Saturday, 30 May 2009

Prepare for a SATs boycott

The latest Lewisham NUT newsletter being sent out to all schools has the SATs boycott on its front page. It also includes articles on cover, APP, Lewisham Bridge School and fighting the plan for a 'Goldsmiths Trust'.

Have a look on the Lewisham NUT website:

Thursday, 28 May 2009

No Return to the 1930's!

'Half-term' gave me a chance to sort out some of our household junk and I came across an album of photos taken by my father. The shots he had taken of Tredegar, South Wales, where he was living in the late 30's, are a real piece of missing local history. They have been posted on the town website:

Sadly, shots of 1930's poverty, unemployment and derelict factories aren't the ancient history that my father hoped they would be. Now, as then, the trade union movement has a responsibility to organise to defend our communities from the effects of recession. As teachers, we have a key role in defending not only our own working conditions, but to defend the comprehensive education system that was fought for by previous generations.

Unfortunately, the fax that I picked up from my NUT Office this morning shows that the present New Labour plans for public services are a long way from those that Nye Bevan and others fought for in Tredegar and beyond. It announced a 'consultation' on a new Trust federation linking three of our local secondary schools with Goldsmiths College - depsite the opposition of the Goldsmiths education department who have made very clear that they oppose Trusts being used to break-up accountable Local Authority schooling.

It will be yet another battle that Lewisham NUT and I will have to fight in the weeks ahead, just like campaigners in other NUT Associations around the country. As VP, I hope I can help link those local battles and strengthen our campaign to defend comprehensive education from the attacks that will come, in one form or another, from all the main political parties.


Thursday, 21 May 2009

Who do trade unionists vote for now?

I joined a packed public gallery in Lewisham Town Hall on Wednesday May 20th to listen to the debate over the Council's proposals to demolish Lewisham Bridge School. Unfortunately, the debate exposed how, once again, the main parties in our council chamber - and many others - aren't prepared to listen to parents and trade unionists.

A rooftop protest against Lewisham's Council's plans to close Lewisham Bridge primary school and replace it with a 3-16 foundation school, has been going on since the beginning of term. After a successful march through Lewisham, last night's lobby was the next event to keep up the pressure on councillors to change their minds.

Lewisham campaigners have the advantage of being able to work with two elected Socialist Party councillors, Ian Page and Chris Flood, who had tabled a motion calling on the Council to put the plan on hold pending a full review of the plan. They pointed to Lewisham NUT's arguments that a rethink was vital in the light of evidence of sudden and unexpected pressure on primary places. After all, why knock down a perfectly good primary school when the borough is still short of primary places for this September?

To the anger of parents in the public gallery, the Labour Cabinet member dismissed campaigners as hatching an "ideological plot". Apparently parents wanting the best for their kids is 'ideological', while wanting to push through unpopular plans to turn schools into Trusts isn't! The Liberals, Tories and even the Greens also ended up voting in support of the Mayor's proposals. Nevertheless, the campaign continues, particularly as Lewisham Bridge school has now been made a 'listed' building.

The debate provided a small example of the lack of support for trade unions from most representatives of the main political parties today. Worryingly, with public anger over MPs expenses rising, some voters will be looking to the BNP in protest. Increasingly, it will not be enough to argue "Don't Vote BNP", trade unionists also need to be able to offer an alternative that people think worth voting for instead.

I believe that trade unions themselves need to start standing candidates alongside community campaigners, such as the anti-Academy candidiates that won seats in Barrow. As one step along that path, the RMT rail union and others have launched a slate of candidiates for June's European elections, under the banner of "NO2EU, Yes to democracy". I'll be voting for Bob Crow and the NO2EU slate on June 4th.

I hope that the NO2EU initiative is just a start. I will argue as VP for the NUT and other unions, such as the PCS, who are serious about fighting cuts and privatisation, to join in discussions with the RMT and others about how to best build a serious trade-union based alternative for voters at the ballot box.


Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Martin nominated in Lancaster

The Lancaster Morecambe & District NUT Association nominated Martin Powell-Davies and Simon Jones as VP candidates after hearing speeches from Martin, Simon and Ken Cridland on Tuesday May 19th.


I rushed out of the NUT Office in time to get a train to the evening meeting in Lancaster, not knowing quite what to expect from a hustings meeting where I would be speaking alongside two Lancashire-based candidates!

Local officers made all three candidates welcome and gave us ten minutes to set out our case to the meeting. My call for the Union to develop a clear strategy to win on both SATs and workload seemed to strike a chord with many present. As I have outlined on my election leaflet (do get in touch if you haven't seen a copy), I stressed the need for a campaign of national action over workload, as agreed by NUT Conference at Easter.

Questions and discussion included international issues, support for young teachers and the 'transferable vote' in NUT elections. Simon rightly warned that young members needed to be given their own voice and raised concern that the agenda for some Young Teachers' events was being set too much from the top-down rather than from young teachers themselves. In answer to one young teacher there, I stressed that the Union must not forget the promises we made in the pay campaign to take up the issue of student debt. The Government seemed able to help write off billions of bank debts, so why not write off teachers' student debts as well?

The issue of who was on the 'left slate' for these elections clearly cut little ice with most present as the meeting chose to nominate the two of us who did not have official backing from either the STA or CDFU left groupings! We appreciated the fact that the Association chose to hear directly from us so that they could make their own choice as to who they felt would make the best VP candidates.

Do get in touch, if you would like to invite me to a meeting in your area. My mobile is 07946 445488.


Saturday, 16 May 2009


THE GOVERNMENT PROMISED teachers that their “Workload Agreement” would put an end to excessive working hours. It has become another broken promise.

The Review Body has had to admit that their official statistics show that changes in overall hours have been ‘negligible’. The stress of working 50 hours a week on teachers and their families continues.

The growing intensity of our working lives has made workload worse.Schools are bullied by Government and Ofsted. In turn, pressure is then piled onto staff through imposed targets, demoralising observations and capability procedures.
Thousands of talented staff have chosen to leave teaching rather than put up with more intolerable workload.

THE NUT HAS TO SHOW IT CAN DEFEND TEACHERS. We were right to warn that the NASUWT and ATL were wrong to think they could get a meaningful deal out of this Government by talks alone. But we haven’t taken the action needed.

The NUT’s workload strategy has been to encourage members to ask for strike ballots in their individual school. Only a small minority of schools have done so. It takes confidence and organisation to take isolated workload action alone.

Local action must be encouraged. It can successfully push back some individual managements - but it can’t tackle the fundamental reasons why the workload burden isn’t getting any lighter.

Real cuts in hours require less class contact time so we can get the job done during the school day. But that means taking national action to demand the Government funds schools to recruit the extra teachers that schools would need.

WE ARE IN DANGER OF RETREATING in the face of further attacks. For example, the change to teachers ‘rarely covering’ from September has been introduced without extra funding to pay for it.

I argued at 2009 Conference against any watering down of Union opposition to ‘cover supervisors’. Some staff, happy not to be losing ‘free periods’ to cover, may not worry about non-teaching staff taking lessons at first. But we have to warn that it is another step towards replacing teaching jobs with cheaper staff - at our, and children’s, expense.

The extended entitlement in early years is a similar underfunded initiative. We should neither accept teachers working longer hours nor nurseries making up hours with cheaper less qualified staff.

WE HAVE TO CHANGE OUR STRATEGY. That’s why I successfully argued at 2009 Conference for the Union to prepare a ballot for national strike action to win our workload demands - like a minimum 20% non-contact time for all teachers.

Unfortunately, the Conference Report in the “Teacher”, hardly mentioned the debate. As before, when Conference ‘08 agreed that the pay campaign should also be linked to workload, some on the Executive seem unwilling to take action. I’m seeking election to make sure we do.

Martin Powell-Davies

Splat those SATs!

THE PROSPECT OF A JOINT NUT / NAHT CAMPAIGN over SATs has been a boost to many teachers. We have seen how the pressure of testing and league tables has distorted the curriculum and too often stolen the joy of learning from teachers and children alike.

We shouldn’t be surprised at the attempts to undermine the campaign from the press and Ministers. After all, SATs are a key part of the bullying regime that has long been used to unfairly label children, staff and schools alike as “failures”.

Many parents hate the stress that SATs create. However, we still need to step up efforts to take our message to the public.

THE UNION URGENTLY NEEDS TO EXPLAIN to primary staff exactly what the Union plans and a timetable for the ballot.

Some teachers will need little convincing, others will. Some are raising workload concerns. Ditching SATs & league tables should cut the pressure on staff - but not if it is replaced with the same pressures based on lots of teacher assessment!

The Union has to discuss and explain in more detail the assessment methods that we want to replace SATs.

If we are serious about the boycott, then there is some urgent work to be done. Year 6 teachers need to know what they should plan for the year ahead.

Stand firm as recession bites

SMITTEN WITH ‘THE MARKET’, MANY OF OUR MPs have long abandoned any principles over comprehensive education (not to mention their expenses!).

Now Ministers claim that the break up of democratic Local Authority schools into a series of competing Academies and Trusts is the way forward. Yet the chaos that such a ‘market’ brings to the economy is clear.

THE UNION HAS TO DEFEND COMPREHENSIVE EDUCATION with all its strength. The local strike action taken to oppose Academies is an important step. Lewisham NUT has been campaigning with parents, and in the local community, against plans to develop Trust schools.

NOW THE SAME MARKET HAS BROUGHT RECESSION, we will be told there is no money to reduce workload. We should not accept their argument.

£ Billions were found to bail out failing banks. But those resources should be spent on public services. Recruiting and training teachers would create graduate jobs, cut class sizes and boost the economy.

WE WILL HAVE TO BE READY FOR MORE ATTACKS on school budgets and on our pensions. We need to prepare for joint action with other trade unions as we did in the last pensions battle. Unions also need to be ready to challenge our failed politicians at the ballot box too

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Bexley NUT discusses workload

I was invited to speak to the Bexley Association meeting tonight on 'workload'. We debated how best to encourage school groups to take collective action together - particuarly when confronted with bullying management.

One teacher from an Academy explained how most Heads of Department in her school were being threatened with 'capability' proceedings. In my own borough of Lewisham, this is also becoming too frequently used a threat. Staff are faced with the choice of being pushed through the stress of target-setting, observations and nit-picking criticism - or, as too often happens, to jump before they are pushed and leave. We need to try and organise collective action against these bullying managers rather than leaving staff to be picked off one by one.

I also argued that the Union's strategy of school-by-school workload action was failing to turn the tide. Teachers agreed with me that national action, pulling together the whole membership in a national workload dispute - was the way forward.

Of course, this was the policy I argued for successfully at National Conference - but look at the latest 'Teacher' and you will hardly find a mention of the debate in the Conference reports. Why not? I'll certainly be arguing to put this policy into practice in my campaign - and if I am elected as Vice-President.


Tuesday, 12 May 2009


We are writing to you to ask that you put forward Martin Powell-Davies, our Lewisham NUT Secretary, as one of your two nominations for NUT Vice-President.

These are just some of the reasons why we believe Martin deserves your support:

Since becoming Divisional Secretary in 1994, Martin has doubled the membership of Lewisham NUT. This has been achieved through a combination of dedication, negotiating skills, a very good grasp of issues, tact, good humour and sheer hard work. He has considerable TV, radio and press experience and his speaking skills will be well-known to all who have attended NUT Annual Conference.

Martin has an excellent grasp of the history, theory and practice of education, both in Britain and abroad. His continued work as a secondary science teacher, combined with his role as NUT and Joint Union Side Secretary, means that he also has a clear understanding of the many issues that weigh down on teachers.

Martin has spoken at many association meetings across the country. He understands staff concerns from small rural primaries to those of inner-city comprehensives. As President, he would make an excellent ambassador for the Union, across England & Wales, overseas, and across the trade union movement.

Martin is sincere in what he says and does. He wholeheartedly supports the comprehensive system, equality of opportunity for all, a broad curriculum that gives a real chance for every child to learn and prosper, and campaigns to defend the pay, rights and conditions of all teachers and for an end to excessive testing and our intolerable workload.

Those of you who only know Martin from Annual Conference will know that he has consistently campaigned for national action on workload, conditions and pay. We believe that having Martin’s input as a National Officer on the National Executive will add real strength to the Union in developing a strategy to defend education.

There’s no doubting that Martin is a socialist and proud of it. His commitment has earned respect from teachers from many different political views. Some factions on the Left have consistently appeared to oppose Martin holding National Office. We don’t understand why. All we know is that Martin is an honourable man who faithfully represents the views of his members when mandated to do so; a man who is not afraid to speak out against inequality wherever he finds it and a man who is personally involved in many campaigns to oppose injustice and to defend teachers.

A Reliable President
Finally, can we just say that Martin has a genuine gift for friendship, has been a loyal friend to countless members and non-members, and, as President will enhance the NUT’s relationship within trade unionism and in wider arenas.

Alison Long Ed Sweatman Lawrence Stevens
Assistant Secretary President, Treasurer, Lewisham NUT

Martin Powell-Davies stands again for NUT VP

Since Martin Powell-Davies last stood as NUT Vice-President in 2007, the pressures on teachers and education have carried on getting worse.

As you will see from his many posts on the 'Classroom Teacher blog'started at that time (, Martin has been active in building local and national campaigns to defend teachers against the continuing tide of rising workload and the break-up of Local Authority comprehensive education.

He is presently very involved in a campaign to save Lewisham Bridge Primary School where parents have been occupying the school roof since the beginning of term. Martin was, as usual, to the fore at NUT Conference this Easter, calling for the Union to follow up the strategy agreed at last year's Conference - for national action on workload, linked to pay and class sizes.

Unfortunately, the Union has not been successful enough in resisting the pressures on teachers. The national strike on pay was enthusiastically supported but was not followed up with further action. Failing to link the dispute with workload, as Martin and others supporting 'Classroom Teacher' had suggested, was a mistake.

Martin is therefore standing again in the election for National Vice-President, focussing on the need to overcome the isolation of individual school groups by pulling together a campaign of national action to defend teachers and education.

Before nomination papers have been officially issued, Martin has already been nominated by Bristol, Lewisham and Merton Associations. We hope other Associations will also give Martin their support to help him win the election - and so that Martin can help strengthen the leadership of our Union.