workload-and-i-need-your-help.aspx, Morgan writes "We now need your help to tackle this problem so that teachers can focus on what matters most – planning and teaching great lessons for children. By cutting back on unproductive, unnecessary workload, we want all teachers to have time and freedom to do what you do best – teach".

The problem with that approach, backed up by Question 8 about "unnecessary and unproductive tasks", is that, while the really pointless activities imposed by some schools are part of the problem, it's still the teaching tasks - planning, marking and preparation that fill most of the additional hours.

A 'workload deal' that just comes up with suggestions for good practice, perhaps including dubious 'IT solutions', without legislating to address the real issues, will be no 'deal' at all. That's why Question 10 in the Workload Challenge Survey is key: "What do you think should be done to tackle unnecessary workload - by government, by schools or by others ?"

Teachers will already be providing their answers. But here's a few suggestions:
  • The constant pressure to reach increased targets - targets that take no account of the increasing needs of children and families living in increasing poverty - has to stop. That means 'austerity' has to stop too!
  • Those targets and pressure are driven by Ofsted, league tables, performance-pay and the threat of academisation - they have to go - all of them!
  • As the NUT workload guidance suggests, initiatives and practices that are not 'workload-impact assessed' have to be rejected. As the NUT's own workload survey showed, top of the list for such unsustainable practices at present are marking policies. These, and any other policies, should only be allowed if they take account of the time available for teachers to carry them out.
  • Of course, that focuses on the key point. For too long, teachers have worked with open-ended contracts that set no limit on our working hours outside the school day. That's why we need to demand a National Contract that legislates for an overall limit on teachers' working hours, and for a minimum 20% PPA time so that we have adequate time to mark and prepare lessons within the working day.
  • ... and as a postscript, from feedback on this post, what about class sizes?

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

LANAC survey results - what demands and strategy do we fight for?

Over the last few weeks, NUT members have been voting in a consultative ballot over whether they are prepared to campaign and take further strike action up to the General Election. The results will be announced at the NUT National Executive meeting on Thursday. 

However, LANAC felt that, to really engage with NUT members, we would need a much deeper debate about what our campaign still needs to achieve - and what strategy is needed if we are to do so.

LANAC is arguing that members are looking to their Union for clear demands, and a clear strategy to win. But what exactly should those demands and action calendar be? To get some feedback from school reps on these vital questions, LANAC publicised its own survey.

The sample wasn't large but included responses from a range of sectors and regions. The results really only open the debate, rather than offer firm conclusions, but I've drawn some initial views below.

First of all, on demands:


As you would expect, there's a range of opinions but I think the red columns are worth focusing on. These are the demands that reps felt we should 'aim to win' i.e. not too far ahead of what we might achieve, nor too little to aim for.

Looking at the most popular choices as ones we 'aim to win', then what about a campaign that demands?
  • End our open-ended contracts: a fixed limit on overall working hours
  • No performance-related pay for the main pay spine
  • A £2,000 increase on all pay points (or another figure?)
  • All teachers to be able to retire on their full pension at 60
But how are we going to achieve those demands? The last questions in the LANAC survey again reflected a range of views:



    Most teachers recognise that the 'up to two days of strike action' (that the NUT's consultative ballot was seeking support for) will not be enough to win our demands. However, as things stand, only a small majority felt that, at this stage, their members would be prepared to take more action between now and the Election. 

    Those responses reflect the fact that the Union needs to go out and really convince NUT members that we are serious about winning, and have a strategy that is strong enough to do so. Many question whether just maintaining one-day 'protest' strikes is sufficient.

    What would such a strategy look like? The last question showed that the most favoured calendar was an escalating series of strikes - certainly from one to two days - and then building further to a three-day strike.


    Sunday, 19 October 2014

    Morgan and Ofsted try to placate teachers - but what effect will it have in schools?

