Monday, 8 September 2014

Lewisham NUT Officers call on Executive to reverse their mistaken decision

The latest Bulletin sent to NUT Secretaries has confirmed that, at Friday's meeting, the Executive agreed the following:
  1. That the Union continues with the Stand Up For Education campaign building on our success of last term and continues to seek to influence the policies of all parties which might form part of a new government.
  2. That the Union issue material to members to indicate how they can and should support the local government union strike if they strike on 14 October following the TUC, the PSLG, and the second meeting with the Secretary of State for Education, Nicky Morgan.
  3. That the Union encourages representatives and union groups to continue with ASOS and to encourage requests for escalation where that is appropriate over pay polices and appraisal policies.
  4. That the Union consults members on based on the proposed questions but refined if necessary following the TUC and Urge members to Vote YES*
  5. That the union continues to seek discussions with teacher unions as well as the wider movement about coordination of action
  6. That the Union continues to engage in talks with the DFE/Nicky Morgan pressing for discussion on matters of policy not just implementation and for real changes that will benefit teachers and education and to report fully on those discussions to members.
  7. That there should be a special executive on 23 October to consider the results of the consultation, the discussions with other unions and the talks with the DFE
* The proposed questions were:
1) Do you support the continuation of the Union's Stand Up For Education Campaign" and 2) "Would you support the NUT calling for up to two more days of strike between now and the General Election if the NUT executive believed this would help in negotiations with the Secretary of State, Nicky Morgan"

It was made clear in debate at the Strategy and Finance Committee that 'issuing material to members' in Point 2 was not intended to include calling on members to take strike action on 14 October. 

As you can read further in my post I therefore seconded an objection to replace 2 with:  “the Union calls for a further date of strike action to take place on October 14 alongside UNISON, GMB and UNITE to build on the united action that took place on July 10” adding, to take account of those who argued that plans might change over Congress, “If, following Congress and the PSLG any changes are made to the plans announced by the Local Government Unions, the Executive will consider these at, or before, the next meeting of the Executive on October 2nd”.

Unfortunately, this objection was defeated by 26 votes to 12.

In the light of this mistaken decision, the following was unanimously agreed at the Lewisham NUT Officers' Committee tonight:

Lewisham NUT Officers’ Committee believes that the majority decision of the NUT National Executive not to call strike action alongside Local Authority Unions on October 14th was a serious error. If not corrected, it will mean that we will have missed a golden opportunity to take further co-ordinated action and build on the July 10 strike, weakening not just our own campaign but also undermining the strike planned by our school support staff colleagues. We call on the Union to reconvene the National Executive as a matter of urgency following the TUC to reconsider plans for co-ordinated action.

Lewisham NUT Officers’ Committee recognises that Conference agreed that the Union should “consult with members about a series of strikes through the autumn term and into 2015” but believes that, having decided to set a timetable which closes on October 22nd, the Union simply has to make clear that views are being sought on further action to follow next. We call on our NUT members to return their ballot forms voting YES to both (1) continuing their campaign and (2) taking further action up to the Election

Finally, we note that the proposed ballot questions only give NUT members the choice of voting for “up to two more days of strike between now and the General Election”, not the ‘series of strikes’ agreed as conference policy. We call on NUT school groups to hold meetings to encourage a positive response to the consultation but also to discuss the campaign demands, activities and strike calendar which they think are needed if we are to take advantage of the crucial months up to the Election – and to email those views to both Local and National NUT Officers.

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Tamil Solidarity and Trade Union Solidarity

This evening, I was privileged to be able to attend the Tamil Solidarity Day held at the Day-Mer centre in Tottenham.

Day-Mer have a proud tradition of building links between the Turkish and Kurdish communities and the British trade union movement and Tamil Solidarity are working hard to build similar links from the Tamil community. For example, as well as campaigning to expose and publicise the genocide that took place at the end of the civil war in Sri Lanka, they have produced an excellent leaflet explaining “Why you should join a Union” (see

After enjoying excellent performances by Rani Moorthy and local musicians, I spoke at the closing rally, alongside speakers from UNISON, RMT, BFAWU, Tamil Solidarity, Socialist Party and Day-Mer.

