Sunday, 7 February 2016

Some thoughts from the NUT London Regional Secretary - February 2016

After just short of 30 years as a NUT member and science teacher in Kingston, Bromley and then, for over two decades, Lewisham, for the most part as local NUT Secretary, I am now a month into my new role as the London Regional Secretary of the NUT.

Leading the work of the Union across the London Region is no small responsibility. Around one-fifth of the NUT's membership work in London. Being the capital city, the work of the Union here inevitably has a wider impact and influence than just the London Region alone. The NUT can make that impact thanks to the strength and hard work of our Local NUT Divisions, supported by the NUT staff working out of the London Region Office in Wandsworth. 

I aim to post regularly on this blog to give you a flavour of the issues and campaigns being taken up by the NUT in London. Here's an update from last month:

Organising across London  to defend education
As Regional Secretary, I want to make sure that the Regional Office and Local Divisions are working together as much as possible to build the Union and our campaigns to defend teachers and education. Already, in my first month, I've been able to visit schools and NUT meetings in Southwark, East London, Haringey, Barnet, Lewisham and Richmond. Divisions have also met together to discuss our campaigns and organising plans, not least at the successful 'London Weekend' event held in Brighton last week.

Delegates at the NUT 'London Weekend' show their support for suspended NUT rep Simon O'Hara

As we discussed in Brighton, teachers and education in London face threats that are perhaps as serious as any we have had to face before. Here are just a few of the challenges we need to meet:

Education Cuts
Under Government funding proposals, school budgets across London are facing cut of 12%. Schools in some boroughs could lose over 20% of their funds. That would mean understaffed schools, bigger class sizes, more children’s needs unmet and a narrower curriculum.

Wednesday's meeting in Westminster to protect school funding in London

A meeting at the House of Commons last Wednesday brought together MPs, Headteachers, Governors, Councillors, school staff, parents and students to discuss a joint campaign to protect London schools. I was one of a number of contributors who pointed out how the relative success of London schools was in part down to the higher relative level of funding that London schools have received. The government should be increasing school funding in other regions, not taking funds from London budgets to cover up their failure to fund schools properly nationally.

Next week, a formal ballot starts across NUT members employed in Sixth Form Colleges to seek their support for a one-day strike to oppose the cuts to their sector. A good response to the ballot will help provide momentum to the London funding campaign too. 

Teacher Shortages
Talented, hardworking teachers are being driven out of the profession by excessive workload and the lack of affordable housing. However, the Independent reports that, under new Home Office regulations, some overseas teachers will be forced to leave their jobs and return home this April! 

London NUT Regional Office is offering to support teachers affected by the new regulations

With the average cost of renting a one-bed flat in London now over £1,100 a month, an NUT survey of young teachers found that 60% of respondents were looking to leave London in the next five years. One in five were still having to live at home with their parents to be able to make ends meet. The other main pressure, as I discussed when I spoke to young teachers in Richmond, is workload. Teachers are typically working well over 60 hours a week - an impossible burden that Union organisation can - and must - help to combat.

What Lewisham NUT reps reported last term - a story repeated across London
Much of the workload is also being driven by excessive demands for detailed marking, lesson observations and pupil progress scores, all part of an 'exam factory' culture which is demoralising both staff and children alike. When I had the chance to speak on BBC Radio London last month about the pressures on schools, feedback on social media showed that many parents shared the NUT's concerns about the excessive pressure on school students.

Poverty and unaffordable housing
Of course, unaffordable rents aren't just a burden on teachers. The lack of genuinely affordable housing is forcing many families into unsuitable homes or out of London altogether. 

It's also part of the reason why almost four in 10 children in the capital grow up in poverty.  These social conditions remain the main factors that impact on the progress children make in school.

Lack of school places
London needs 113,000 more school places to meet demand. Yet our Councils have neither the funds nor the legal powers to open new schools. 

