Thursday, 20 September 2012

Teachers prepare for a new phase of action

A report from Lewisham:

Across England and Wales, teachers are preparing for the start of 'Phase One' of the NUT's national action - action we have to take to oppose the Government's attacks on pay, jobs and working conditions. These attacks are, of course, also an attack on young people's learning conditions as well.

The action, being launched jointly with the NASUWT union, begins with a program of 'action short of strike action' starting on September 26th [24.9.12 update - now starting a week later on October 3]. A list of twenty-five separate instructions have been jointly issued. These are intended to allow teachers to come together and to start to take back control of their workload - jointly refusing to carry out tasks that are in breach of the national guidelines.

Already, stories of successes are being reported. For example, some schools have cancelled the much-hated 'mock inspections' after NUT and NASUWT members informed their Headteachers that teachers would be refusing to take part in them, protected by the YES vote in our action ballot and the joint action guidelines.

35 NUT members packed a Lewisham NUT Action Briefing on Monday evening to discuss how to make the action as effective as possible. School Reps were encouraged to set up urgent school group meetings to collectively agree the action points they will focus on.

Teachers know that it will take determined effort to make the action effective. However, everyone at the meeting agreed that we have to take this opportunity to stand up for ourselves and start to turn back the tide of ever-increasing workload.

Long after the meeting had finished, I found three young teachers still debating in the car park as to how they were going to build the action in their primary school!

On Wednesday, I attended two school meetings that had been immediately organised. At a secondary school, the NUT group arrived at a number of priorities for action. The school rep will now be discussing these with the headteacher as a matter of urgency. They included the number of meetings in the school calendar and a marking policy that could mean teachers marking books for hours at a time.

At a primary school, the immediate priority was over the threat from the new appraisal and classroom observation policies which Michael Gove wants schools to adopt. Teachers knew that the introduction of such policies would leave them demoralised and threatened by endless management observations of their teaching.

When I explained that Gove also wanted schools to be able to start cutting the pay of teachers who were deemed not to have met their targets, there was outrage. As one colleague rightly exclaimed, 'It's all about making us pay for cuts'.

The meeting agreed that representatives should urgently talk to the Head to try and persuade her only to recommend an appraisal policy to governors that is line with Union guidelines. I have written a letter to all Lewisham Headteachers setting out our objections and offering alternative policies and protocols that we would be happy for schools to adopt (posted on the Lewisham NUT website

We hope that schools will refuse to yield to the pressure to adopt the kind of draconian policies that Michael Gove is recommending. After all, why should schools implement the demands of a Secretary of State who, as the GCSE scandal has shown, is so clearly out to trash community schools and block opportunities for our youngsters too?

But where schools refuse to listen, action short of strike action alone will not be enough to defend teachers. That's why Monday's Lewisham NUT meeting also asked school groups to let the NUT Office know as soon as possible if they would support strike action in their school, as part of joint across schools in Lewisham where unacceptable policies are being imposed.

There was also unanimous agreement that we cannot leave this campaign just with action short of strike action - national strike action is also urgently needed.

We agreed to encourage all members to attend the TUC demonstration against austerity in London on October 20 – but to use that event to call on all unions to organise further co-ordinated action in line with TUC policy.

The meeting also agreed that we should write to the NUT Executive to call on them to:
* Urgently approach the NASUWT to seek agreement on dates for co-ordinated strike action in defence of pensions, pay & conditions.
* Write to the National Executives of other TUC affiliates seeking urgent discussions about co-coordinating the biggest possible joint strike action.

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