Here’s some of what I had to say:

“Today has been a day to celebrate and exchange culture, ideas and international solidarity – but it’s also a day to expose the crimes inflicted by the rich and powerful on the poor and on minorities, particularly the Tamil-speaking peoples – and, a day to commit ourselves to work for a common struggle against poverty and oppression.

For anyone who teaches in London, then our working lives are about trying to help and educate youth coming from across the globe to this city.

It’s a job that gets more difficult every year as the resources to support students with English as a second language are cut, as class sizes and workload get ever greater, making it even harder to give individual students the support they need.

But that’s not just the case in Britain – it’s the same internationally. As the hopes of post-war economic expansion became replaced by capitalist downturn and crisis, Governments across the globe have looked to cut costs and privatise education, turning it into just another source of wealth for big business.

Teacher trade unions describe the attacks we face as the GERM – the ‘Global Education Reform Movement’. Internationally, we see schools forced to compete in an education market-place that creates winners and losers at your children’s expense. We see big business corporations take over privatised schools and boast of the billions of dollars they can generate in profits.

We also see political parties that, in the past, trade unions relied on to oppose the profiteers, turn instead into parties of big business. For example, look where Tristram Hunt, the Labour Party’s Education spokesperson gave his big speech to Labour Teachers this summer – at the HQ of the Microsoft Corporation in London!

What we see happening to education is just an example of a worldwide phenomenon – of globalised big business trying to increase its wealth and power at the expense of working people and the poor.

However, as they have been discussing at the NATO summit in Wales this week, they know that faltering capitalism means that they are finding it harder to keep their grip – see the mess they have created in Iraq and Ukraine for example.

That creates opportunities but also dangers – the danger of racism and communalism as the desperate look for more desperate solutions and turn on each other.

It can also create opportunities to defeat their attacks and win struggles – but only if we rely on our own strength, the strength of the unity of working people, to build from common misery into common struggle.

In communities and workplaces worldwide, campaigning trade unions are bringing people together to organise and unite in struggle (like the Hovis workers’ victory described by Ian from the BFAWU).

Thanks to Day-Mer, I was able to see first-hand Turkish workers battling against the Turkish riot police invading Gezi Park in Istanbul. I can also report that Norwegian teachers who I visited this spring have just won a victory after strike action at the start of this term.

Of course, trade unions are not perfect. In every organisation there will be debates and mistakes – and some of you will have heard that the NUT Executive voted yesterday not to join other trade unions on strike on October 14, a decision which I think was a mistake.

You will hear many making speeches about solidarity – but only some can be relied on to deliver that solidarity. I hope you will find that all of us on this platform can be relied on to do so!

In conclusion, if you are a teacher, join the NUT. If you are a parent, support your teachers in action, join us in our battle to defend education. If you are a Tamil student, as Rani explained in her performance, don’t be silent about your struggles and experiences – talk to your classmates, explain so that others can learn from you.

By joining communities together, as we are today, we can struggle together to win”.

Friday, 5 September 2014

NUT votes against participation in October 14 strikes

This afternoon, the NUT National Executive met to consider our attitude to the motions on next week's TUC Congress agenda – and to consider our ongoing Stand Up For Education Campaign.

As to be expected, everyone on the Executive agreed to call on our TUC delegation to vote for motions supporting calls for co-ordinated strike action. Regrettably, when it came to the concrete question of whether the NUT should take such co-ordinated action alongside UNISON, GMB and UNITE on October 14, then, by 26 votes to 12, a majority voted against*.

This vote took place as part of a debate on a series of recommendations coming to the Executive which included:
* Confirmation of the members’ consultation ballot that will be issued later in September. 
* Mass production and circulation of the Union’s education manifesto.
* Making clear that we will encourage requests by school groups for escalation to strike action over pay and appraisal policies – and, as I sought to clarify, where those policies have been unfairly applied too.

However, when it came to the action announced by support staff unions, the recommendation simply said: “That the Union issue material to members to indicate how they can and should support the local government union strike if they strike on Oct 14th following the TUC, the PSLG, and the second meeting with the Secretary of State for Education, Nicky Morgan”.

While one member of the Executive argued that this wording allowed the Union to revisit the question of participation on October 14 in the light of events, others in support of the recommendation disagreed with this interpretation. They made clear that they would oppose any emergency meeting of the Executive to review decisions - meaning that any decision on participation on October 14 had to be made today.

LANAC Officers Patrick Murphy and Martin Powell-Davies proposed and seconded the objection (eventually defeated in the recorded 26-12 vote)  that instead recommended that “the Union calls for a further date of strike action to take place on October 14 alongside UNISON, GMB and UNITE to build on the united action that took place on July 10” adding, to take account of those who argued that plans might change over Congress, “If, following Congress and the PSLG any changes are made to the plans announced by the Local Government Unions, the Executive will consider these at, or before, the next meeting of the Executive on October 2nd”.

In a long debate, those opposing the objection relied on three main arguments. Firstly, that the NUT couldn’t call action until the members’ consultation had finished at the end of October. Yet even some of those voting against conceded that there was nothing to stop the Union calling action on October 14 while also consulting on what action then followed.

The second main objection was around the Local Government unions’ apparent failure to consult with the NUT over setting October 14 as the date for action and the fact that their dispute was separate to the NUT’s dispute. But any lack of open discussion at the tops of the movement shouldn’t be used to block the co-ordination that is so wanted at rank-and-file level. Co-ordinated action also inevitably includes unions with different specific disputes and demands but, together, we are battling against common attacks on pay and conditions and, together, we have a better chance of opposing those attacks. 

The final main objection was from those who questioned the level of support that action would receive. Yet, with all the inevitable unevenness of a national dispute, previous actions have been well-supported. By October, the reality of performance-pay and ongoing workload burdens will have only added to teachers’ anger. The opportunity for joint action by teaching and support staff to close schools and have a real impact would have encouraged staff from all relevant unions to join the strike.

Those of us arguing for the objection explained that the Executive needed to take account of changing circumstances. Yes, NUT Conference had agreed we should “consult with members about a series of strikes through the autumn term and into 2015” but that didn’t mean that we couldn’t also decide to take the opportunity to take action alongside support staff colleagues and others on October 14 at the same time.

After all, NUT Conference also agreed to co-ordinate action “with other education and public sector unions where possible and showing flexibility to any timescales they may have” – and did so in agreeing to strike on July 10. Why? - because we know that co-ordinated action has a greater chance of achieving gains than acting alone – particularly in the months leading up to a General Election. What gains we did achieve over pensions – even if insufficient - were achieved by the mass co-ordinated action of November 30 2011. It was also no coincidence that Gove finally left his post after the co-ordinated action on July 10.

Unfortunately, by voting against participation in the action announced for October 14, the NUT has not only failed to take the opportunity to build joint action to assist our own dispute, we risk also shedding doubts amongst other trade unionists – not least support staff colleagues in schools who could be wary of taking action without teaching staff.

While there were many genuinely-held disagreements in today’s debate, I can only conclude that today’s vote will prove to be a setback. It will confuse and surprise many both inside and outside the NUT, especially school reps and local union officers, who would have been encouraged by the prospect of building broader co-ordinated action on October 14. If TUC motions about co-ordinated action are to mean anything, then certainly the NUT delegation at Congress should be lobbied hard to reconsider this decision.

The members’ consultation that has been agreed is also going to be vital. There is a risk, whatever is said in the consultation materials to encourage a positive response, that today’s vote could also demoralise some members. Some will conclude that the NUT is not sufficiently serious about defending them against the excessive workload, bullying and performance-pay that is ruining education - and teachers’ lives. It will be vital to counteract any disappointment and encourage a positive vote.

The key question in the ballot will ask if members “support the NUT calling up to two more days of strike between now and the General Election”. That question needs to receive a widespread YES from across the Union. Of course, even this does not really amount to a consultation on a “series of strikes” agreed by Conference and school groups should also additionally respond with proposals for a clear calendar of action up until the Election – the critical time to put politicians under pressure.

Last, but not least, today’s vote, with the bulk of the Executive members in the long-standing STA and CDFU groups joining those in the ‘Broadly Speaking’ group in opposing the objection, also shows the importance of building support for the more recently formed Local Associations National Action Campaign within the NUT. LANAC will be holding its next National Steering Committee in Leeds on October 11th.

* The vote on the objection was recorded so I can report that the 12 members voting in favour were Bater, Bowser, Byrne, Clarke, Conway, Glover, Hudson, Leaver, Murphy, Nellist, Powell-Davies and Simms.

Monday, 1 September 2014

Norway: Strike forces employers to retreat
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: and

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

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".

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 (, "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.