    The NUT block marching on yesterday's TUC demo in London
    In another pre-election attempt to distance herself from her detested predecessor, Education Secretary Nicky Morgan has written a letter drawing attention to a new 'myth-busting' document issued by Ofsted.

    Morgan's letter states that "this document has emerged from the current programme of talks between the department for education and trade unions, and I welcome its publication as a positive step towards tackling unnecessary workload in schools". 

    The Ofsted document (which can be read in full on http://www.teachers.org.uk/files/ofsted-inspections-clarification-for-schools.pdf) certainly provides useful ammunition to school union groups seeking to limit the present levels of unmanageable workload.

    In particular, the document makes clear that Ofsted:
    • are interested in the effectiveness of planning rather than the form it takes.
    • does not expect schools to use the Ofsted evaluation schedule to grade teaching or individual lessons.
    • does not require schools to undertake a specified amount of lesson observation.
    • does not expect to see a particular frequency or quantity of work in pupils’ books or folders.
    • does not expect to see unnecessary or extensive written dialogue between teachers and pupils in exercise books and folders
    • does not require schools to provide evidence for each teacher for each of the bulleted sub-headings in the Teachers’ Standards
    These 'clarifications' back-up many of the points that the NUT has been making when opposing some of the more draconian school pay policies that link pay progression to Ofsted grading of lessons and/or Teacher Standards check-lists. The points making clear that extensive dialogue in books is not required, nor specific planning formats, can also help school groups battling against bureaucratic and excessively time-consuming marking and planning policies.

    However, Ofsted and Nicky Morgan have chosen their words carefully. Morgan's commitments still fall far short of what is really required to really reduce teacher workload. That would be the introduction of a National Contract that legislates for an overall limit on teachers' working hours, and for a minimum 20% PPA time so that we have adequate time to mark and prepare lessons within the working day.

    Of course, the NUT is absolutely right to point out that it is our campaign on excessive workload that has helped push Nicky Morgan into acknowledging that something has to be done to address it. The growing evidence of a crisis in teacher morale is also something that any Government has got to start paying some attention to. But the overriding aim to privatise and drive down the cost of public services remains sacrosanct. That's why it will still take a determined campaign of national and local action to achieve real concessions.

    Ofsted's letter is still only a limited gain. The divisive performance-pay system introduced by Michael Gove remains in place. The pressure from Ofsted on schools to  make the grade - or be forced into becoming academies - is certainly still there as well.

    Unfortunately, in her letter Nicky Morgan simply says that, rather than have to follow an Ofsted directive, "it is up to schools to decide how they monitor, evaluate and plan teaching and learning". In the same vein, the Ofsted document  says that "Ofsted will usually expect to see evidence of the monitoring of teaching and learning and its link to teachers’ performance management and the Teachers’ Standards, but this should be the information that the school uses routinely and not additional evidence generated for inspection". 

    In reality, these letters are still saying that schools can pressurise teachers with the threat of having their pay progression withheld - but that they should make up their own rules rather than pointing to Ofsted directives!

    So, on their own, these letters will change little in schools. However, used as arguments to support local and national action over workload, they could certainly prove useful.

    Next week, the NUT Executive meets to review the outcome of the Union's consultative ballot. I hope that we will be able to announce that we will be taking further national strike action up to the General Election to press for the changes that would really guarantee change - like a National Contract limiting workload and the removal of performance-pay, certainly on the main pay spine. Of course, that action will also be required under the next Government too.

    Alongside national action, the Union needs to give confidence and encouragement to union groups to demand schools adopt planning, marking and pay policies that protect teachers from excessive workload - turning Morgan's vague promises into meaningful reality.

    If Nicky Morgan wants to issue helpful advice, perhaps she should remind Headteachers that they have a Professional Responsibility under the School Teachers' Pay and Conditions Document (para 48.13) to "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"

    If of course, Heads do not show such regard, then what better grounds for a Union group to organise action under the NUT's ongoing ballot to make sure that such a work-life balance is achieved!

    Sunday, 12 October 2014

    Tristram's Oath - Time to discuss standing our own election candidates


    The failure of Tristram Hunt, Labour's Shadow Education Secretary, to significantly challenge Government policy has already disappointed many teachers. His statement today calling for teachers to make an 'oath' declaring their commitment to the profession has generated real anger.

    However it's dressed up, the proposal insultingly suggests that problems in education can be blamed on the lack of commitment from teachers. To make such an insulting statement just a week after the NUT revealed the damning results of its workload survey is quite incredible. In response, even Nicky Morgan was forced to acknowledge that workload needed to be addressed. But not Tristram!

    Apparently, this suggestion was the product of Hunt's recent visit to Singapore (see BBC News via http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-29482160), a schooling system which has been criticised for the enormous pressures it places on school students. 

    Social media has been full of angry responses, such as:





    The BBC News article blurted out what may well be the uncomfortable truth about Tristram: "from Labour's perspective, it also moves the education debate away from government changes that are unlikely to be unpicked".

    Yes, the NUT's Education Manifesto explains correctly how "the academies and free schools programme has resulted in unnecessary fragmentation of the education system" and demands "Give local authorities back the legal powers they need to plan and provide enough school places in their local areas" and "Restore the role of the local authority as the democratic local organisation responsible for education".

    However, a future New Labour Government apparently has no intention of doing any such thing. Tristram Hunt is quoted in the BBC article as saying "We're very much in favour, and I'm very passionate about, parents and charities setting up schools, providing choice for people in areas where we need new school places .. We want to see a multiplicity of provision - academy chains, single academies, community schools, parent-led academies."

    So, this is the tweet that I posted today:


    Some excellent work is being done by NUT Associations distributing our Education Manifesto and lobbying politicians. However, the likelihood is our words will fall on deaf ears, particularly at the tops of the main political parties.

    How long do we continue to put up with politicians that are wedded to cuts and privatisation at the expense of teachers, children and their parents and communities? Isn't it high time that the NUT, alongside other trade unions, started to talk seriously about providing alternative political representation that is prepared to stand up for trade union policies?

    The NUT would not be alone in having this debate. Indeed, it's instructive that, following their high-profile dispute, the leader of the Chicago Teachers' Union, Karen Lewis, has been preparing to stand in the election for Mayor of Chicago. (Karen has been seriously ill this week and I wish her well in her recovery - you can too via the AFT website - search for 'Get Well Soon Karen Lewis')

    That's why, as discussed at the LANAC Steering Committee yesterday, I have drafted a motion for the 2015 Annual Conference that I hope NUT Local Associations will put forward in their General Meetings before the deadline later this term. It can be downloaded via http://goo.gl/X22qzY but here's the text I am proposing:
     
    The NUT Manifesto and the Union’s Political Fund


    Conference congratulates members across the Union who have worked hard to distribute the “manifesto for our children’s education” to parents, politicians and in our local communities.

    We welcome the support that the Manifesto has received, including from educationalists such as Professor Robin Alexander who correctly described it as “not some ideological wish-list but a sensible and principled statement with a firm basis in evidence”.

    Conference agrees that we must continue to lobby the main political parties in order to try and persuade them to adopt our Manifesto recommendations. We encourage Associations to write to General Election candidates in their local Parliamentary Constituencies asking if they support the recommendations, and to draw candidates’ responses to the attention of their membership.

    However, Conference notes with regret that, despite our efforts, whatever party or parties form the next Government after May’s General Election, it is highly unlikely that its education policies will adopt many of the recommendations set down in the Manifesto.

    Conference recognises that an urgent debate is now required within the Union as to how we can best address the democratic deficit created when the main parties jointly support policies promoting austerity and privatisation.

    Conference notes that, in the face of similar attacks on public services and their trade union members, similar debates have taken place in other trade unions, such as the PCS, RMT and the Chicago Teachers Union. The NUT now also needs to consider whether we should give backing to alternative political representation, including through the use of our Political Fund to support candidates in local and national elections who are in support of Union policies.

    Conference instructs the Executive to:

    1) Consult with members and Local Associations and Divisions about the Union giving support to NUT members, and/or other trade union or community candidates, standing for election on a platform which is in line with Union policies;

    2) Approach other non-Labour-affiliated unions, and in particular PCS and RMT, for exploratory talks with a view to working together on addressing the lack of adequate political representation for trade unionists;

    3) Report back to Conference 2016 on the results of these discussions, including proposals for any recommended Rule Changes that have arisen from them which would require the agreement of Annual Conference. 


    ... and congratulations to everyone for another well-supported 'Twitter storm' tonight. Here's two more of mine that seemed to go down well with colleagues:


    Wednesday, 8 October 2014

    Solidarity with Kobane


    I was pleased to be able to speak at a Press Conference held in the Stop the War Coalition Office last night, at the invitation of Day-Mer, the Turkish and Kurdish Community organisation. 

    The event was called to explain what is happening in Kobane and allowed me to offer my support and solidarity to those struggling bravely to defend the town and, more broadly, to the workers and poor of the whole region in their fight for self-determination, workers' unity  and to defeat poverty, corruption and IS brutality.

    In doing so, I made clear my view that trade unionists and socialists must oppose the intervention of the US, UK and other Western powers. As the Turkish Government's actions were confirming, they will only act when it suits their own agenda and to further their own interests.

    Whatever happens in the imemdiate battle in Kobane, the heroic resistance being put up by Kurdish fighters shows the determination that people will show when they have a goal worth fighting for.

    I spoke alongside other Socialist Party members on the platform and endorse the comments in the article below: 

    The plight of ordinary Kurds and others living in Kobane in the Kurdish area of Syria, surrounded and besieged by ISIS, fills everyone who sees the brutal methods of ISIS, including mass executions, beheadings, torture and rape, with horror. 150,000 refugees have fled. The resistance put up by Kurdish fighting forces in Syria, a third of whom are women, is extremely courageous.

    Kurds are a stateless nation, divided, since the 1921 post-war agreement between imperialist powers to carve up the Middle East, across Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey. As instability has swept the Middle East as a result of western imperialism’s wars, Kurds have been able to develop autonomous areas in both Iraq and Syria. 

    The three Kurdish enclaves in Northern Syria are known as Rojava (West Kurdistan). In a region dominated by repressive regimes including suppression of women, Rojava is something of a beacon to Kurds, with its attempts to involve people of all faiths and nationalities in secular cantons. Its standing has grown further in comparison with the corrupt capitalist regime of Barzani in the Kurdish area of Northern Iraq.

    The dominant organisation in Rojava is the PYD (Democratic Union Party), linked to the PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party), a guerrilla organisation with mass support based in the Kurdish areas of Turkey. It was the PKK that entered Iraqi Kurdish areas when the Yazidi (Christian) community were under attack and played a large part in repelling ISIS from Sinjar.

    The population of Kobane faces the possibility of a massacre. Many Kurdish organisations have, in desperation, called for action by western powers, in particular for heavy armoury to back up the bombings.

    But any involvement of the US, UK and other western capitalist powers will only ever be in pursuit of their own interests. Western imperialism has a long record of standing by while populations are slaughtered - including of Kurds themselves - and intervening to inflict their own carnage when it has served their interests.

    Western powers want the involvement of Turkey, and the Turkish government has now agreed to join the campaign against ISIS. However it does this for its own reasons. It is suspected of having colluded with ISIS against the Kurds in Syria. They have allowed jihadists to cross their border in big numbers. They now fear they have created a monster – or in fact two: ISIS itself, which now threatens their own borders, but also an armed and roused Kurdish population. 

    A ‘peace process’ is meant to be in place between the PKK and Turkish state but depending on how events develop, they will fear the Kurdish population in Turkey could sweep that aside. Appallingly, the Turkish state has mobilised troops and teargas against Kurds and Turks gathering on the border wanting to get through to join the resistance. Turkish aims in Syria include setting up a buffer zone in Rojava and replacing Kurdish fighters with their own forces. 

    The Socialist Party has offered our support to a statement by Turkish and Kurdish community organisation Day-Mer, which stands clearly against western imperialist intervention and correctly says: 

    “The crocodile tears of Western imperialist countries, led by the USA, in an attempt to appear to be bombing ISIS, should not deceive anybody. The blood bath in the region is their creation. For this reason, the way forward to get rid of ISIS barbarism is not a new imperialist intervention that provokes conflicts between different beliefs and peoples to plunder the region’s natural resources; on the contrary, it is only possible through termination of these countries’ interventions in the region and the realization of regional people’s right to self-determination of their future.” 

    The Socialist Party supports the right to armed resistance by people who face the possibility of slaughter. This should be under the control of democratically-elected, non-sectarian defence committees, which would enable the mass of ordinary people to take an active role, including in deciding the course of action. We support the right of Kurdish people to self-determination.

    Both ISIS and imperialism can be repelled in the Middle East. Because of the ethnic and national divides in the Middle East this would have to take the form of a non-sectarian workers defence force with democratic controls. It would require an appeal to workers and poor people across the region, including in Turkey, across Iraq and Syria and beyond, with a programme to defend the democratic rights and national aspirations of all peoples. It would mean campaigning for the vast wealth of the region to be owned and controlled democratically in order to provide a secure standard of living for all working and poor people. A voluntary socialist confederation of the Middle East would enable all peoples to freely and democratically decide their own fates.

    Monday, 6 October 2014

    Defend Education in Lewisham - NUT to host Public Meeting

    Download via http://goo.gl/mqcCdYd
    Lewisham NUT have called a Public Meeting on Wednesday 12 November, 7 pm - 9 pm in ‘The Barn’ at the Green Man, 355 Bromley Road, London SE6 2RP. Here's why:

    LEWISHAM SCHOOLS AT RISK
    Lewisham has largely resisted the spread of academies and free schools that has divided education in some boroughs - until now. 


    In the last few months, governors at Bonus Pastor school have started to consult over converting to an academy. Plans for two new ‘free schools’ have been announced in the local press. The NUT understands that other schools might be under threat of take-over  from Government-backed academy sponsors. 


    EDUCATION, NOT PRIVATISATION
    Some parents may once have believed that academies were the way forward. But the facts now confirm that breaking-up Local Authority schooling does not improve education. It creates a fragmented system where schools are run by unaccountable businesses and individuals, making it even harder for parents.


    The National Union of Teachers thinks that the expansion of academies and free schools is part of a wider political agenda to privatise our public services - just like the Health Service. Lewisham residents have successfully rallied to defend our NHS. Now we must organise to defend education in Lewisham too.


    LET COUNCILS OPEN NEW SCHOOLS
    London Councils are being held to to ransom. Growing pupil numbers mean that there is an urgent need to open new schools. But, to force through its privatising plans, the Government says that new schools have to be academies or free schools, not Local Authority schools.


    The NUT says that Councils should be given the power to open new community schools - and the funds to make sure that every child has a high quality education in a good local school.


    ORGANISE TO DEFEND EDUCATION
    In a few months time, there will be a General Election. The NUT has launched a manifesto for education calling on the next Government - whoever it might be - to think again on academies and free schools. Now is certainly not the time to be accepting new academies in Lewisham - now is the time to be stepping up our campaign to reverse this privatisation!


    Together, parents, teachers and trade unions can persuade Governors to think again. The campaign at Hove Park in Brighton has just stopped plans to turn their school into an academy. Please come to the meeting and discuss how we can defend education too.