Thursday, 27 November 2014

SAIL lobby Lewisham councillors

In just a fortnight, the SAIL campaign to Stop Academies In Lewisham is already building strength.

Following a first public meeting (see previous post), SAIL was then launched at a follow-up meeting bringing together parents, campaigners, teaching and support staff unions.

A SAIL facebook group has been set up to build the campaign and helped organise support for a Lobby of Lewisham Council last night. See:

Parents have drafted a leaflet to be taken around the borough and union reps are meeting to confirm plans for strike ballots to oppose any proposed change of employer.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Stop Academies In Lewisham

Last Wednesday evening, staff, parents and governors met together at a public meeting in the 'Green Man' on Bromley Road, SE6, to start an urgent campaign to Stop Academies In Lewisham.

The meeting was called because of news that governors for around a half of Lewisham’s remaining secondary schools are - either by choice or under pressure - discussing converting to an academy. These include:
  • Bonus Pastor
  • Hilly Fields
  • Ladywell Fields
  • Prendergast Vale
  • Sedgehill
However, these are probably  not the only schools where plans are being discussed. If these  convert, others may well follow, including primary schools too. After all, Knight’s Academy took over Merlin primary, and Aske’s Hatcham took over Monson. On top of this, plans for two ‘free schools’ have also been announced in the local press.

Thanks to contributions from Alasdair Smith from the Anti-Academies Alliance and Robb Johnson from the successful 'Hove Park not Gove Park' campaign, everyone left the meeting determined that we weren't going to allow education in Lewisham to be ripped apart.  

Our first Action Committee will be held this Monday with plans to build the campaign across the borough and, in particular, plans for co-ordinated union strike action to oppose these threats. 

I have drafted an initial leaflet for the campaign. Here is the text:

Academies: no magic solution

There is no real evidence that academies do any better for children than community schools.
They certainly don’t do better for all pupils. The National Audit Office reported that “the gap in attainment between more disadvantaged pupils and others has grown wider in academies”.
Just like any other school, some academies  succeed, but many others have struggled. They are no ‘magic solution’ to improving education.
Of course, the easiest ‘solution’ to improving results is to change the pupils and families you attract to your school. Research suggests that’s exactly what some Academies have done. But that just means ‘improving’ at the expense of other schools. That just makes things worse.

Academies: dividing schools

Schools can improve when they have support, funding and can share ideas. But, by breaking-up Local Authorities, Academies prevent this.
If Lewisham education is dominated by lots of competing academies, there will be even less co-operation between schools. There may be some ‘winners’ but there will definitely be some ‘losers’ too - and they will be Lewisham children.
There will be even less support on offer from the Local Authority - because its education services will effectively cease to exist. It will be even harder to plan for the school places we need. Instead of allowing academies to divide local education, we must campaign together for the support that schools, children and staff need.  

Academies: no pot of gold

Don’t believe arguments that say converting to an Academy brings lots more resources.
Yes, the school gets more income - but it also has more costs too, spending on services that used to be organised by the Local Authority.  This may cost them even more than before. Academy conversion actually brings greater funding risks as schools lose the security and economies of scale of  being part of a bigger  Local Authority. Schools will no longer be able  to rely  on the financial help that Council can provide to manage a sudden crisis.
To find security, many academies end up as  part of a bigger commercial ‘chain’ like Harris. Elected Councils are replaced by big businesses.

Academies: who benefits?

Every month, a new academy scandal exposes that there may be even fewer resources for staff and pupils - it might be being spent elsewhere!
Just this November, the National Audit Office reported that nearly half of the academy trusts they examined had paid public money towards private businesses of directors, trustees and  relatives, worth an estimated £71 million. Some appeared to involve “improper” practices.
The Executive Head at Durand Academy is being paid over £200,000 - a 56% pay rise last year!
Should anyone be surprised? If academies are given ‘freedom’ to run their own affairs, then these kinds of scandals are inevitable. Academy schools should be returned to Local Authorities.

Academies: Demoralising Staff

Converting to an academy threatens staff and unions. It will cause upset and staff turnover.
Some Academies have worsened conditions,  e.g. even greater workload or worse sick pay.
While academy Heads are often paid more, DfE figures show class teachers are paid less than their colleagues in maintained secondaries.

Fragmenting schools into different academies will create a fragmentation over policies too - including on crucial issues like performance-pay.
Dividing schools like this makes it harder for  unions to defend its members. In fact, it could mean teachers lose access to a Lewisham union representative altogether if facility time is cut.

Academies = privatisation / cuts

Academies are part of a wider agenda to get rid of Local Authority-run services altogether.
Funding cuts mean Lewisham Council is already cutting many of its services. Turning schools into academies leaves even fewer Council services.
If you don’t think your Council is doing a good job, you can lobby your Mayor and Councillors - and elect new ones too. But academies and free schools are not accountable to the community. If we don’t fight for our schools and services, what will be left? Schools will be in the hands   of unaccountable businesses and individuals. Some hope to make profits out of education. Let’s campaign for education, not privatisation. 

Act Now to Stop Academies In Lewisham - before it's too late

Government legislation allows schools to become academies very quickly. We need to act fast.
In order to rush through their plans to turn schools into academies, this Government introduced an Academies Act in 2010. It allows schools to become academies in a matter of months. All it really takes is a majority vote at a Governing Body meeting. Schools are meant to ‘consult’ about their plans but few consult properly. Such an important decision should really only be taken - if at all - after staff and parents have been balloted - with information, against as well as for, fully circulated first.
Discussions are already taking place in secret. First, let’s demand an open discussion where staff and parents are fully briefed on plans. If an academy is planned, then we have to act to stop it.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Lewisham NUT reps organise to tackle impossible workload

At a packed Lewisham NUT Training Day last week, school reps met to make plans to tackle the impossible levels of workload facing teachers.

It was one of the best-attended training events we've held locally in recent years, bringing together reps from primary, secondary and special sectors, including academies, foundation and community schools. Significantly, most of the reps present had only been in post for a year or less.

What's causing the workload?
To start the discussion, reps were asked to list the main causes of workload in their school. Not surprisingly, a range of issues were raised. Reps recognised that some of these would need a national solution - through ongoing national action - but we were also looking for issues that we could start to tackle through local action.

Here are the main grievances reps listed - I am sure most teachers will recognise many of these themselves!:
  • Lack of Trust - constantly having to prove your worth
  • Overall working time - teachers never really stop
  • The need for 20% PPA - but also high-quality cover when you are released for it to really cut workload
  • Learning Walks - plus demoralising and critical feedback
  • Marking - both the volume and the time needed to carry out the detailed policy requirements in many schools
  • Meetings - too many, and over and above directed time
  • Performance Pay - pressure to meet targets that can be either dangerously vague or set at unachievable levels.
  • Grading of lesson observations - linked to threats of performance-pay failure or capability procedures.
  • Submitting data - particularly being asked to (re)submit information in time-consuming formats
  • Short deadlines - including emails sent over weekends
  • Better-paid managers delegating tasks to staff without TLRs / leadership time
Some issues were particularly strongly felt in primary schools, notably:
  • Planning - constant monitoring and with excessive expectations, even recording outcomes for individual pupils 
  • Displays - pressure but no time provided to put them up

Setting a 'workload target' in every school
That list of grievances was an important starting-point - but the key discussion was how we could tackle them. 

The training session looked at NUT advice on:
* Performance Pay Appeals and Appraisal Objectives
* Observation and Learning Walk Protocols
* Workload - using the reissued 'Stronger Together' pamphlet
* The recent Ofsted letter clarifying expectations over Lesson Plans, Observations, Assessment and Grading of Lessons

Reps were taken through the steps needed to calculate their school's directed-hours time budget to see if that could be used to challenge workload demands. Other contractual protections discussed included PPA time, Admin Tasks, Cover and a Head Teacher's duty to make sure staff can have 'a healthy balance between work and other commitments'.

Of course, to make that 'Work-Life Balance' a reality, we might well need to back up negotiations with action, supported by the ongoing ballot. For example, those action instructions include "refusing to implement working practices or policies which have not been workload-impact assessed and the subject of agreement with the NUT".

At the end of the session, every rep reported on the particular 'workload target' they were going to propose to their union group for negotiation and, if necessary, action. Here's a selection of the main targets that were proposed:

  • An acceptable protocol for classroom displays
  • An acceptable protocol for observations and learning walks
  • An acceptable marking policy
  • An acceptable planning policy
  • A limit on emails, especially out of school hours
  • A limit on meetings
  • A limit on new initiatives - 'if you add one, then take one away'
  • Stopping teachers having to carry out administrative tasks
Of course, to succeed in these plans, reps knew they needed to build and strengthen their school union organisation. We also made plans to bring school groups together, including after-school 'Meet your Union' sessions to be held in different parts of the borough. 

Lewisham NUT says: 'Let's Stop for Lunch'
Finally, we agreed on one simple initiative that we could publicise across every school. We decided on a 'Let's Stop for Lunch' Campaign. 

It's hardly a radical demand - after all, we're supposedly all entitled to a proper midday break! Yet, how many teachers really get one? We want school groups to organise to make sure that, perhaps at least on a Friday,  staff have a chance to stop and meet together, to chat and discuss - and leave their work behind for once! 

Perhaps the fact that we have to act on such basic issues as having a lunchbreak can help explain to the public just how relentless teacher workload has become. It's also a sharp contrast to those long lunches seemingly enjoyed by many of the MPs who want our votes next May!

Thursday, 6 November 2014

November National Executive Report - Workload

This afternoon, as agreed at the last Special Meeting of the NUT Executive, the Executive finalised the Union's Workload Action Programme*.

Inevitably, on such a wide-ranging issue, there had been many suggestions put forward, and some contributors might still prefer this or that addition to the final version. However, overall, I was pleased that National Officers made a number of updates to the original draft and the Executive were unanimous in agreeing the revised Programme. Now we have to publicise it and fight to win it and make sure that politicians turn fine words into concrete action.

Here is what was agreed: 


Reform accountability so it is based on trust
One of the fundamental drivers of excessive working hours is an accountability system that does not trust teachers. All levels of accountability should be reformed so that they are based on trust, respectful professional dialogue and proportionality. Necessarily this means the replacement of Ofsted/Estyn by a new school accountability system.

Take action on marking, planning, data, meetings and observations
Pending an accountability review Government must take immediate action. All schools should be encouraged reduce workload including by abiding by the recent Ofsted clarifications. Schools should desist from requiring that teachers i) use marking schemes which generate written dialogue between them and their pupils ii) provide evidence of the work that they do, outside that which arises naturally iii) produce detailed lesson plans or hand them in iv) further schools should follow Ofsted’s own practice and desist from grading lesson observations, nor should they carry out more than 3 observations per year, except in cases of concern. The Government should encourage schools via a circular to reduce data collection demands, to limit after school meetings and to promulgate agreed best practice including around peer observations.

Allow time for curriculum and SEN reform 
Government should announce additional non-teaching days to allow teachers to prepare for the rushed curriculum and SEN changes and in future plan such changes in consultation and over a longer period.

Reform the teacher pay system 
The introduction of performance related pay has led to an increase in bureaucracy and working hours. The Government should announce i) a moratorium on performance related pay on the main scale whilst negotiations on a national pay system take place ii) remind schools that the upper spine does not carry extra responsibilities - it is for teachers who choose to remain in the classroom instead of moving into management iii) that Ofsted/Estyn will not comment on pay policies.

Adopt a binding work life balance policy 
All schools should adopt a binding work-life balance policy. This policy should make clear that schools must have a proper regard for teachers’ legitimate expectations of a healthy balance between work and other commitments and be clear that if there is a new initiative which takes teacher time then something teachers currently do has to be dropped.

Measure workload every year 
The workload diary survey of teacher hours should run annually, supervised by a board drawn from the DFE and teacher unions. Michael Gove didn't run the survey between 2010 and 2013 when it showed a 10% increase.

Set targets to reduce workload and introduce limits
The Government should adopt an immediate target for a reduction in teacher working hours and begin the phased introduction of binding limits on teacher working time.  The last workload diary survey showed primary teachers working 60 hours on average and secondary teachers 56.5 hours. Head teachers were working even more. 

Increase teacher numbers to improve education

Education would be improved by increasing the number of teachers which would permit increased time for collaboration between teachers and the provision of time within the school day for planning, preparation and assessment and would allow smaller classes and more individual support for children

The programme will be accompanied by the following information:


Teacher working hours in England & Wales are higher than in other countries
Excessive working hours are contributing to teacher shortages and tired teachers.  Much of the excessive work arises from an accountability system which has low trust in teachers. Much of it is not work that benefits our pupils. These working hours are unsustainable and bad for the children we teach. Even with the 17 week averaging period, for many teachers they are over European Working Time Directive limits.

The “workload challenge” survey – responding to the NUT campaign
In response to the NUT’s campaigning Nicky Morgan and Nick Clegg have announced a “workload challenge” consultation. More than 29,000 teachers have already responded. Please add your views, use our suggested action plan to inform your response and including any examples of good practice in your own school. The survey closes on 21st November
Fill in the DfE survey here
Send your suggestions on how to reduce workload to the DFE at

Change must be real and negotiated
Nicky Morgan and Nick Clegg say they will be putting forward proposals that will reduce teacher workload in the New Year. If they are to convince teachers that this is more than a cynical election ploy there will have to be real movement.  But this movement must be based on professional respect, not for example, on the introduction of standardised commercial lesson plans.

The actions proposed overleaf by the NUT could reduce excessive hours quickly, in some cases with little or no cost. However the roots of the workload problem are deep and fundamental actions are required by Government.  Our action points should apply to all state funded schools and colleges, whatever their status and should be implemented in consultation and negotiation with the teacher organisations.

The positive suggestions in the NUT manifesto and the question of teacher pay and pensions must be addressed
Government and political parties need to recognise teacher ideas for improving education. The NUT’s manifesto, which is gaining increasing support, contains many positive suggestions. Read and endorse it here:

Politicians need to address our disputes over both pay and pensions. They continue to be deeply felt and must be addressed – and indeed by contributing to teacher 'churn' they are in themselves contributing to excessive workload. 

* A couple of late amendments to the Programme were also included to make sure that it also properly addressed how matters should be taken forward in Wales. I will update the post to include these when I have the confirmed wording.

For a further post on salaries and pensions issues, read next post or go to

November National Executive Report - Salaries

A number of key issues were discussed at Wednesday's Salaries Sub-Committee:

Supply Teachers
A report was included on the successful Lobby of Parliament held on 28 October (see earlier report on this blog). It was also reported that the TUC are organising a "Decent Jobs Week" from 15-21 December and that the Union should make sure that supply teacher issues are raised alongside those facing other agency and zero-hour contract workers.

It was reported that the Union is also working on plans to develop a self-organising network of supply teachers. This was one of the plans discussed in the organising meeting held at the end of the Lobby of Parliament. I also reported on the plan for the supply teachers network to hold a meeting on December 13th. I will continue to see how I can assist making sure these activities are publicised and developed.

Teachers' Pensions
The pension contribution rates from April 2015 will be based on a tiered structure that maintains the current 9.6% average payment - the imposed increase brought in over the previous three years. The Committee Paper noted that "if the 2006 cost-sharing agreement had held, teachers would have been paying an average 7.7%".

The NUT will also be represented at the "Working Longer Review" (yes, that's what's it's called!) set up by the DfE which will include exploring "the health and deployment implications of teachers working longer". I think teachers know too well what the real implications are - but let's see what this Review concludes ....

Sixth Form Pay Structures
The Committee discussed the responses from NUT members in sixth form colleges to a consultation on the Sixth Form Colleges Association's proposals on a new pay structure and pay progression framework. As also discussed elsewhere on this blog, while some positive part so the proposals were acknowledged, there was real concern over the plan to link pay progression at all points to criteria set by individual colleges.

In response, the Committee agreed to recommend to the Executive that the NUT could not accept the current proposals and would seek "to continue negotiation to achieve a proposed structure which does not contain the elements that are of concern to members" and support members in taking action where colleges sought to reduce pay progression through new progression criteria.(UPDATE: This was then agreed at the full Executive).

NUT submission to the School Teachers' Review Body
The Union's detailed response to the STRB says in its summary: “The NUT’s analysis in this submission reaffirms our view that teachers’ pay levels need to be increased significantly. We call on the STRB to assert its independence and make recommendations on pay that will start the process of restoring teachers’ pay to proper professional levels, in order to address growing problems of recruitment, retention and morale and secure the supply of teachers for the future.
If the STRB chooses again to comply with the constraints of its remit and confines itself to considering the distribution of a pay increase of 1 per cent or less - or, even worse, takes forward its apparent intention to allow even such an increase to be denied to many teachers - then it will be failing the profession and the country”

The Report details evidence from the STRB's own research pointing to the "real challenge ... in preserving the attractiveness of teaching as a preferred profession for good graduates" and the "risk of those in the teaching profession feeling under-valued and recruitment and retention suffering as a consequence". The NUT Submission also explains how "During the Coalition Government's period in office, teachers' pay will have fallen by more than 15% in real terms as measured against inflation". Of course, pension increases on top of this mean that the overall 'robbery' is even greater. 

Sunday, 2 November 2014

How can we stop the Privatisation Bulldozer?

Next weekend, the Socialist Party are hosting the annual 'Socialism' weekend in London. It includes a wide range of issues and speakers, not least Kshama Sawant, elected with close to 100,000 votes as a Socialist Councillor in Seattle. More details can be found via

On Sunday afternoon, I have been invited to contribute at a forum called "Can the privatisation bulldozer be stopped?"
You can get a sneak preview of the presentation I have drafted for use at the session via

It focuses on academisation of schools in England but also links to the exploitation of supply teachers and, above all, a wider discussion on socialist education policy.

Come along and join the discussion!


Tuesday, 28 October 2014

NUT holds Supply Teacher Lobby of Parliament

Today's Lobby of Parliament brought supply teachers from across England and Wales to Westminster to explain to MPs about how agencies are ripping-off education budgets - and supply teachers.

As supply teacher Richard Knights explained, the CEO of Hayes is paid huge annual pension payments - from profits gained, in part, by supply teachers who are denied access to Teachers' Pensions. He pointed out how agencies cream-off perhaps a third to a half of the money that they are paid by schools for providing a supply teacher. Many other supply teachers added their own accounts of how they are being ripped-off too.

Dennis Skinner was one of several MPs giving support and pointed out the wider context of zero-hour contracts and exploitation. He also talked of the 'umbilical cord' between schools and Local Authorities being broken as Local Authority supply pools are closed, leaving it to private agencies to mop-up. Of course, this is part of a wider agenda to privatise Council services and wind-down Local Authorities altogether.

As Kevin Courtney, NUT DGS, said, this is privatisation - and privatisers make money by making employees work harder for less. 

The battle to expose the agency rip-off and to defend supply teachers must continue. Richard Knights had helped organise a successful fight to defend the LA supply pool in Sefton recently, showing victories can be won.

After a photo-shoot, the day ended with a meeting of lobbyists at NUT Headquarters. We agreed some organisation proposals to continue the campaign which I hope can be agreed at the NUT Executive when it meets next week.