Instead, the Government is trying to push even more schools into becoming academies. However, as the strong support for the campaign to 'Stop Academies in Lewisham' showed, parents and staff alike are increasingly opposed to the academisation of schools.

NUT London Mayoral Hustings on March 7 

London’s Mayoral and Assembly elections are a chance for Londoners to influence the capital’s policymakers and highlight the issues that matter most to them. The NUT wants to make sure that education is at the heart of those debates.

That’s why the NUT are hosting a Mayoral election hustings on Monday 7 March at the NUT’s national headquarters. NUT General Secretary Christine Blower will open the event and point out why London’s educational success is under threat. The hustings will allow candidates to be questioned on where they stand on the issues above - and the policies set out in the NUT's Manifesto for London's schools and colleges - as well as some of the other issues that matter to London’s teachers and parents.

Make sure of your place by booking in in advance on Eventbrite:

Sunday, 17 January 2016

Class sizes up, school places in crisis: NUT demands investigation into academy programme

Last week, more evidence emerged backing up the demand carried in the NUT's London manifesto calling on the next Mayor and London Assembly to hold an investigation into the impact of the Government’s academy and free school programme on the availability of school places.

There is already a growing school places crisis, particularly in London, with the latest London Councils analysis showing that 113,000 extra school places are urgently needed in the capital alone, requiring an urgent investment of at least £1.5 billion.
requiring investment of at least £1.5 billion as the capital’s school pop - See more at:
requiring investment of at least £1.5 billion

Without that investment, children are being squeezed into ever-expanding schools - and, as figures released last week from a Labour Party analysis of DfE statistics confirmed, ever-growing class sizes as well. 

The analysis exposed the fact that more than half a million children are being taught in classes of over 30 pupils. This is, of course, a national problem but the DfE figures show that over 44,000 primary school pupils are being taught in classes greater than 30 in the London Region alone. 

Even in Inner London, the figures show, for example, that there are nearly 1000 pupils in these over-size primary classes in the Borough of Lewisham alone. In some Outer London boroughs, the numbers are truly disgraceful.

The boroughs of Barnet, Merton and Redbridge all have over a thousand pupils in classes over 30 at Key Stage 1 - supposedly the statutory limit for infant classes (although the wording of the legislation allows this limit to be breached in a range of 'exceptional' circumstances). At Key Stage 2, the figures are even more shocking:

KEY STAGE 2 FIGURES taken from DfE National Statistics for January 2015

In the boroughs of Harrow, Redbridge and Sutton, over a quarter of KS2 pupils are taught in classes over 30. In Bromley that's as high as 40%, with nearly 5000 pupils taught in these oversize classes.

Do class sizes matter? Of course they do! As an internet petition calling for class size limits that I was asked to sign this week explains, reduced class sizes would mean that teachers could spend more time with their pupils, would help to manage ever increasing workload, provide better class and behaviour management, help to 'close the gap', help provide personalised learning, and help to ensure that no child gets 'lost within their learning'.

Responding to the national figures in an NUT Press Release, Christine Blower, the Union's General Secretary, explained that:  

‘The need for more school places has been known over many years. A key duty of Government is to ensure there are sufficient school places and enough qualified teachers. The Government has failed on both thereby letting down children and parents'. 

'This situation could have been avoided by allowing councils to build schools in areas where additional school places are needed. The Government has poured money and resources into the wasteful and indulgent free schools programme, many opening in areas where there is no need, and many providing only a small number of places at vast cost. The Government must produce sufficient funding and powers for local authorities to open more schools as a matter of urgency.’

This is why the NUT's Manifesto for London
calls on the next Mayor and London Assembly to: 
* champion local councils regaining the power and the funding to open new schools
* hold an investigation into the impact of the Government’s academy and free school programme on the availability of school places.

London NUT campaigning for our children's education

Our manifesto has been issued at the same time as the NUT in London is campaigning alongside parents and governors to oppose the threats of significant cuts to school funding in the capital. Cuts - predicted to be perhaps as great as 20% in some London boroughs - will only worsen the school places and class sizes crisis and make it even harder to recruit and retain the teachers needed in our schools.

A programme of activities around the Manifesto and cuts campaign is being built across London NUT divisions, including building support for:
  • A 'Protect School Funding in London' planning meeting with London MPs, 5.30 pm Wednesday February 3rd, Portcullis House, Westminster.
  • NUT London Mayoral Hustings, 6.00 pm Monday March 7th, Hamilton House, London WC1H 9BD. 
  • Plans are also being finalised for a demonstration to defend London education in April.

Sunday, 3 January 2016

Standing up for London's Education

The NUT, representing the majority of London's teachers, has released a manifesto for our schools and colleges ahead of the Mayoral and London Assembly elections on 5 May 2016.

As the manifesto explains, "London’s schools are among the most celebrated in the world. Yet they face real challenges every day from complex issues such as child poverty, unfit testing regimes and funding cuts. We believe that every child deserves the best education that this city can offer. Inside this manifesto you’ll find our suggestions for maintaining and extending the excellence in London schools and a call on the next Mayor of London to help teachers create a fairer society for all".

You can download a full copy of the manifesto from the NUT national website, and also order more copies for local use. Below is a summary of its main proposals for London's education:

1. A good local school for every child
  Every child has the right to a quality education and every parent should be able to send their child to a good school that is close to home. Yet this is becoming increasingly difficult to guarantee for parents in London. The Government’s academy and free school policy has prevented councils from opening local authority schools where they are most needed. Councils have also been denied the legal power to require academies or free schools to take in more children when they have space available. 

We call on the next Mayor and London Assembly to:
* champion local councils regaining the power and the funding to open new schools
* hold an investigation into the impact of the Government’s academy and free school programme on the availability of school places.

2. Affordable housing for children and teachers
Exorbitant housing costs are creating a teacher shortage crisis that will hit every school and college in London. Living in London is no longer a sustainable, long-term option for teachers. Meanwhile unaffordable rents are forcing many families into unsuitable housing, where insecurity impacts on children’s ability to settle and make progress in school. Teachers tell of ‘disappearing children’ as families are priced out of their communities and forced to relocate sometimes hundreds of miles away. Urgent action is needed.

Read more in the latest issue of 'The Teacher'
We call on the next Mayor and London Assembly to: 
* advocate for rent controls and for more affordable housing in London, with investment for councils to build homes, so that parents and children are not priced out of their community
* take urgent action to provide affordable housing to enable London schools to keep the teachers they need.

3. Education - invest, don't cut
Independent experts believe that over the next five years the schools budget will be cut by 8% nationally. Children in London will face even greater cuts, because the Government wants to cut funding from the capital’s schools in order to give it to schools in other parts of the country. Many Inner London boroughs could face real terms cuts of 15 - 20%. Cuts are already resulting in increased class sizes, fewer teachers and support staff, reduced classroom resources and the slashing of essential support for children with special educational needs. This will all get worse if the Government goes ahead with its funding plans.  

We call on the next Mayor and London Assembly to:
Read the NUT's full analysis of 'false funding'

* campaign to protect funding for London’s schools and colleges
* support sufficient funding for local authorities to sustain the services that children and families need

4. All children deserve qualified teachers
Children should be taught by qualified teachers. Every parent expects this for their child. Yet astonishingly the Government allows academies and free schools to employ unqualified teaching staff. 15% of teaching posts in London’s free schools are currently filled by people without qualified teacher status. Many supply teacher agencies are using unqualified staff to stand in for teachers. These private agencies are making huge profits from this; money that should be spent on children’s education.

 The NUT calls on the next Mayor and London Assembly to champion: 
* that every child in every lesson is taught by a qualified teacher
* an efficient London-wide, co-ordinated system for properly paid and qualified teachers to cover teacher absences.

5. An equal chance for every child in London
For decades our schools have brought communities together, challenged stereotypes, overcome prejudice and helped close the gaps in our often unequal society. Countries which rank schools in league tables based on narrow test scores end up with more unequal outcomes for children than those which develop co-ordinated education services. If we’re to overcome the barriers so many children face, we need the Government to drop the policies which are making it harder for teachers and schools to work together. World conflicts bring pressures to our capital’s schools. It’s vital that the new Mayor and London Assembly take the lead in ensuring that London’s schools remain places where children and teachers of all races, religions and backgrounds can debate the world around them and learn from each other’s experiences.

The NUT calls on the next Mayor and London Assembly to:

* promote social cohesion for the benefit of every London child
* champion sufficient investment for local councils to sustain specialist high quality services to meet the diverse needs of children; including children with SEND, from refugee families, or who have English as an additional language.

6. An end to child poverty in London
London is home to some of the wealthiest and some of the poorest people in the UK. Almost four in 10 children in the capital grow up in poverty. As well as affecting children’s health, this poverty impacts directly on children’s learning and educational outcomes. Child hunger is a significant problem in London schools. Welfare benefit cuts and the bedroom tax are hitting families hard. Shockingly, in-work poverty has risen by 70% over the last decade. Nearly two-thirds of children growing up in poverty live in families where at least one family member is working. London’s Mayor should ensure provision of the high quality childcare and early years education which is proven to improve the life chances of children living below the poverty line.

We call on the next Mayor and London Assembly to
Read a NUT briefing on Child Poverty here
* the minimum wage for London to be at least the London Living Wage (currently £9.40 an hour)
* adoption of robust targets for reductions in child poverty. 

7. An end to exam factories
Read more on the NUT website
Parents want their children to be treated as individuals, but Government policies are in danger of turning our schools into exam factories. Students in England are now the most tested in Europe, with children labelled as successes and failures from as early as four years old. This exam factory culture is causing high levels of stress and anxiety among our children. Children need a broad education including arts, music, sport and quality vocational options. Yet these subjects are being squeezed out of the curriculum through budget cuts and a new pressure on schools to prioritise a narrow range of core academic subjects.

The NUT calls on the next Mayor and the London Assembly to 
* champion a rich and rewarding school experience for every child in London
* hold an investigation into the effects of excessive testing on our children’s mental health and well-being.

What you can do: 

1. Talk with friends, colleagues and neighbours about our vision for the future of children’s education, and distribute the manifesto to homes near you.
2. Help out on a Standing Up for London’s Education stall where this manifesto can be discussed with members of the public.
3. Hold an after-work event to discuss this manifesto and the issues local parents would like to raise with candidates.
4. Together with other parents and teachers, meet or write to mayoral candidates to ask their position on this manifesto. Then tell other parents and teachers what they have said.

Wednesday, 30 December 2015

More awkward facts for the academy enthusiasts to answer

"There can now be no doubt that, on average, conversion to become a sponsored academy slows the improvement of a struggling school"

Data released by the NUT this morning confirms, yet again, that academisation fails to provide 'school improvement'.

As the NUT press release explains, the Education and Adoption Bill, close to becoming damaging new legislation under this Government, "is based on the assumption that the only way to improve schools was to convert to become a sponsored academy and join a Multi Academy Trust. This data casts serious doubt on that assumption." 

The data is from Ofsted's own figures, secured through a question from Lord Hunt of Kings Heath. The figures show that, while a very few academy chains may do well, overall a school is six times as likely to remain inadequate if it becomes a sponsored academy than if it remains as a maintained school!

The figures released by Ofsted in answer to Lord Hunt this month

As you can see from the table, according to Ofsted, whose findings the DfE of course set much store by, of those schools that became sponsored academies,
  • 12% remained “Inadequate” at their next inspection, compared to 2% of maintained schools
  • 53% of these sponsored academies remained either “Inadequate” or “Requires Improvement”, compared to 38% of maintained schools.
  • Of schools that stayed in the local authority maintained sector, 62% become “Good” or “Outstanding” compared to 47% for sponsored academies.

This data only confirms other comparative figures that have consistently shown similar weaknesses in the overall performance of sponsored academies. In particular, Henry Stewart from the Local Schools Network has provided a whole series of figures, looking at both primary and secondary phases, attempting to show the Government "how destructive its forced academisation could be".  

As Henry Stewart states in the NUT Press Release, “The data is clear, at primary and secondary level. There can now be no doubt that, on average, conversion to become a sponsored academy slows the improvement of a struggling school.”

Kevin Courtney, NUT Deputy General Secretary, concludes the NUT that:The Government’s whole schools strategy is based on the dogmatic belief that conversion to academy status by definition improves standards. These latest findings show this to be nonsense. It is in fact the proven structural support of maintained schools which is more likely to achieve results. But the Government’s educational vandalism is systematically undermining the role of local authorities in education, to the detriment of our children.”

Unfortunately, their dogmatic and ideological support for school privatisation and the destruction of democratically accountable local authorities means that the Tories will, once again, ignore the incontestable evidence. It will again fall to parents, students and teacher trade unionists to take action to defeat their damaging plans.

Monday, 7 December 2015

NUT calls for immediate pay rise of at least £2,000 for all teachers

The NUT issued a press release today, to coincide with its submission to the School Teachers Review Body, calling for urgent action on teachers' pay. It states:

"The NUT is calling on the School Teachers Review Body (STRB) to recommend urgent action on teachers’ pay in order to address the growing teacher supply crisis

Almost 1 in 5 teacher training places remain unfilled. This is the third consecutive year that the secondary recruitment target has been missed. Teacher numbers are also declining through the 50,000 leaving the profession. This is the highest number of resignations for a decade.

Teachers’ pay has now fallen by around 15% in 5 years on the back of Government pay policy and inflation. This leaves teacher salaries trailing behind other graduate professions.

The NUT is calling for all teachers to receive an immediate increase of not less than £2,000 from September 2016. This should be followed by a process of restoring pay to the levels before the Coalition Government took office and then to appropriate levels to attract the teachers we need.

The NUT is also calling for an end to performance related pay and the restoration of national pay scales across England and Wales. The current unpredictability and pay discretion can lead to discriminatory decisions. The lack of a clear career path is of course deterring many from entering teaching.

Christine Blower, General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers, the largest teachers’ union, said:

‘Teacher recruitment and retention are both at dangerously low levels. Many schools are unable to fill vacant posts. Pay and workload need to be addressed to resolve this situation.

‘The STRB has previously acknowledged the growing problems of recruitment, retention and morale. This has not, however, been translated into recommendations to resolve the situation. The STRB needs to demonstrate its independence from Government and make recommendations that will help restore the status of teaching as a secure and reasonably paid career.

‘Teaching is an incredibly rewarding job but it is vital that it is rewarding both professionally and in terms of pay. Workload too needs to be addressed and reduced. Failure to achieve this will see a further decline in the number of entrants to the profession and an increasing number of schools unable to find qualified teachers to teach our children and young people”.

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

How many classroom #teachersmake 65K? DfE confirm 0.1%!

Well, well, well ... the DfE today decided to release statistics showing "the number of school teachers earning £65,000 or more in state funded schools in England". 

£65k? That's a strange figure to focus on - unless of course, you're coming under pressure over the misleading claim that '#teachersmake' "up to £65k as a great teacher" !

Do the DfE hope that these belated statistics will let them off the hook? Far from it! They only confirm what teachers complaining to the Advertising Standards Authority had stated in the first place - that only a tiny proportion of classroom teachers are paid over £65,000!

In fact, the DfE have simply provided the confirmation I was seeking at the end of October when I posted on this blog:
 "Now you would have thought by now that the DfE might realise that teachers can apply the skills we teach to our students about analysing sources and data. A quick look at Table 5 of the School Workforce Census suggests that there are 412,000 qualified classroom teachers in English schools. I'm open to correction but, if even as many as four ‘hundreds’ of them are earning £65k, isn't that just 0.1% of the total?"

The figures released by the DfE today
So, it turns out that my estimate was an accurate one. The  DfE are simply confirming that just 485 classroom teachers are earning over £65,000! So, yes that IS just 0.1% of classroom teachers.  

Perhaps it would be better for the DfE if they stop digging and withdraw their misleading claim ...

Monday, 30 November 2015

Teachers at “chaotic” Tech City free school vote unanimously to strike

The following post is an extract from a Press Release issued by Islington NUT this evening: 

Teachers at “chaotic” free school vote unanimously to strike. 

Strike action was also taken by NUT members at STEM6 in February 2014

Teachers at Tech City, a 16-19 free school formerly known as STEM 6, have voted unanimously to strike for five days before the Xmas holidays in support of their demand for humane and workable performance management and a fair pay policy. (Tuesday 8th, Wednesday 9th, Tuesday 15th, Wednesday 16th and Thursday 17th December).

The aim of the strike is that Aspirations, the academy chain which took over STEM 6 and renamed it at the beginning of September, should agree:

  • to a performance management policy - like the one adopted in large majority of Islington schools – with limits on the number of times a teacher can be observed for performance management purposes each year and reasonable notice of the lesson in which a teacher is going to be observed.
  • to a pay policy which allows teachers to progress up the appropriate pay scale unless they have previously been given reasonable notice that there is scope for improvement as well as adequate time and support to achieve it.

As the Secretary of State for Education, Nicky Morgan, wrote to head teachers last year: ‘There should be no surprises’. At Tech City, in November, staff had some big surprises. More than a third of them were refused incremental pay progression mainly on the grounds that the exam results achieved by the students they taught last year weren’t good enough – even though they had been given no warning last year that this could be the outcome of supposed deficiencies in their teaching; even though they had been given no support in addressing and overcoming these deficiencies; even though it is impossible to reduce the cause of a group of students’ exam results to the teaching of an individual teacher; even though a better explanation of the relatively disappointing overall results achieved by STEM 6 last summer had a whole lot more to do with the chaos which reigned at STEM 6 from the time it was established back in September 2013.

These are only some of the many complaints the NUT has received from its members at Tech City:

  • The Leadership has been confusing and chaotic from the start. Plans for the session change right up to the last minute and often during the session itself .
  • There is no organisation to Leadership. Instructions have been emailed on the leadership day at 10.41 (sessions start at 10.40) and this is unacceptable for planning.
  • Parents are being contacted to attend “crisis meetings” based on attendance data which is not accurate. Attendance is the biggest issue and blame has been pushed on to teachers by management.
  • I have been denied pay progression despite never having been given performance targets to meet.
  • I found it totally unacceptable that students were told in assembly and informed in the autumn newsletter that the teaching and learning was not to the right standard and that from January onwards it would be addressed with “better teachers”.

Back in September this year, local MP, Emily Thornberry, wrote to the Secretary of State for Education, Nicky Morgan, expressing concerns about developments at what was then STEM 6 calling for ‘urgent action’ to rescue this academy’.
Not entirely satisfied by the response she received from Lord Nash (on behalf of Nicky Morgan) she wrote back to him expressing further concern about ‘considerable difficulties’ at Tech City, including the resignation of seven teachers (half the teaching staff) this term and the ‘little progress towards improving working arrangements and performance management’.

Islington NUT Joint Secretary, Ken Muller, commented:

"These important questions bring in to relief the chaos which has reigned around STEM 6 / Tech City from the start, chaos which has damaged the educational opportunities of the students who have enrolled there and the teachers whose working lives and careers have been blighted by the incompetence of those who are meant to be providing them with support and direction. 

Tech City teachers are being scapegoated, bullied and penalised for the failings of others.
That is why they are reluctantly going on strike – and that is why they deserve the support of colleagues in other schools, their students and their parents and the rest of the local community".

Please send message of support to: