Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Fighting for 'what works for education' - to oppose academies

Debating what's best for education

The fading pomp of Brockley's Rivoli Ballroom must have seen a few contests in its time but, last Thursday, it hosted a packed education debate.

Over 200 people from the local community - including parents, staff, students and local councillors - packed into the ballroom to take part in a debate over the proposals from the Leathersellers' Governors to convert the three Prendergast Federation schools into academies.

The Federation's Executive Headteacher, David Sheppard agreed to present the Governors' case. I was given the task of putting forward the arguments against conversion on behalf of the unions and other campaigners.

The arguments were put, questions and contributions taken from the floor. By the end of the evening, I think it was clear that the overwhelming view of the meeting was AGAINST the academy plans.

No evidence to support the academy plans

The fact that the arguments against academies won the debate is no surprise. That's because there's no evidence to support the argument that academies benefit education.

As the NUT wrote in its letter to Councillors, the Governors' arguments about the supposed benefits of their proposals - in terms of 'accountability', 'curriculum', 'finance' and so on - simply don't hold water.

In speaking to the meeting on Thursday, I asked the Governors to put aside their claims about the benefits of conversion and to stick to the evidence.

They claim that their plans are driven by what’s best for children but the Parliamentary Select Committee is clear: “Current evidence does not allow us to draw conclusions on whether academies in themselves are a positive force for change”. After a decade of experience of academies, isn’t the obvious conclusion that the evidence just isn’t there?!

Ofsted's annual report for 2013/14 noted that there was no relationship between school type and performance and that the rate of improvement in KS4 attainment (5 A*-C in English and Maths) between 2010/11 and 2012/13 in LA maintained secondaries was twice that (at 2 percentage points ) of converter academies (1 percentage point).  

Research quoted by 'Stop Academies In Lewisham' points out that among children with low prior achievement, the effects of a school becoming a sponsored academy on students in the bottom 10 and 20 per cent of the ability distribution were “insignificantly different from zero - and possibly negative for later [school] conversions…suggesting no beneficial effects on students in academies”(see S. Machin and O. Silva, (2013)

The School’s own Working Party’s report states: “the policy of academisation and its impact on raising school standards remains ... controversial and unproven”. So why pursue such a policy ?

Ideology not evidence

Regrettably, it seems that evidence about 'what works'  doesn't matter to those who are ideologically determined to tear apart accountable local authority schooling and replace it with unaccountable academy chains.

Newly-returned Education Secretary Nicky Morgan has lost no time in declaring that she will now extend the threat of forced academisation to schools rated as "requiring improvement" or what she deems as being "coasting schools". She declared to the BBC that results show that "students do better in academies". Where's the evidence?

In response, a national NUT press release explained that: 

“The Government is looking in completely the wrong place if they are interested in social justice. There is no convincing evidence that the academies programme has improved education overall or for disadvantaged children. However there is overwhelming evidence that the poverty and inequality many children face is a real obstacle to their educational achievement. 

The Government should act on poverty reduction urgently ... Nicky Morgan should be using her office to argue for protection of the education budget – schools are facing 10% cuts. This, the teacher shortage and the failure to provide enough school places should be her main concerns – not continuing with these unproved experiments.”

Teachers and communities must defend education

We mustn't let privatising politicians put their ideology ahead of the education of young people. That means that school staff, parents and local communities have to step up the fight even further to oppose imposed academy plans.

In Lewisham, the tremendous campaign to oppose the Prendergast conversion plans has already seen student protests, local demonstrations, rallies and strikes. We have to make clear to Governors that, if they choose to impose their plans against this level of opposition, it will divide and alienate their own school community, damaging education.

We also need to make clear to Lewisham's Labour councillors that they also have a responsibility to oppose these plans and to support the demand for a ballot to judge their views of parents on the academy proposals.

Support the strike on June 3rd and 4th

Teachers don't want to be taking strike action but we know that we have a responsibility to do so to defend education.  

