Monday, 31 August 2015

Rising shortages, plummeting morale – How can teachers turn the tide?


Marching for education, Lewisham, April 2015
As teachers go back to a new school year of excessive workload and imposed targets, what are the chances of winning any improvement in our working conditions – and children’s learning conditions?

On the positive side, the widespread support for Jeremy Corbyn’s anti-austerity challenge – and for local campaigns such as the anti-academy battles in Lewisham – give a glimpse of the real public mood. If teachers are prepared to take action to improve their conditions, linking their campaign to the need to improve education through improving turnover and morale, they can win wider support.

The beginning of term has coincided with a number of good press articles confirming the extent of teacher turnover and growing teacher shortages and calling for a change in Government policy. As Zoe Williams correctly argues in the Guardian, "Teachers, like any other bold professional innovators, will work best if they’re allowed to work together. League tables, Ofsteds, all the artificial ways in which schools are pitted against each other, militate against this cooperation".

Another Guardian article highlighted that “Department for Education figures show that in the 12 months to November 2014 almost 50,000 qualified teachers in England left the state sector. That is almost one in 10 of all teachers – the highest rate for 10 years and an increase of more than 25% over five years”. Teaching unions should be able to take advantage of shortages and turnover and the fact that schools are having to compete to recruit and retain staff. While limited in its effect, the March 2015 ‘Ofsted clarification’ letter “to dispel myths that can result in unnecessary workloads” reflected concerns amongst some of those managing the system that teacher workload has to be addressed.

On the other hand, we face a Tory Government determined to force through more cuts and further fragmentation of conditions and education. Some of them are only too happy to see teachers divided and demoralised – it’s all part of the wider ‘Global Education Reform Movement’ agenda. This destructive approach is replicated at a local level by too many bullying school regimes, especially in academies. While deteriorating conditions mean there is widespread discontent, confidence to struggle is inevitably affected by the fact that, while teacher unions have won some local successes, the 2010-2015 Government largely succeeded in imposing its attacks.

Workload, Pay and Pensions

Despite all her promises, Nicky Morgan’s ‘workload challenge’ delivered next-to-nothing and intolerable workload continues to drive teachers out of the profession. The thousands of heartfelt stories that teachers wrote at the time of the ‘Workload Challenge’ remain the harsh reality in most schools – along with working weeks of 60 hours and more.

The latest letter to the Public Sector Review Bodies from the Treasury makes clear that they expect more divisive ‘targeting’ of pay - so that not all teachers would get even an annual pay award, let alone progression up the pay spine. NUT figures suggest that already there are considerable numbers of teachers being told they won’t be progressing to the next pay point this September. That will only get worse as schools tighten the screw of ‘performance management’, imposing unrealistic pupil progress targets. The threat of ‘capability’ and ‘teachers experiencing difficulties’ procedures will continue to be used to push teachers out and keep others fearful they could be next.

Despite the hopes at the time of the powerful co-ordinated national action in 2011, the pensions changes have been imposed with increased contributions cutting take-home pay. A diminishing number of ‘protected’ older colleagues will still be able to retire at 60 with their full pension but many of the rest will struggle to work on until 67 or more and will retire ‘early’, at a hefty cost to their final pension.

More generally, spending cuts are helping to drive these attacks on pay and conditions. School budgets are getting tighter with employer pension contributions rising in September. However, with some local exceptions, notably sixth from colleges (and of course central services which have already been cut to the bone), there haven’t yet been significant forced teacher redundancies. NUT Conference voted for a campaign on funding including a ballot for national action. However, pay and conditions would seem to be more immediate concerns for teachers as things stand at present.

National Action still needed

Although defeated at 2015 NUT Conference, the wording in the LANAC amendment on ‘a strategy to win’ still seems to me to set out a balanced assessment of the union’s campaign since 2011: “In drawing up a balance-sheet of the campaign so far, Conference recognises the successes we have achieved, particularly in opposing the further deregulation of working conditions originally proposed by the previous Secretary of State. However, Conference also recognises that, despite our efforts, the Government has succeeded in imposing its damaging legislative changes to teachers’ pensions and pay arrangements. Teacher workload has also continued to worsen, at the expense of teachers, their families and education as a whole. Conference therefore recognises that, up to now, our campaign has failed to sufficiently protect teachers and education in the way that the Union and its members would have wanted it to”.

Need things have ended up this way? LANAC have argued for a strategy of escalating national strike action that we think could have achieved a better outcome. However, the debate now needs to look at where things stand today. LANAC’s general strategy remains true – for the NUT to make clear demands on the Government and then to go out to members, using all of the organising tools of the Union, to win support for the action required to win them. That is still the best ‘strategy to win’ – so as to achieve national changes to pay and conditions that would have to apply to all teachers nationally.

National strike action is also the best way to give confidence to the whole membership, in whatever school they work, to take united action together – preferably alongside other unions too. However, that confidence also needs to be built and a campaign fought to win support for such a strategy.

The Government also understands the threat that national strike action can make to its austerity program. That’s why it is pushing through its planned Trade Union Bill. The new ballot thresholds would be a challenge to a union organised across so many different workplaces nationally. Even at a school level, they would mean firm organisation would be needed to prepare for a ballot – and for days of action that might see schools trying to use agency staff to break strikes. Campaigning with parents and the local community to win support for teachers’ action will become even more important.

A National Charter - what are the key demands?

The argument that the Union needs to have a clear set of demands to mobilise members around seems to have been generally accepted. Kevin Courtney has raised the idea at the National Executive of developing a ‘National Charter’ to fight for at both a local and national level. Judging what those demands should be is important – they need to be pitched sufficiently strongly to be seen to be worth winning, key points that will make a real difference to teachers. At the same time they need to be demands that reps and their colleagues judge to be achievable – a balance needs to be struck.

National Demands have to address the key issues that Government can legislate for. The agreed final 2015 NUT Conference motion on a ‘Strategy to Win’ set out a set of demands as the basis for our national dispute. These points - with wording sharpened up for campaigning purposes - could easily form the basis of a National Charter that should get general agreement across the Union. The headline demands could then look something like this – although it would be good to also develop the demands on limits to working hours and the size of a catch-up pay award to specific amounts:

  • The replacement of Ofsted/Estyn by a new school accountability system;
  • A requirement for all schools to limit workload related to marking, planning, data, meetings and observations;
  • An end to performance related pay;
  • An immediate target to reduce working hours and a phased introduction of binding limits on teacher working time;
  • Increase teacher numbers in order to increase PPA time to 20 per cent and reduce class sizes;
  • The restoration of the national pay spine and pay portability and a catch up pay award;
  • The reversal of the changes to the teachers’ pension scheme.
Publicising and popularising such a National Charter amongst teachers – and explaining to the public how it would improve education – is an important campaigning task for the immediate period. Of course, that campaign would also spark a debate about the national action needed to be taken for such a Charter could be won.

Reducing Teacher Workload – what binding limit should be placed on working hours?

Alongside (and linked to) performance-pay, the most pressing issue for many teachers remains workload. Overall working-hours have never been limited by legislation. On top of the annual 1265 ‘directed hours’, the STPCD has always stated that ‘a teacher must work such reasonable additional hours as may be necessary to enable the effective discharge of the teacher’s professional duties’. While the STPCD also still states that Heads must ‘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’, in practice working weeks of 60 hours are typical – and the stressful nature and intensity of those working hours gets ever harder too. A binding limit to overall hours – allowing the teacher to say ‘NO’ to further demands – would be a huge step forward.

Perhaps in the past, teachers have felt wary about complaining when they know that the issue of ‘teachers’ long holidays’ will be thrown back at us. However, even assuming (completely wrongly) that teachers only work during term-time (and never in their holidays) then a 60-hour week for 39 weeks a year amounts to 2340 annualised hours. Someone in a different job working as much as 40 hours for 46 weeks a year still works only 1840 annualised hours. That’s broadly equivalent to teachers working the supposed ‘legal maximum’ 48-hour week for all 39 weeks of term-time. If the worker was contracted for a more reasonable 37 hours a week for 45 weeks a year, that would come out as 1665 hours – equivalent to a teacher working 43 hours over 39 weeks. A more detailed analysis of hours and holidays across different employees would help to clarify these numbers and help arrive at a specific figure for negotiators to use – nationally and locally.

The NUT has developed a model National Contract based on the demand for a 35-hour overall working week, made-up of a maximum of 20 hours pupil-contact time, 5 hours non-contact activities, 5 hours PPA in the working day and a further 5 hours additional preparation time outside the working day. It’s an excellent proposal for allowing teachers to have a genuine ‘work-life balance’ – but a very long-way from where we are at present. The STPCD does make reference to Heads having to at least abide by the 1998 ‘Working Time Regulations’ that set a 48-hour weekly limit on working-time. The issue is complicated by the Regulations stating that workers have to calculate their average hours over a 17-week ‘reference’ period, which would then include holiday periods. However, even including holidays, surely most schools are breaching the Working Time Regulations in the demands they are putting on teachers over all but the summer break?

Putting legalities to one side, then the idea that 48-hours is the most anybody should be expected to work still has a more general currency – and rightly so. How can any worker be sufficiently refreshed and ready to do their work – whether teaching children or other employment - when they’re working 50 or more hours a week? Should we use the Working Time Regulations to at least set an immediate demand of no teacher working more than a 48-hour week? If this is setting our sights too low, then perhaps another figure like 43 hours should be our starting-point for a binding limit (based loosely on the comparison with annualised hours above). That could allow teachers to refuse to do work at home at all during the week – and just a few hours at the weekend. Now that would be starting to win back a real work-life balance at last!

Of course, it isn’t just the overall hours but the tedious, narrow, results-driven nature of so much of that workload that is driving teachers out of the profession. In campaigning on workload, we also have to campaign against any supposed ‘solutions’ that propose even more prescription and reliance on mass produced planning and delivery materials (which the international edu-businesses backing the GERM would be only too pleased to produce and sell – at a profit of course). Genuine workload solutions have to include giving far more control back to teachers about what, and how, they teach. Instead of the blame-culture endemic at present, they also need to be based on building genuine partnerships amongst teachers and schools, giving space and time to colleagues to work together and learn from each other.

Winning school-by-school, employer-by-employer

Campaigning to win a National Charter through national action must not, and cannot, mean that the Union doesn’t also try to win gains where it can at a local level. However, the present approach, based on using the ongoing Action Short of Strike Action instructions, needs a major shake-up. While some schools have used the guidelines successfully, other school groups have found it difficult to withstand the growing pressures on staff to take on even more workload nor been able to protect those colleagues picked-off through performance-pay and capability procedures. Some of the workload pressures are also too complex to resolve easily through a specific action instruction.

In discussions at the National Executive, the outline of a different approach has started to take shape. The Union should seek to approach Local Authorities and/or Academy Chains and win support for local endorsement of a ‘National Charter’ (or a version of it based on the powers available to local employers – it could also encompass issues like maternity and sick-pay as well). The Union can appeal to employers to point out that, firstly, the Charter will actually improve outcomes by freeing up teachers from excessive workload and improving morale. It will also boost their reputation as an employer particularly where they are having to compete to recruit and retain staff as shortages grow. Obviously, if an employer makes clear that it is not prepared to agree to union demands, then the grounds are there for a collective dispute, taking action across a number of schools, not just a few schools in isolation. Of course, the Union might also be able to win support from individual Governing Bodies/Heads too, using that endorsement to add pressure on other schools to come to a similar agreement.

This would be a major job of campaigning and organising work for the Union – but it is an approach that can give direction to local work and start to win some meaningful gains. It will need some local Divisions to take a lead and see what can be achieved, spreading success stories to other areas. The Union’s organising resources should also be directed to areas where they can best help work with Local Divisions and Academy reps to achieve success.

A Local Charter - what should it include?

To succeed as a national campaign, it’s important that the Union has a national understanding of the common demands being pursued in such an employer-by-employer dispute. Inevitably, this or that concession and agreement might differ in different areas but there needs to be some consistency to make sure that a settlement in one area doesn’t undermine a dispute somewhere else.

A ‘Local Charter’ must be consistent with national demands. There are, of course, some demands that only Government can legislate for – but there are other demands that need to be put more concretely to make sure that policies are in place that offer genuine protection to teachers. To conclude, here are my ideas to help discussion, based on some of the demands already included in NUT publications and policy, as well as the points above. I’d welcome feedback and amendments. However, let's not debate for too long but reach an agreed way forward. We need to turn these kind of ideas into action as soon as we can, before it’s too late.

This school/employer:

1) Fully applies the workload protections in the 2012 STPCDocument specifically the provisions for guaranteed PPA time / leadership and management time, a clear calendar for 1265 hours of directed time over a maximum of 195 working days, and limits on cover, the use of ‘gained time’ and over administrative and clerical tasks for teachers.
2) Applies a binding limit of a maximum 43 hours of overall weekly working-time for full-time teachers and agrees that teachers will not be expected to carry out work which cannot be completed within that weekly limit.
3) Adopts policies on marking, planning, data, meetings and observations which minimise teacher workload including:
i) an agreed marking policy which takes into account overall working-time and does not require teachers to generate written dialogue between them and their pupils;
ii) agreeing that there is no requirement on teachers to provide evidence of the work that they do, outside that which arises naturally, neither to produce detailed lesson plans nor to provide those plans regularly to school management;
iii) a broad, balanced and enriching curriculum, not one driven largely by numerical targets, while minimising and streamlining data collection from teaching staff;
iv) holding an average of no more than one directed meeting/activity outside school session times each week of term-time;
v) following Ofsted’s own practice and desisting from grading lesson observations, nor carrying out more than three observations per year, except in cases of concern.
4) Adopts a pay policy that maintains pay portability and the structures of previous STPCD pay scales i.e. a 6-point main pay scale, 3-point upper pay scale, 43-point leadership pay scale and 6-point unqualified teacher scale, with annual increases to be agreed with the teacher trade unions.
5) Expects to award pay progression to all of its eligible teaching staff and adopts pay and appraisal policies that:
i) ensure that no more than three objectives are set annually and that these objectives are reasonable and achievable in the circumstances in which the teacher works;
ii) ensure teachers will be awarded pay progression following a successful appraisal review and that any proposal to deny pay progression will normally only be considered in the context of a formal capability procedure;
iii) do not expect teachers on the upper scale to have to accept additional responsibilities beyond those for which any TLR may have been awarded.

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Another school year comes to an end but the Tory attacks keep on coming


Protesting in Parliament Square tonight with the NSSN
Like so many other teachers coming to the end of another school year, I am looking forward to a chance to take a break and to recharge my batteries ready for the struggles to come after the summer break.

For too many teachers, their personal struggle will just be the ongoing battle to cope with excessive workload and the demoralising regime being inflicted on too many schools. To take just one issue, performance-pay is already biting, particularly in academies where employers are often keenest to make the most of the chance to impose divisive policies. Figures were shared with NUT Executive members today that showed that, in one large academy chain, fewer than half of their teachers were awarded progression to the next point in the pay scale last year! Those figures will only get worse – unless we organise to oppose PRP.

Regrettably, these kind of demoralising attacks mean that many teachers are leaving their posts - as yet another survey shows: (https://www.tes.co.uk/news/school-news/breaking-news/a-third-teachers-intend-quit-next-five-years). Some colleagues will be leaving teaching altogether. So one ‘New Year’ resolution for September has to be for Local NUT Associations to work to build our strength in schools, finding new reps and organising collectively to tackle the unacceptable pressures on teachers and schools.
Those struggles can’t be left as isolated struggles either. To build confidence, they have to be part of a national struggle where members across a national union understand that they are fighting together as part of a united battle. So, a second resolution has to be for the NUT to develop its plans for a ‘National Charter’, setting out the key demands that we are seeking to win locally and nationally, and to then organise action to win those demands – across Local Authorities, academy chains and as part of a national dispute too.

Unless we act to win collective action, then budget cuts will only reinforce the divisive use of performance-pay and unrealistic targets to pile on the pressure until even more colleagues go under. Conference policy states that we should be pursuing national action over those cuts – and that’s a policy that mustn’t be forgotten.

Of course, the Tories understand that this kind of collective trade union action has the power to stop their plans to further cut and privatise schools and public services. That’s why they are pushing ahead with planned legislation (http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/jul/15/trade-unions-conservative-offensive-decades-strikes-labour) designed to prevent that action taking place. The details published today show the extent of those threats. It’s not just that ballot thresholds will be imposed which will be very tough to reach through the home postal ballots that the law still insists upon – although that’s bad enough. The Tories have gone much further. Their plans include allowing schools to employ agency staff to break strikes and threatening to criminalise reps organising pickets. Unions will have to give employers two weeks’ notice of strike action and reballot members all over again after just four months. All of these measures are designed to throw trade unions into a legislative quagmire and to undermine the confidence of workers to take action. They must not be allowed to succeed.

The last NUT Executive agreed to back a campaign with other unions to ‘defend the right to strike against austerity’ including a ‘demonstration for union freedoms and rights around the time that parliament discusses the new anti-union laws’. This campaign has to be organised and built for urgently. A well-publicised demonstration outside Parliament, not just a low-key ‘Lobby’, must be organised at the very minimum. It should be part of a wider preparation for mass co-ordinated strike action against the Tory laws and their austerity plans.

The NSSN conference is organising a rally at the TUC Congress in Brighton on Sunday September 13th to lobby for that kind of action. It will be held from 1pm-3.30pm in the Charlotte Room in the Grand Hotel, 97-99 King's Rd BN1 2FW (next to the Brighton Conference Centre). Put it in your diary!

At the Education Bill Briefing in Westminster tonight
The other key battle that the NUT has to undertake is to expose and oppose the school privatisation plans legislated for by the Education and Adoption Bill. After supporting a National Shop Stewards Network Protest in Parliament Square tonight over the anti-union attacks, I went into Parliament to attend a joint Briefing that went through the proposed legislation. Speakers explained how it will be used to push even more schools into the hands of Multi-Academy Trusts and academy chains runs by big education businesses. Yet there is absolutely no evidence that these plans will help education – and why should they? Since when has privatisation improved public services?

What’s urgently needed is to get the anti-academy arguments out to staff, parents and students and involve them in a joint campaign to defend democratically accountable comprehensive education. That’s what the Stop Academies in Lewisham campaign has sought to do over the last year, so far successfully, in our battle to stop more local schools being turned into academies. That fight will be continuing again in September and SAiL will hopefully be able to link-up with national campaigns to oppose the Tories’ plans.

Last, but by no means least, as events in Greece are showing tonight, we need to battle politically as well as through trade union action, if we are to defend education and trade union rights. SYRIZA offered Greek workers the hope of a genuine alternative to austerity, putting forward a programme that went far beyond the pro-big business policies of much of the Labour Party leadership. Unfortunately, under the pressure from the banks and their political representatives in the EU, Tsipras buckled in Brussels. However, big business still has to reckon with Greek workers and their fighting traditions. The same processes, if at a different pace, will occur in Britain. We need to build on our own traditions of struggle and build political representation that will genuinely stand up for working people, in opposition to austerity, cuts and privatisation. 


... barring crises that I feel that I have to comment on (which is of course not out of the question!), this may well be my last post for a few weeks so, particularly teachers out there, enjoy the summer and get ready to battle again next term ...

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Education Bill - Morgan takes another step towards total school privatisation

Yesterday, Nicky Morgan and the DfE finally announced the definition of a 'coasting' school - their new 'category' of school to be legislated for in the Education and Adoption Bill and lined up for possible forced academisation. In another undemocratic move, Government-appointed, unelected ‘Regional School Commissioners’ will be given the job of deciding their fate.   

One estimate using the new definition has calculated that there could be as many as 2500 maintained schools under threat, mainly schools whose only 'fault' is to be supporting pupils with greater levels of need. As the NUT's press release rightly responded, the announcement amounts to a "a crude attack on state comprehensive education and a further step towards full school privatisation.” 

A coasting secondary school will be defined as one where in 2014 and 2015 fewer than 60% of children achieve 5 A*-C including English and mathematics and they are below the median level of expected progress”. This compares to the present ‘floor target’ of 40% - putting hundreds more schools at risk of academisation. Henry Stewart's initial calculation suggests that around 810 secondaries might fall into that harsh definition, around 470 of them maintained schools. 
 
Of course, around another 340 of these ‘coasting’ secondary schools are already academies but Morgan won’t want that awkward fact to get in the way of the greater aim of privatising public services. However, the threat may well be used to push stand-alone academies into the hands of the bigger academy chains or expanding ‘Multi-Academy Trusts’.

After all, the Tories’ real aim is to replace democratically accountable Local Authorities with these unaccountable education businesses. Local schooling will be torn apart leaving no elected body to be in charge of pupil places, admissions and what schools really need – support and advice.

By further driving down staff morale, academisation will also only worsen the growing crisis of teacher turnover and shortages. It certainly won’t improve education – and a gathering volume of information continues to show that there is no evidence to suggest that academisation has educational benefits.

Of course, reducing workload and providing proper support to schools means increasing funding, not more Tory cuts. Instead of meeting real needs, the Tories seem happy to hand over assets and precious resources to education businesses so that they can pay themselves large salaries and, at some point, be allowed to openly declare a profit too.


Shamefully, instead of addressing the real issues, Labour’s shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt has criticised the Bill only for failing to address supposedly “sub-standard school leadership and poor classroom teaching". At least some Labour backbenchers, like Clive Lewis from Norwich South, have been prepared to speak out, describing the Bill in Parliament as “a smash and grab on our schools” and “an attack on fundamental values that we all hold dear: democracy, accountability and transparency." How many other Labour MPs are prepared to do so – including those in Lewisham for example? 

It mustn’t be forgotten that it’s likely to be the primary sector where the Education and Adoption Bill really bites. After all, for now most primaries remain in the maintained sector. A coasting primary school will be defined as one where for three years “fewer than 85% of children [are] achieving level 4 in reading, writing and maths and which have also seen below average proportions of pupils making expected progress between age seven and age eleven.” Stewart estimates this could target over 2,000 primaries.  

Of course, by definition, some schools have to be ‘below average’ – but why let mathematical necessity get in the way of free-market ideology?
  
What kinds of schools will fall ‘below average’? Stewart’s analysis explains that the ‘coasting’ definitions, based largely on absolute results, of course target ‘schools with lower ability entries’. As he explains, “when Morgan first started talking of coasting schools, I assumed a key target would be schools with strong entries that do not add sufficient value in terms of exam results achieved. Such schools will in fact be almost totally unaffected by Morgan’s new definition”.  

As Kevin Courtney, Deputy General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers, says in the NUT’s Press Release: “Very many good secondary and primary schools – as defined by Ofsted, and as defined by parents – will now be classified as coasting. They will now stand the risk of losing their Heads and other staff as uncertainty reigns in their school.  

He added that “schools are already under enormous pressure to placate the whims of Government and Ofsted. Today’s arbitrary target will only serve to sharpen teaching to the test and a concentration on borderline students. This already results in a narrowed curriculum and, for many pupils, disengagement”.  

At least Morgan’s announcement reveals the reality of her proposals. This has nothing to do with education and all to do with privatisation of public services. The strong support in the local community for ‘Stop Academies In Lewisham’ and other campaigns across the country shows that staff, parents and students can already see through the false claims of those supporting yet further academy expansion. Now we have to build those campaigns further and link them up into a national campaign to oppose and expose the reality behind the Tories’ attacks.

“For secondary schools, a school will be coasting if in 2014 and 2015 fewer than 60% of children achieve 5 A*-C including English and mathematics and they are below the median level of expected progress” - See more at: http://www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk/2015/06/morgan-targets-almost-3000-schools-as-coasting/#sthash.wxhlYzZD.dpuf

Secondaries: 814 set to be targetted as “coasting”

The DfE definition: “For secondary schools, a school will be coasting if in 2014 and 2015 fewer than 60% of children achieve 5 A*-C including English and mathematics and they are below the median level of expected progress”
- See more at: http://www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk/2015/06/morgan-targets-almost-3000-schools-as-coasting/#sthash.wxhlYzZD.dpuf

Sunday, 21 June 2015

After the demo - come to NSSN Conference

Yesterday's anti-austerity demonstration in London showed the determination of thousands upon thousands of marchers to stand up to the cuts planned by the Tories. 


Now we have to build our efforts to organise, strike and resist against those attacks. There will be no better place for trade unionists than the National Shop Stewards Network Conference on July 4th. Come and join us there!



Thursday, 18 June 2015

NUT NATIONAL EXECUTIVE REPORT – JUNE 2015: PAY SCALES, ‘EXAM FACTORIES’, TRADE UNION RIGHTS

June’s NUT National Executive discussed a wide range of issues. For my Report, I’ve picked out three areas that are of particular significance, plus a few brief highlights below:

PAY – RESIST INDIVIDUALISED PAY, DEFEND FIXED PAY SCALES

The demoralising performance-pay legislation introduced under Michael Gove is already being used by some schools to threaten teachers that they won’t be progressing up the pay spine next September. But now there could be further divisive threats to pay on their way.

When the Review Body reported last March, they recommended only a 1% increase to the minimum levels of the main and upper pay ranges. However, they certainly weren’t definitely even recommending a 1% increase across-the-board. As far as the Review Body is concerned, national pay scales and national pay rises are already a thing of the past. They believe schools should “decide annual pay awards for individual teachers on the basis of performance” and stated that “our recommendations on pay … are not intended to translate into uniform pay increases within every school".

Perhaps to test out their divisive proposals further, they recommended a higher 2% maximum increase “to the maxima of the main pay range" only. But, again, the proposal was not meant to be read as an automatic 2% rise for all teachers on M6. They made clear that "We would not expect all teachers on the maxima to receive a 2% increase: the full uplift should be awarded only where merited by performance. Some might receive a lower award, or none".

If these proposals are adopted in the way the Review Body suggests, it would open the door to divisive teacher-by-teacher annual pay awards and the ending of national pay scales applying equally across different schools. Against a background of budget cuts, salaries would be driven down and teachers further bullied and divided through differential pay increases.

The Review Body proposals have since been out for ‘consultation’ but the General Election has further muddied the waters, with the new Tory Government apparently reviewing everything that was under discussion before, even though, in Education, the Secretary of State hasn’t even changed. So, although pay awards are due in September, nothing has yet been confirmed. We don’t yet know if the divisive Review Body proposals will be introduced – or if something even worse might be proposed, perhaps enforcing the abolition of pay scales?

Of course, 2% is still far from what’s required to reverse the year-on-year cuts to teachers’ real incomes. However, the Executive’s immediate concern was to stop any further fragmentation of pay structures. It was agreed that the Union should:
• Work to ensure that all teachers receive the same cost of living pay increase, not any differentiated increases;
• Strongly oppose any attempt to relate the award of the cost of living increase to performance;
• Work to ensure that schools maintain fixed pay scales for all teachers including a 6 point Main Scale and 3 point Upper Scale;
• Publish advisory pay scales for 2015-16 including a 1% increase in Main and Upper Scale points but a 2% increase in M6;
• Circulate these advisory scales jointly with as many other organisations as will agree to do so;
• Commit to supporting members who wish to take action to secure any of the above in their school;
• Circulate advice on the above to members and representatives; and
• Convene a further urgent meeting of the Salaries Committee if necessary to discuss any proposals from the Secretary of State.

DONALDSON REVIEW and ‘EXAM FACTORY’ EDUCATION

In contrast to England, the Donaldson Review ‘Successful Futures’, prepared for the Welsh Government, is proposing an integrated curriculum, assessment that supports learning and a central place in education for creativity. As it correctly explains, ‘the high degree of prescription and detail in the national curriculum, allied to increasingly powerful accountability mechanisms, has tended to create a culture within which the creative role of the school has become diminished … At its most extreme, the mission of primary schools can almost be reduced to the teaching of literacy and numeracy and of secondary schools to preparation for qualifications’. Teachers - and politicians - in England should take note!

One of the attacks that may be made on the Donaldson Review is that exam pass rates are apparently lower for Wales than in England. As we discussed on the Executive, this might be partially related to greater funding pressures and levels of poverty in Wales. However, that’s only part of a bigger debate. Tellingly, a member of the Executive from Wales reported that they achieved well in international PISA comparisons when it came to pupil ‘well-being’. In other words, how, and at what cost, are ‘higher’ exam results in England being achieved? Do they really represent an increase in understanding and knowledge? Professor Merryn Hutchings has been conducting research for the Union into the suggestion that there is a growing ‘exam factory’ culture in schools. Look out for its release next month.

RESIST CUTS AND AUSTERITY – DEFEND UNION RIGHTS

The National Executive agreed a motion condemning the attacks on the trade union movement threatened by the new Conservative Government.

They are planning to introduce ballot thresholds designed to further undermine the ability of trade union members to take lawful strike action, particularly national action that could challenge their attacks, such as that agreed on education funding at 2015 NUT Annual Conference.

Insisting on at least a 50% turnout - and that over 40% of the total membership votes ‘yes’ in ‘essential public services’ such as schools - has nothing to do with ‘democracy’. These thresholds would, for example, have turned Ireland’s recent marriage equality referendum victory into a ‘defeat’. It should be for trade unions to decide if they think support is broad enough for action to be called – not for anti-union, pro-cuts politicians to block strike action.

The new Trade Union Bill is being introduced, after all, by a Government elected by just 24% of the electorate. If they were really concerned about building participation in union ballots, then they would allow unions to replace home postal ballots with workplace balloting using mobile phones and internet voting. No, their real concern is to prevent firm strike action being taken against their plans for further cuts, privatisation and attacks on public services, and on the pay, rights and conditions of those who work in those services, including teachers.

The Tory plans are a particular threat to teacher trade unions organised, as we are, over many different workplaces. Schools will be included as ‘essential services’ and so have the most difficult thresholds to reach. The Tories also plan to make it lawful for schools to employ supply teachers to cover for striking teachers while also toughening rules on picketing. While a well organised school group should achieve these thresholds, securing the turnout required to win a national ballot will be much harder. Therefore, this Bill threatens further fragmentation and our ability to bring members together across England & Wales in a united challenge to Government attacks. It can be fought successfully - but only if a determined public campaign is launched as a matter of urgency.

The nine unions in the Trade Union Co-Ordinating Group, including the NUT, have produced a leaflet headed “Unity is Strength, Resist Tory austerity, Defend union rights’, to be given out at the 20 June People’s Assembly demonstration in London.

The Executive agreed a number of action points, including:
• To call on our national union to work with other trade unions, campaign groups and the TUC to organise the biggest possible campaign of meetings, rallies – and action – to defend the right to strike against austerity.
• To call on our union to initiate with other unions and the TUC a demonstration at the Tory party conference in Manchester on Sunday 4 October.
• To initiate with other unions and the TUC a demonstration for union freedoms and rights around the time that parliament discusses the new anti-union laws.
• To use The Teacher and Reps’ bulletins to clearly explain how the Trade Union Bill threatens our ability to defend teachers, schools and other public services from Government attacks, and why we must organise to oppose these threats.

Finally, two extra items from the discussion that followed the General Secretary's Report:


Education and Adoption Bill: This pro-academy Bill won’t finish going through the various Parliamentary processes until October/November. The Union is working with others to call a large meeting in Parliament, building an alliance against this attack on education and democracy.

Teacher Turnover and Workload: I reported on the reps’ survey circulated in Lewisham that showed several schools with 20-30% teacher turnover in 2014-15 – and Lewisham will certainly not be alone. It threatens education and union organisation but also provides an opportunity to expose the results of Government attacks and to build support for Union campaigns. I hope the National Union may be able to include turnover issues in its national surveying of reps. A survey, of course, can only be a tool to building campaigns, particularly around workload, co-ordinating action across as many schools as possible.

Monday, 8 June 2015

After the Election - LANAC prepares for the battles ahead

On Saturday June 6th, a packed meeting of the LANAC Steering Committee held in London brought together teachers from 25 different NUT Associations.



This was the first chance for LANAC supporters to meet nationally after both Easter's NUT Annual Conference and the May election of a majority Tory Government. The wide turnout, with teachers travelling from areas as far apart as Plymouth, East Riding, Wirral and Thanet, showed just how many Local Associations see LANAC as a forum where they can meet to constructively share ideas and openly debate the way forward.

Opening the discussion, LANAC Convenor Martin Powell-Davies pointed to the successful 'Stop Academies in Lewisham' campaign as an example of how public support can be won for union policies and in opposition to the Tories' plans for further cuts and privatisation. However, unless the trade union movement uses its strength to oppose them, the Tories will try to impose their attacks.

Sasha, a Lewisham school student explained how students, parents and staff had worked together in a united campaign that has so far successfully beaten back the threat of academy conversion. LANAC agreed to circulate materials explaining the lessons of the campaign and practical steps that other areas could also adopt too. Above all, it could help to set the tone that, if we fight, we can win.

April's NUT Annual Conference had seen some sharp differences over proposals tabled by LANAC over the strategy needed to win. Only narrowly, by 52% to 48%, had delegates voted down LANAC's analysis that, while the Union had scored some successes, "our campaign has failed to sufficiently protect teachers and education". In the face of worsening conditions and soaring resignations, the successful Executive amendment's claim that "our campaigning has forced the issue of workload to the top of the education agenda" would sound unconvincing to many hard-pressed classroom teachers.

Questions were also raised about how successful the 'Stand Up For Education' campaign had been in practice. It had helped emphasise the need for an outward-looking campaigning Union but could not, on its own, force pro-austerity politicians to change their policies. Industrial action has to play a central role in the Union's strategy.

The meeting agreed that LANAC's general approach was still correct - that the Union must set clear demands, and campaign, prepare and convince teachers to take the action needed to win them. Of course, the Government also understand that a campaign of national strike action, especially one co-ordinated across different unions, could seriously threaten their austerity plans. That's why they were looking to impose turnout thresholds that would make it much harder to win national ballots. The law could also be changed to allow schools to  employ supply teachers to cover for striking staff.

We agreed that LANAC would circulate a model motion  calling for a national demonstration to oppose these new threats, linking to the need for teachers to take national action to oppose cuts and defend our pay and conditions.

While national action is key to defeating a national attack on education, local action, co-ordinated across schools as widely as possible, is also necessary. Mike Whale from Hull NUT explained how a meeting they had set up between classroom teachers and an Ofsted Director had helped bring home to Ofsted how 'accountability' fears were driving schools into imposing unsustainable teacher workload. Local Associations should turn teacher turnover and shortages to our advantage to build support for local action and to help expose the damaging effects of Government policy.

A lunchtime workshop on 'seizing back our lives' discussed a range of practical steps for building workload action in schools. We should use the fact that Heads were breaking their legal duty to 'have proper regard for [staff] well-being .. and the expectation of a healthy balance between work and other commitments" as a way to encourage colleagues to demand schools change policies to reduce the demands on staff. As well as limiting overall working hours, winning manageable marking policies and limiting expectations over sending and reading emails particularly featured in the discussion.

In the alternative workshop on 'speaking up for your members' colleagues shared advice on how best to make your point when speaking to school management - and in union meetings as well. Both workshops agreed that LANAC would develop a website or forum to develop these discussions further and to share campaigning resources. This could include a LANAC 'guide for reps' with practical suggestions on how to strengthen workplace organisation.

A final session on building LANAC and the Left in the NUT agreed that, while LANAC was primarily a campaigning and organising body, we also needed to continue to make a stand in union elections to publicise and build support for our strategies. The meeting agreed, with just one vote against, that LANAC would support Bridget Chapman and Jane Nellist in their stand in this Autumn's election for NUT National Vice-President. 

We also agreed that we must defend and, hopefully, build on the success that LANAC supporters had achieved in the 2014 elections for the NUT National Executive. We should again aim to challenge existing Executive members who back 'Broadly Speaking' (on the 'right' of the Union). It was also agreed that LANAC representatives will discuss further with others on the 'Left Caucus' on the Executive to continue the discussions which had begun about what defines the 'Left' in the Union.

Above all, teachers left the meeting enthused that, whatever Cameron and Morgan might be ready to throw at us, we should build with confidence that we can - and must - oppose the attacks that they are planning to make on teachers, trade unions and the communities that we live and work in.

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Morgan seeks to block opposition to impose even more unaccountable academies

Education Secretary Nicky Morgan has announced today that the Government's new 'Education and Adoption Bill' is to “sweep away bureaucratic and legal loopholes” in academy legislation - in other words, to remove even the limited opportunities that have allowed communities to oppose the conversion of their maintained schools into unproven and unaccountable academies. 

As the NUT have rightly said in response, “The Coalition Government railroaded through its Academies Act with the minimum of consultation, and regularly used force and coercion to push schools towards academisation. This Bill promises more of the same but with an additional intention to silence critics, including parents and teachers as well as elected local councillors and the communities which schools serve".

Although not mentioned specifically by the DfE, we are in no doubt that they have the SAIL anti-academy campaign, Stop Academies in Lewisham, as one of the 'obstructions' they have in mind. It seems to be a case of, if you can't win the argument, change the law so you can block opposition.

SAIL has been celebrating after the Chair of Governors of the Prendergast Federation announced to parents that they are stopping the ongoing consultation on their plans to convert their three federated schools into a Multi Academy Trust. Instead of being able to go ahead with a vote for academy conversion at the upcoming Governing Body meeting on June 17, they have had to defer their conversion plans in the face of a legal challenge made by a parent.  

The challenge was based on Regulation 46 of the School Governance (Federations) (England) Regulations 2012. SAIL campaigners spotted that this Regulation stated that, at least when an Academy Order is being applied for “in respect of a federated school” (like the three schools in the current Prendergast Federation of three maintained schools”), the application must be made by specific categories of Governor. These include “the head teacher of the federated school”, “any parent governor or parent governors elected by parents of registered pupils at the federated school” and “any staff governor employed by the federated governing body or local authority to work at the federated school”.  

When the Prendergast Governors met to vote for an Academy Order in February 2015, one parent governor was absent and the elected staff governor voted against the application. Clearly, the Regulations had not been followed and the Governors have therefore had little choice but to retreat. 

While these Regulations remain in force, then other campaigners may want to make a similar challenge. Labour MP Kevin Brennan has also tabled a series of parliamentary questions asking how many other Academy Orders made on behalf of a federated school since September 2012 and whether they have complied with Regulation 46.  

Of course, this is only a temporary victory as this is very likely to be one of those 'loopholes' that Nicky Morgan now wants to close. Sheila Longstaff, DfE ‘Project Lead, Academies South Division’ has written complaining that “it is disappointing that this issue has delayed the academy conversion of a school when the majority of the governing body voted in favour of the applications”. That sentence gives the game away as to how little the DfE care for genuine consultation – as they clearly expected the outcome to be conversion whatever was said by parents, staff and the local community in response to the academy proposals.   

At least the current Regulations – introduced under the last Conservative Government after all - make sure that Governors can’t just force through academisation of a federated school but have to win the backing of a range of stakeholders. Even the Thatcher and Major Governments legislated for parental ballots before a school could take on grant-maintained status. For this Government, however, it seems that winning the support of the school community is just an awkward hindrance to their ideological mission to rip apart democratically accountable local authority schooling.

Pro-academy Governors may be angered by the legal challenge but parents, students and staff are delighted. That’s because this challenge was just one part of a deep-rooted community opposition to the academy plans that included meetings, strikes and local demonstrations. Governors had failed to convince the school community that academisation was in the interest of education – and how could they when the educational evidence simply isn’t there to support academies? 

Our local battle mirrors what is now happening nationally. It is the Government that are guilty of putting 'ideology before children', not anti-academy campaigners. Instead of being able to convince parents, staff and students that academies are to their benefit, Nicky Morgan wants to prevent any opposition succeeding in blocking academy plans. She can try, but she won't stop the opposition!