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.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Parental fines - schools mustn't treat family holidays like truancy

The amendments introduced by the Education (Pupil Registration) (England) Regulations 2013 under Michael Gove have caused considerable controversy and debate, with many thousands of parents signing petitions opposing them.

These regulations state that parents should be fined for taking children out of the school during term-time unless there are ‘exceptional circumstances’. As a result, the number of parental fines for poor school attendance has risen sharply, largely where children have been taken on holiday during term time.

In response to parental campaigning, the Local Government Association have called for the Regulations to be relaxed. The NAHT has now issued advice clarifying its interpretation of the legislation. The NAHT now advise that funerals, weddings and religious events should be considered as ‘exceptional circumstances’. However, family holidays would still be unlikely to match that criterion.

It's definitely a step forward that parental campaigning has resulted in change but the Regulations will still unfairly impact on working parents, particularly the low-paid. A 2010 report from MPs, ‘Transforming Education Outside the Classroom’, found that there was already a risk that school trips could become ‘the preserve of pupils from more affluent backgrounds’. This must not become true of holidays too.

The RMT letter in March from Mick Cash
As the NUT nationally said this week, much greater pressure needs to be put by Government on holiday companies and airlines to change their unfair pricing structures. However, as was explained for example in a letter from the RMT to the Union earlier this year, it is not just excessive costs that discriminate against working parents, it is also the fact that many rostered and shift workers are simply unable to arrange annual leave that coincides with the school holidays.

Parents and other trade unionists need to appreciate  the enormous pressure on schools and teachers to meet pupil progress and attendance targets. This inevitably mean that some Heads will fear the consequences of allowing parents to withdraw children for term-time holidays in special circumstances. It is also true, in general terms, that persistent absence certainly impacts on a child’s attainment. However, even the DfE’s own research shows that, unlike most other absence reasons, family holidays do not have a significant effect. 
Taking children on holiday is not the same as persistent truancy. Holidays can provide valuable experiences and outdoor learning opportunities. Giving families time to be on holiday together will also have social and emotional benefits which can be of lasting value and support to schoolchildren.

From Research Report DFE-RR171 - spot the exception
In addition, as I posted after our last strike action in July, if  this issue is not taken seriously and sympathetically by teachers, then it could become one that is used to divide parents from teachers at a time when we need to be working together to defend education. ( http://electmartin1.blogspot.co.uk/2014/07/holidays-dont-divide-parents-and.html )

Even before the recent announcements, LANAC (the Local Associations National Action Campaign) had already agreed that we would draft a motion on the issue to make sure that the NUT adopts a clear policy at our next Annual Conference in Easter 2015.

That motion we are proposing is among a group of LANAC motions available via http://goo.gl/8Bjq6H. The demands we want to put to Conference include:

1) Support the call for the repeal of the relevant amendments introduced by the Education (Pupil Registration) (England) Regulations 2013
2) Call on schools to interpret the existing regulations in a way that allows families to take term-time holidays in exceptional circumstances with parents and students agreeing suitable arrangements to catch up on schooling missed as a result
3) Promote the value of family holidays, with an emphasis on outdoor learning
4) Support calls for action to be taken against holiday companies and airlines who unfairly raise their prices at peak times
5) Contact other teacher and headteacher unions to seek a joint approach based on the above.

6) Similarly, write to parental campaigners to offer our support based on the policy of the Union.

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Pay Progession in Sixth Form Colleges - Reject the Proposals

Earlier this month, NUT National Executive members on the Salaries Committee were asked to comment on proposals for changes to the pay structure in Sixth Form Colleges. 

I spoke out at the time about my concerns that the proposals, arising from negotiations with the Sixth Form Colleges Association, would mean that all pay progression would in future be linked to appraisal outcomes, just as has been imposed in schools. Of course, with the budget problems facing Sixth Form Colleges, it is even more likely that this could be used to block pay progression and save on salary costs.

I was even more concerned to read in the report that "SFCA currently favours a general requirement that teachers’ overall performance should be adjudged to be good or better for pay progression".  Again, we have already seen in schools how these kind of statements are being used as an excuse to unfairly withhold pay increases from staff on the basis of a single lesson deemed to be below par by an unsupportive observer.

As I commented in my Report at the time, http://electmartin1.blogspot.co.uk/2014/10/report-from-nut-executive-october-2014.html, my initial view was that the proposals should be rejected. However, I wanted to speak to colleagues in Sixth Form Colleges to get their views.

I have now received the motion below, passed unanimously with one abstention, at a well-attended meeting at City and Islington College which confirms that NUT members there had drawn the same conclusions:

This 6th form college NUT group recognise the positive aspects in the new pay structure proposals, particularly:
1. Gaining parity with school teachers on the bottom and top of the pay spine. 
2. Shortening the minimum time necessary to reach the top.
3. Addressing some anomalies in the management scale. 
4. Automatic consideration for all spine points 

However there are significant concerns that represent retrograde steps and, in its current form, we feel the negative aspects of the proposals outweigh the positives elements. 

The proposals lay the ground for more explicit college by college pay criteria particularly in the most worrying aspects around: 
1. The explicit linking of pay progression and teacher appraisals 
2. The lack of transparency surrounding the management pay range 
3. Extension of some standards for progression beyond existing Professional Standards. In particular the new Professional Standards include an unacceptable section to apply in and out of college on "upholding British Values". This section needs to be removed. 

This 6th Form Union group reaffirms its commitment to: 
* Defend 6th form teachers' pay 
* Seek parity with School teachers pay 
* Defend school and Sixth Forms teachers' pay from being performance related 

We call on the executive to: 
1. Reject the offer and seek to reopen negotiations over the above demand. 
2. Continue to include 6th form NUT members in the campaign and strike action alongside school teachers with the aim of securing the above demands. 
3. Involve Sixth form NUT members in additional sector wide action if it is deemed necessary in order to secure these demands 
4. Continue to campaign to highlight cuts to the provision including 6th form teachers' pay and take action where it is deemed necessary in defending the sector.

I will be supporting their call to reject their offer and am sharing this motion so that members in other Sixth Form Colleges can consider the points raised above.

Public Meeting - Is Lewisham Education about to be torn apart?

Download flyer via http://goo.gl/vcsE9A
Lewisham has largely resisted the spread of academies and free schools that has divided education in many other boroughs - until now.

In the last few months, plans for two new ‘free schools’ have been announced in the local press. Governors at Bonus Pastor school are definitely discussing becoming an academy. But that could be just the start. The NUT understands that Governors of several other secondary schools are being asked to discuss plans to become academies too.

The National Union of Teachers is not going to stand back and see Lewisham education torn apart. We are calling this public meeting to bring together parents, staff and students to discuss why we must oppose these plans - and what we can do to defend education in Lewisham:

WEDNESDAY 12 NOVEMBER, 7pm - 9pm in ‘The Barn’ at THE GREEN MAN, 355 Bromley Road, London SE6 2RP
Speakers from Lewisham NUT, the ‘Anti-Academies Alliance’ and the ‘Hands Off Hove Park’ Campaign who have just stopped their school becoming an Academy

When they were first introduced, some parents may have believed the politicians who claimed that academies were the answer. Now, experience confirms that breaking-up Local Authority schooling does not improve education. Instead, it creates a fragmented system where schools are run by unaccountable businesses and individuals, making things even harder for parents, students and staff.

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

Government cuts mean that Councils are getting rid of many of their services. That could include schools. Growing pupil numbers mean that there is an urgent need to open new schools. But, to force through its privatising plans, this Government says that new schools have to be academies or free schools, run independently of the Local Authority.

The NUT says that Councils should be given the power to open new community schools. They also need the funds and support to make sure that every child has a high quality education in a good local school.
In a few months time, there will be a General Election. The NUT has launched a manifesto for education calling on the next Government - whoever it might be - to think again on plans to rely on academies and free schools.

Now is certainly not the time to be turning more of our schools into academies - now is the time to be stepping up our campaign to stop privatisation and to make sure that parents, teachers and communities are working together to best support our youngsters. Together, we can make a difference. The campaign at Hove Park in Brighton has just stopped plans to turn their school into an academy.

* Share this information through your networks and/or to your family and friends
* Come to the meeting and discuss how we can defend education in Lewisham
* Get in touch if you would like to know more about the campaign and why we are so opposed to academisation of Lewisham schools

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Workload - NUT demands real change

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

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

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

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

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

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

First of all, on demands:

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

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

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

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

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