After all, as one of the parents said from the floor of the debate, regrettably it's only when teachers strike that parents and the press get to hear what's happening. That's why we feel that we must take further action before the end of the Governors' formal 'consultation' period on June 8th. We want to make sure that everyone is aware of the urgent necessity to oppose the academy plans and to write in with their objections too.

Unions agreed not to call further strikes during the main exam preparation period up to half-term but both the NUT and NASUWT have called further two-day strike action on Wednesday June 3rd and Thursday June 4th. We hope that parents, students and fellow trade unionists can help build our activities:

Wednesday June 3rd

Pickets - so as not to disturb students taking exams that day, rather than hold large school-gate rallies, we will just have representatives directing people to the:

Strike Rally - from 9.00 am in Cornmill Gardens, opposite Prendergast Vale School, Elmira Street, SE13 7BN - close to Lewisham station.

After some refreshments, strikers and supporters will be heading to:

Lobby the Leathersellers' Company - from Midday, 21 Garlick Hill, EC4V 2 AU, to hand in a letter appealing to the Governors to reconsider their proposals. Locally, meeting at either Ladywell or Lewisham stations at 11 am to catch the 11.10/11.15 train to Cannon Street

In the evening, we are calling on Lewisham teachers and parents who have not been able to attend events during the day to join us at the:

Lobby of Lewisham's Mayor and Cabinet - from 5.15 pm, Civic Suite, Catford, SE6 4RU. The meeting, starting at 6pm, will be considering the Council's response to the consultation. Campaigners were pleased when, in March,  the Mayor stated that "as things currently stand I would not expect to be able to support the proposal". Join us in the audience to help make sure the Mayor knows the strength of opposition to the Prendergast plans.

Thursday June 4th

Pickets - again, so as not to disturb students taking exams that day, rather than hold large school-gate rallies, we will just have representatives directing people to:

Meet at Le Delice, by Ladywell station for 9am for a coffee then collect leaflets and materials to go out to surrounding streets and High Street stalls to urge the local community to submit their responses to the academy plans by June 8th.

What is the community view? Ballot the parents!

At a meeting with Council Officers yesterday, unions were pressed as to what could convince us to call off our strike action. The only real answer is, of course, for Governors to resolve our trade dispute by making clear that they weren't pressing ahead with their proposed conversion to become an academy employer. 

However, on behalf of the NUT, I offered that, if the Governors were to agree to a properly-conducted independent ballot of parents, then I would be happy to recommend that our action was withdrawn.

That's a serious offer for a trade union to make, and not without risk. I am saying that I am offering that parents should have their say on our dispute, despite the risks to members' terms and conditions should parents decide to support the academy conversion. 

The offer has been made - but will the Governors agree to it? As I asked on Thursday night, backed up by several parents from the floor, "if the Governors are so sure of their arguments, why won't they agree to a ballot to judge the real balance of opinion?". The Mayor himself has already stated that "I would support a ballot in this case subject to resolving the practical issues".

Yes, the Law says that the Governors have to take the final decision but, like Thursday's debate, a proper ballot, with parents being presented with both sides of the argument, would show Governors and staff alike what parents really think. 

Imposing unpopular policies, whether it be by central Government or by School Governors, will only alienate and divide communities. For the sake of education, let's have a proper debate and an independent ballot on the academy plans.

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Lewisham NUT writes to Councillors about the Prendergast academy plan

I have sent the following letter to Lewisham councillors today:

Dear Colleagues

This week’s CYP Select Committee is considering consultation documents from the Leathersellers’ Federation governing body about Academy conversion. As their deliberations may form part of a single Local Authority response, I am writing to all of you on behalf of Lewisham NUT.

An irreversible decision with consequences for the whole Authority

In writing from the NUT, I know that the views below, and in the longer document from ‘Stop Academies in Lewisham’ represent the views of a broad range of parents and staff that are alarmed that the Prendergast Governing Board could be about to make an irreversible decision to convert the three schools into Academies when it meets on June 17.

That decision would not only be damaging for the Federation, but have serious implications for the whole Authority. Bluntly, if Prendergast converts, other schools could quickly follow suit.

Lack of proper consultation

We believe that Governors have failed to organise a fair and thorough consultation when proposals were still at a formative stage, have ignored requests for a parental ballot, and have issued a one-sided feedback form that fails to fairly put arguments for and against the proposal. As a letter quoted in today’s Guardian, from ITV commentator and local parent Ned Boulting, states: “The school management and governors have created a rift [with] parents, staff and students. This has undermined trust. It is unsettling for the students. And it will raise questions with good teachers as to whether they want to stay on at the school.”

Change to Governance structures

In contrast to the Governors’ claims, the proposed changes to a Multi-Academy Trust will lead to less accountability, not more. The current board consists of 18 governors – including a staff governor and 3 parent governors, with 6 Leathersellers foundation nominees. The new board would be only marginally smaller – with 14 governors – but with 8 (a majority) appointed by the Leathersellers. Staff and parent governors would be removed from the board altogether and have no say at this strategic level – only on school Local Governing Bodies.

A quote in the Parliamentary Select Committee Report on Academies sums up parental experience: ‘parents are sidelined from all important decisions, both over whether schools convert in the first place, and over how they are run once they become academies’. As the Select Committee also indicates, an academy conversion to become a MAT isn’t necessary, schools can also organise as a hard federation of maintained schools. It does raise suspicions that the reason for setting up this structure is to prepare for an expansion of a Leathersellers’ academy chain (see SAIL response).

No proven benefit to academy conversion

Governors are keen to say that their decisions are driven by educational considerations but the adage about just “doing what works” does not hold water in this case. As the Select Committee concluded, “Current evidence does not allow us to draw conclusions on whether academies in themselves are a positive force for change”.

The Leathersellers’ Working Party’s own report states that “the policy of academisation and its impact on raising school standards remains ... controversial and unproven”. So why are they pursuing such an unproven policy, particularly when there is no way back to maintained status ?


Regrettably, as much educational research points out, one way for an Academy to ‘secure improvement’ is through control over its Admissions Policy. The Authority as a whole is changing from its banding policy to a distance-to-school policy. What’s not clear as things stand from the paperwork is whether the Federation is prepared to also change in order to follow a common admissions policy, to the benefit of all, or have a separate policy for its own benefit?

Curriculum – and Staff Conditions

The SAIL report includes a telling quote from the Chair of Governors of the non-academy Dartmoor Federation that answers many of the claims put forward in the consultation papers: "Why on earth should I go academy? What are the advantages? We already have a reasonable amount of freedom with the curriculum, the teacher unions are happy because their members' terms and conditions are unaffected, and the extra money that was given to academies has essentially disappeared."

A range of curriculum freedoms are available to schools, whether maintained or academies. Teacher unions and their members are also clear that, particularly at a time when a new Government may be cutting budgets, their best guarantee of protection is when their national conditions are guaranteed by law as a maintained school, not through relying on TUPE.

Finance – and PFI

We are all aware that academies will receive more into their budgets overall but they also have more costs to pay. The original Leathersellers’ Working Party Report honestly stated that: “Converting to a MAT should not result in a financial advantage or disadvantage to the Federation schools as pupil funding formula, staffing costs and capital allocation formula are the same and hence the overall impact is broadly neutral”. It is therefore disappointing to see that claims are now being made that academisation will result in significant financial advantages.

There are significant unanswered questions over whether the Federation would lose financially through taking full responsibility for PFI payments and perhaps “losing the rebate on the Ladywell PFI contract”. As the Authority is responsible for the negotiations over these matters, we hope that the Authority would be making sure that a school choosing to leave the Authority as an Academy would not be benefiting financially from PFI arrangements.


In conclusion, a wide range of local stakeholders believe that

1. There is no good reason to undertake Academy conversion of the Leathersellers’ schools

2. Academies are unproven and unaccountable and the spread of those academies in Lewisham risks the equitable provision of education across the borough.

3. By driving through change without proper consultation, the Governors risk alienating students, staff and parents alike – and damaging the education and ethos of the schools.

Lewisham NUT hopes that the Authority would reflect these concerns in its response and also assists in organising a parental ballot on the proposed Academy conversion to at least make sure that a proper indication of support for these proposals has been taken.

Yours sincerely

Martin Powell-Davies, Secretary, Lewisham NUT.

Sunday, 10 May 2015

A call for support from Bromley UNITE in their battle to oppose privatisation

I have received this message today - please do what you can to support this immediate post-Election battle against privatisation and attacks on trade union rights:

Brothers and Sisters

We are today making an urgent call for support for our members fighting a courageous campaign to defend public services and the right to organise in a trade union in Bromley.

The Council have made the decision to privatise every part of the borough that they can get away with. By no coincidence, they have also proposed withdrawing all trade union facilities with immediate effect. Our members have taken 10 days of strike action so far with more action to follow. From 13th to 18th May, members in the Transport Services section will take strike action. This will be followed by a branch wide strike on 19th May.

While all local authorities are facing the effects of austerity and the impact of 5 years of further Tory cuts, our members in Bromley are now engaged in one of the most important campaigns against privatisation in the Region. It is also the case that facility time is under attack in workplaces across the country. But the attack on public services and trade union facilities in Bromley is an advance party for what awaits all other local authorities.

Unite is leading the way in Bromley. Our public campaign against Library privatisation has won massive support from the community. Our members in Adults Services are taking strike action to defend services for vulnerable adults. Bromley Council has £300 Million available for the provision of services. But it chooses instead to use the money to speculate on property while cutting services.

The Bromley campaign is hitting the Council from all angles. Transport Services are due to be privatised by being handed over to a company set up and run by Labour Party dominated Greenwich Council (GSPlus). Yet Labour Councillors who are in a minority in Bromley have publicly opposed privatisation of all services. We will therefore be lobbying Greenwich Council to pull out of the process.

We are asking branches, committees and individuals to support the following way:

1. Send a message of support and donation to the campaign. Cheques should be made payable to Bromley Unite. Messages to: Onay.Kasab@unitetheunion.org
2. Support the Lobby of Greenwich Council to demand that GSPlus pulls out of the privatisation process! 
6pm to 7pm, 
13th May. 
Town Hall, Wellington St,
Woolwich SE18
3. Support the branch strike on 19th May  - come to the picket line:
7.30 am to 10 am
19th May
Civic Centre
Stockwell Close
4. Join Our March! We are calling for a national mobilisation against the tory attack on public services and trade union rights. The branch are calling for support for a march through Bromley.
Assemble 12 Noon
13th June 
Norman Park
Bromley Common

Friday, 8 May 2015

After the Election, turn anger into action

Balls, Milliband, Murphy and the other New Labour failures have performed a miracle – for the Tories that is – by handing power back to Cameron. Of course, for working people it could be a nightmare – unless we act together to stop them.

When the exit polls suggested that, despite five years of cuts and attacks, Cameron might be re-elected, even the establishment politicians themselves couldn’t quite believe it. A day later, and with Milliband, Clegg and Farage having already stood aside, the truth is dawning that we are going to have to gear up to fight a majority Tory government.

There is understandable fear and anger about what this General Election result could mean in terms of further attacks on benefits and welfare, further cuts and privatisation to schools and the NHS and a further strengthening of anti-union laws, to name just a few.

That anger has to be turned in to action. With any hope of any kind of anti-cuts Government gone for now, the trade union movement and community campaigners are going to have to act – and fast.

Locally, TUSC and the Socialist Party will be getting straight on with the job of supporting me, Stop Academies In Lewisham and the teacher unions building the fight to stop the break-up of local schooling into academy chains. Nationally, instead of pretending we can wait for a Labour Government to come to our rescue, the trade union movement needs to issue an immediate call to arms to take national strike action to defend jobs, conditions and services. This time, unlike 2011, it’s got to be action aimed to win – not just to protest then walk away.

The fact is, of course, that despite some people’s vain hope that somehow a Labour/SNP Government might reverse the cuts, that prospect was never really on offer. Ed Balls was so keen to show that Labour would be as reliably austerian a Party as the Tories, he couldn’t even hold his own seat.

If you're not going to challenge the austerity lies, then you shouldn't be surprised if some voters, such as disillusioned LibDem voters, opt for the 'real' Tories rather than their pretenders.

More than ever, trade unions need their own political voice

Surely, New Labour’s hapless failure makes it even more obvious that trade unions need to stop trying to resuscitate a dying beast and build their own political representation instead. 

Assisted by media ‘guidance’, the pro-business politicians who dominate New Labour thinking will probably draw all the wrong conclusions and decide that they must turn even more to the right. Yet the Election results show that, if you want to defeat the Tories, you need to promise to oppose cuts, not to ‘balance the books’. Witness how the SNP, posing as an anti-austerity party, opposing Trident and privatisation, almost swept the board north of the border. The Greens, given national publicity that was denied to TUSC, also picked up votes in the same way.

Of course, some of those who still refuse to jump from Labour’s shipwreck will say that TUSC’s relatively modest votes show that a new voice cannot be built. Far from it! TUSC campaigners know that, wherever we were able to get our views across, our ideas are enthusiastically supported. That was certainly my experience at the Lewisham West and Penge hustings, and at our TUSC pre-election rally that was packed with new faces, most much younger than mine! 

We met new TUSC supporters at the campaign stalls we held in Forest Hill, Penge, Sydenham and Bellingham. We were more active on the streets than any other Party. Our policies could offer an answer to the problems of low pay and unaffordable housing suffered by so many local people. 

One personal highlight on the street stalls was bumping into into Tim again, twenty-five years after we had last worked together in the Penge Anti Poll Tax Union, to find that he still had the suit in his attic that I'd lent him to be a 'McKenzie's friend' to asist non-payers being taken through Bromley Magistrates Court!

Ticking a box for the BBC ?
What TUSC certainly achieved was to publicise ourselves to voters looking for an alternative, increasing our profile, particularly through our Party Political Broadcast. As in Lewisham West and Penge, that has built groups of TUSC supporters around the country ready to build TUSC and local campaigns and action. Many of those want to join the Socialist Party too. 

Even on Election night, we were still meeting voters who said they would have voted for us if they’d met TUSC before. Even our lively campaign of stalls and activities could only scratch the surface of a whole parliamentary constituency, with mass media coverage largely denied us. The BBC did allow me twenty seconds on London Regional News on Wednesday – but few will have seen it. Even then, the visit to Broadcasting House, to then be hurriedly filmed in a side-street, felt distinctly like a mere ‘box-ticking’ exercise for the BBC to show that they had complied with their ‘fair media coverage’ duties.

Silenced from most of the press of course, many voters still saw TUSC as mainly a ‘minority’ option and the Greens picked up most of the ‘anti-cuts votes’ locally (although how reliably anti-cuts every Green would be once elected is debatable, as we found out ourselves when both Greens and the Socialist Party had councillors on Lewisham Council in the last decade). For now, TUSC’s support came from the most determined voters that have already seen through the austerity lies and/or have worked with us in trade union and community campaigns.

In Lewisham West and Penge TUSC secured 391 votes (0.8%), a solid enough start in a seat where we have never stood before. We got over 3% in places where our candidates have more of an electoral history, like Coventry North West, where Dave Nellist, chair of TUSC, received 1,769 votes. In Southampton, Councillor Don Morrell, a TUSC supporter who has taken a clear anti-cuts stance, won his council seat with 2,330 votes, a majority of 1,000 over the Labour Party.

Victories like Don’s show what could be achieved if the trade unions were to put their weight behind a serious anti-cuts political alternative. Just lobbying the main parties to support Union policies – like the NUT’s ‘Stand Up for Education’ campaign - has proved to be insufficient. Instead, trade unionists should be fighting for those policies themselves as trade-union backed candidates offering a real alternative to the establishment political parties.

If you agree, keep in touch with TUSC in Lewisham West and Penge and help us build to defeat the Tory attacks – and make sure that, next time, we can defeat them politically too.

The Socialist Party are meeting again at 7.30 pm in 'the Hob' in Forest Hill on Tuesday May 19 to discuss how we build action to defeat the attacks we now face - locally and nationally. Come along and join with us to fight cuts.

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Send a message to Westminster - Vote TUSC against CUTS on Thursday

On Thursday 7 May
in Lewisham West and Penge

Most of us will be only too pleased to see the back of the Tories on May 7. They spent five years helping the rich get richer while cutting services and living standards. 

But none of the main parties offer anything much different to what’s come before. In January, when Osborne's plans for £30 billion more cuts were put to Parliament, 515 MPs voted for them, just 18 against! Which way did Lewisham West and Penge's Labour candidate Jim Dowd vote? Yes, Jim voted for the cuts too!

TUSC stands against any cuts. We know that there's plenty of wealth sitting in the bank accounts of the super-rich. Let's use it to build homes and fund the schools & services we need.

I have been living and campaigning in Lewisham West and Penge for over 25 years. I helped organise the Penge Anti-Poll Tax Union, part of the campaign that defeated Margaret Thatcher. As Secretary of Lewisham NUT, I have fought to defend education, and am helping to lead ‘Stop Academies in Lewisham’.

I have pledged that, if elected as MP, I would continue to take only my existing classroom teacher's take-home pay, donating my extra salary towards building trade union and community anti-austerity campaigns.

Vote TUSC on Thursday to say:
■ We want to elect a workers’ MP on a worker’s wage
■ No to the austerity promised by all the main parties
■ Stop privatisation and cuts. Invest in jobs, homes, our NHS and public services
■ For a £10 an hour minimum wage now, not in 2020!
■ Control rents, launch a mass council house building programme
■ Take rail, energy and banks into public ownership
■ Use the wealth of the 1% to meet the needs of the 99%

Friday, 1 May 2015

Hear Martin speak - why you should vote TUSC on May 7

TUSC received strong backing last night at the hustings organised by '38 degrees' for the Lewisham West and Penge constituency. To hear what I had to say, watch below:



Finally, why not come and hear me speak - and join in the debate and discussion - at our pre-Election Rally on Tuesday, May 5th, 7.30 pm at the Hob by Forest Hill station:

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Compare and contrast TUSC policies with other Lewisham candidates

A fortnight ago, I was pleased to be invited to speak at the Lewisham Pensioners' Forum hustings on behalf of TUSC. Candidates were asked to submit brief written answers to some of the questions that there had not been time to debate. The Forum has kindly compiled the responses it received - copied below - or downloadable via this link

Compare and contrast the responses between TUSC and the Labour Party, for example on TTIP, and you'll find the sharp contrast that was evident at the hustings over, for example, whether or not to keep wasting billions on Trident!

When it came to the News Shopper request for information from the Lewisham West and Penge candidates, Jim Dowd from New Labour was apparently the only candidate not to reply. You can read the full responses here but this is what I had to say:

Age? 51 

Where do you live? Sydenham 

Where are you from originally? Ashtead, Surrey.

Why do you want to represent this constituency? To be an MP who will speak up for the majority of people in Lewisham West and Penge who no longer feel represented by the establishment parties that offer only austerity and inequality; to campaign for a £10 an hour minimum wage, genuinely affordable homes and a properly-funded NHS, schools and council services. 

What local policy are you most passionate about? To stop unaccountable, divisive academies and to bring all schools back into democratic local authorities, so they can work together to meet every child’s needs. I have been one of the main organisers of the ‘Stop Academies in Lewisham’ campaign, mobilising parents, students and staff to oppose the academisation of schools like Sedgehill and Prendergast.

Describe yourself in 3 words: Dedicated, caring, socialist.

Who is your biggest hero? A local hero - Eleanor Marx, feminist and trade union organiser who helped to build the workers’ movement in London and internationally. 

What is your proudest moment? Helping, as organiser of the Penge Anti Poll Tax Union, to build a mass campaign that defied an unjust law and showed that a determined national struggle can defeat even a PM like Margaret Thatcher. 

... and finally, here's the interview I gave for the Great British Tuk Tuk Pop-Up Poll: