Friday, 30 January 2015

NUT NEC REPORT: Teachers will need to take national action


The January meeting of the Executive was the first to be held since the re-election of Kevin Courtney as Deputy General Secretary. The meeting congratulated Kevin and thanked the other candidates Patrick Murphy and Ian Grayson too.

The GS and DGS elections may now be over but the debates that took place during those campaigns continue. In short, how much worse can our working lives become, and what can we do about it! Regrettably, many teachers were too overwhelmed with workload to even open their voting papers.

Nicky Morgan may have been forced to acknowledge that teacher workload is a real issue but is yet to announce any concrete measures to tackle it. Instead of heeding the Parliamentary Select Committee Report confirming that there is no evidence that academies ‘raise standards’, Morgan says that Government must “inject further choice and competition to the school system”. Instead of abolishing divisive league tables and Ofsted, she has been making speeches about how Government must “improve our use of the National Pupil Database and bring it into the accountability framework”.

That ‘accountability’ regime is being used to threaten and penalise teachers and schools. The NUT’s survey into Pay Progression suggests that it hasn’t taken long for some Heads to use the new performance-pay legislation to hold back pay. A shocking 28% of respondents said they had been denied progression. Those figures were higher still for part-time teachers and Black and Asian colleagues. The equalities implications are clear – as the NUT is already pointing out to Government.

No surprises then that the latest TES headline reads “number of teachers quitting the classroom reaches 10-year high”. They report on DfE figures showing that “almost 50,000 teachers left the profession in the 12 months to November 2013 – the latest year for which figures are available – an increase of 25 per cent over four years”.

The pressures on classroom teachers are intolerable. The attacks on our pay, pensions and conditions continue. Teachers are being isolated through performance-pay and threats of capability. Those looking for work after being bullied out can be told schools will no longer pay them at their previous salary point. Now, more than ever, teachers need to build their Union groups to pull colleagues together to overcome the attempts to isolate and divide.

Where schools have stood firm, victories have been won on workload and performance-pay. Local strike action is taking place, such as at Merrill Academy in Derby against performance-pay attacks. However, as I pointed out when speaking at the Executive, more teachers will have confidence to take national action than local strikes. National action is also what is needed to tackle the national attacks on pay, pensions and conditions. Yes, we can and must lobby MPs, distribute manifestoes and organise local action, but surely national strike action must remain a key part of our strategy.

The National Executive meeting last October had agreed unanimously that, following the support shown in the national consultative ballot, the Union should “develop plans for up to two days of strike action in the spring term [to] be considered in the January executive meeting”. Unfortunately, no such plans were put before us.

Now, I fully understand that we can’t agree firm proposals while we are still awaiting the outcome of the talks with Nicky Morgan over workload – and her response to our demands such as “Take action on marking, planning, data, meetings and observations”, “Announce a moratorium on performance related pay on the main scale” and “Begin the phased introduction of binding limits on teacher working time”. However, with Morgan due to announce her findings imminently, I felt it was at least time to start making plans to respond with action if Morgan’s announcements fall short of what we would want – and what teachers need. Unfortunately, I was in a minority when it came to a vote on my proposal to instruct the officers to develop the plans that we had previously agreed in October.

The debate suggested to me that some Executive colleagues had already dismissed the prospect of further national action before the General Election. If so, then last term’s consultative ballot will have proved to be a way to wind down the campaign rather than to build for more action. I am glad, however, that the debate reminded everyone that we had promised our members that we would consider plans for national action and that in replying to the debate, the President assured the Executive that plans could still be considered at the next National Executive meeting in February.

Childcare Disqualification legislation: The NUT’s threatened challenge to the DfE's advice has successfully drawn concessions from the Government who are now proposing changes to the guidance. Our aim in the long run is to seek to change the legislation altogether but the Union is working with others to make sure this guidance at least minimises the threats to staff and schools.

College of Teaching: A discussion took place on the proposals to set up a new “College of Teaching” and agreed to continue discussions on it. I believe there are real dangers in supporting a CoT that is intended to “certify the professional capacity of its members through a process of mentoring, portfolio assessment, teaching observation and certification against a three-point scale of professional development”. Teachers know through experience that such a system is open to arbitrary decision-making and discrimination. Far from being a collective voice of the profession, such a body would reproduce the divisive grading of ‘successes’ and ‘failures’ that is already blighting schools. 


Supporting Women Teachers Working Through the Menopause: The Union has issued guidance based on the findings of a 2014 Survey of union members looking at their experiences and suggesting concrete ways in which practical difficulties that might arise could be overcome.

Thursday, 29 January 2015

Lewisham NUT members prepare for action to oppose academy transfer

I have sent the following letter to NUT members in five Lewisham schools today:

Our formal action ballots against the threat that your employment could transfer to a new Academy Trust employer have given the NUT the mandate required to call strike action in your school. Overall, on a 42% turnout across the five schools, there was a 97% YES vote for action.

The Union has written seeking reassurances that there are no discussions taking place about conversion of school status. As things stand, we have not received any such confirmation. The NUT is therefore making plans to give notice to employers that we will be calling on NUT members in your school – and the four others where we have balloted – to take an initial one-day strike on Thursday February 12th. Please support those plans – and support the action!


Remember the ballot was for ‘sustained’ action so that any loss of pay for taking part in the strike will be reimbursed by the Union.

WHAT IS NEEDED FOR THE UNION TO WITHDRAW ACTION?

The Union will write once again to the employers to see if we can be given the reassurances that we are seeking – that they will confirm that there will be no change to take on Academy status. If that is the case, then parents and students can be told the news and we can withdraw our action. If not, then we need to show our opposition in the firmest way we can - through taking strike action.

We understand the Working Party set up by the Governors of the Leathersellers' Federation will be reporting back soon. We will take what they report into account – but, until and unless there is a firm rejection, we think NUT members in the three Prendergast Schools should strike on the 12th.

At Sedgehill, the Interim Executive Board is now in place. Thanks to the campaign, Bethnal Green Academy may no longer be involved but the DfE make clear, “we expect the IEB to actively consider a sponsored academy solution”. Until we are told that is not the ‘solution’, then action is needed!

Bonus Pastor's Principal has written back to the NUT confirming that she has "submitted our interest to convert to an academy within the Catholic Diocese of Southwark". Staff and unions are planning to contact the Diocese to ask them to reject that plan. For now, we have no reassurances and so, as in the other schools, we call on NUT members to show their opposition through action.

WHY WE CAN’T WAIT

We understand that some teachers are being told that the NUT is being hasty – that we should wait until a confirmed proposal is out for consultation before we take action. We disagree. The Union unfortunately has plenty of experience nationally of those kinds of ‘consultations’. There is no legal requirement on the Governors to consult fully and openly or for them to call a ballot of staff and/or parents. Even when a majority of staff do vote against – as has happened at Bonus Pastor – Governors can ignore those views. Calling strike action at that stage can help register a protest but is rarely able to stop the transfer to Academy status. Typically, the Governors’ minds have already been made up. We need to register our opposition before it is too late. We need to warn parents about what this change could mean for pupils. That is why we are acting now.

DOES IT REALLY MATTER IF WE BECOME AN ACADEMY?

We know that some teachers are being told that there will be no change to their terms and conditions if their school becomes an Academy. Again, the Union has too much experience that such a guarantee cannot be kept – and is unlikely to be. Talk to colleagues in most academies!

First, let’s be clear about what lies behind Government policy to turn most schools into academies. They want to put an end to elected Local Authorities having responsibility for providing services such as schools. That’s bad for education as a whole and it’s certainly bad for teachers and unions.

Whoever wins the next General Election, public services will continue to face cuts. That means more pressure, more workload, more performance pay cuts in schools. United together, we can oppose those attacks. Divided into Academies, it becomes a lot harder to defend each other.

You rely on your Union to be there to support you when needed. Local Authorities release elected NUT employees from teaching so that they can support and represent teachers. If your school becomes an Academy, it no longer has to be part of those arrangements. So support your Union!


If parents don’t like how a Local Authority is operating, they can vote for a new Council. Academies have no such democratic accountability. Perhaps that’s why questions are now being asked by the National Audit Office about why Academies are paying Heads on average over £6,000 more than in maintained schools. Durand Academy’s Head earns almost £400,000 a year according to the TES!

(See: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationnews/9694251/Academy-heads-earning-bigger-salaries-NAO-warns.html)

A maintained school – whether it be a community, VA or foundation school – has by law to follow a range of education legislation, such as the School Teachers’ Pay and Conditions Document (STPCD) covering pay scales, 1265 hour/195 day limits etc. An Academy, even if the individuals acting as Governors do not significantly change, is quite a different legal entity. The STPCD would no longer be a statutory requirement that has to apply in your school. Your guaranteed protections are lost.

It’s true that, at least under existing TUPE legislation, employers aren’t allowed to change your contractual conditions if you transfer - although they can be renegotiated after a year. However, TUPE certainly doesn’t apply to new staff. They can be employed under different terms and conditions, leaving transferred staff isolated and under pressure to match the new terms. For example, we know some academies are refusing to honour spine points when they hire new staff.

These aren’t Union ‘scare-stories’. This is, unfortunately, the bitter experience of the Union and many thousands of teachers who have been employed in academies. Neither have academies stood the tests of time and public scrutiny. The experience of staff, parents and students mean that the tide of opinion is starting to turning against them. The House of Commons’ education committee has just concluded that there is no evidence that academies raise standards.

(See: http://www.theguardian.com/education/2015/jan/27/no-proof-academies-raise-standards-education-inquiry )

Up to now, Lewisham Authority has largely resisted the spread of this divisive unproven scheme. Now is not the time to let them take hold. That’s why now is the time that we have to take action.

BUILDING THE CAMPAIGN – plans to build the action

In discussion with school reps and the National Union Action Committee, we are proposing:

  • School groups meet as soon as possible to discuss and confirm support for the strike
  • Unless we have news that means we don’t have to, official notice issued by Wednesday 4th
  • A pre-strike NUT social at the Constitutional Club, Catford, SE6 4SP, 4.30 pm on Friday 6th
  • Hear more at the SERTUC Anti-Academies Conference, Saturday 7th at TUC HQ from 9.30 am.
  • Public meeting with Stop Academies in Lewisham at 7.30 pm on Wednesday February 11th
  • Strike on Thursday 12th – picket, brunch union meeting, public leafleting, delegation to London
  • ... then? Let’s see – we may be joined in further action by the NASUWT who are now balloting (UPDATE: The GMB may also be balloting too. However, we don't yet have confirmation of the other unions ballot timetables. We cannot legally wait beyond the half-term break before the NUT takes action)

Sunday, 25 January 2015

CELEBRATE: Greek vote is a massive rejection of austerity

Join with TUSC and celebrate outside the Greek embassy on Monday, 26/1/15 at 6pm (1A Holland Park, London W11 3TP)

Discuss what the election results mean in Greece - and in Britain - at a Lewisham TUSC meeting this Thursday, 29/1/15 at 7.30 pm (All Saints Community Centre, SE14 5DJ)

Watch Paul Murphy, Anti Austerity Alliance TD for Dublin South West, reporting from Athens: https://t.co/zvteMlaY6D

 
The massive vote for SYRIZA in Greece has been a huge rejection of 'austerity'. Their victory - although they have to secure a majority of seats - opens a new chapter in the battle to build a political alternative to cuts and the rule of the super-rich, one that inevitably leaves many questions still to answer (as this interview with a Greek socialist and friend, makes clear: http://www.socialistworld.net/doc/7047)

However, first of all, anyone who has watched their lives get worse as big business political parties have inflicted their cuts upon us, should celebrate SYRIZA's success! 

Those pro-cuts parties, not least PASOK, Greece's equivalent of the Labour Party, have been dealt a shattering blow by the Greek electorate, people who have suffered atrociously at the hands of the European bankers and their political representatives. ( For example, use your browser to translate this article about the effect of cuts on the Health Service in Greece: http://www.xekinima.org/arthra/view/article/nikos-malinogloy-kybernisi-tis-aristeras-ola-tha-krith/ )

As a Press Release just issued by the Socialist Party states: “Since the onset of the economic crisis, we have argued that austerity is not necessary. This election result in Greece will give hope to millions of people across Europe and the world that there is an alternative to the promise of endless cuts and privatisation.

The Socialist Party is part of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition which aims to stand 1,000 candidates in May’s local council elections and to challenge for 100 Westminster seats.

The line in the sand is austerity. What makes TUSC candidates and councillors different is that they will not collaborate with Tory cuts. That is the type of representation working people and all those hit by austerity need and deserve. That is why we celebrate the Greek result and why we will fight tooth and nail to offer a no-cuts choice in Britain.”


TUSC is standing to offer the only consistent voice against cuts and austerity in the UK General Election in 2015. Come and join us on:
  • Monday, outside the Greek Embasy in London
  • Thursday, at Lewisham TUSC's meeting discussing the results of the Greek elections and what it means for this May's elections 

Saturday, 24 January 2015

TUSC announces it will mount the sixth biggest of the national electoral challenges this May

Standing room only at the TUSC Conference
Today was an uplifting day for all the trade unionists, community campaigners  and socialists who gathered in Central London for the TUSC Election Conference, launching the 2015 electoral challenge of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition. It was also a significant step forward for anyone who wants to see the building of a genuine political voice for working people in Britain.

The TUSC stand - with the Conference confirming that there will be over 100 candidates standing for Westminster General Election seats alongside up to 1000 candidates challenging for local council seats - means TUSC will have the sixth largest stand this May. Of course, as the only consistent anti-cuts voice, we aren't expecting TUSC's stand to be easily publicised in the pro-cuts media or for us to be given a seat in the national televised debates. That's why TUSC is relying on you, your neighbours and your workmates to publicise our stand instead!

The Mayor of Walsall says don't be fooled by divide-and-rule budget 'consultations'. Say NO CUTS!
The 100-plus General Election candidates are made up of trade union representatives with a significant base of support and a long and genuine record of campaigning activity. Only TUSC can offer candidates with such a record in the movement. The 50-plus prospective General Election candidates confirmed so far include eight leading RMT officers, 2 members of the NUT National Executive (including myself in Lewisham West and Penge), 2 members of the UNISON NEC and 5 other UNISON branch secretaries, and 4 former Labour councillors, including the ex-Mayor of Harrow in Outer London.

The Conference also heard from former Labour councillors who had taken the significant step of breaking from New Labour and refusing to vote for the cuts demanded by their national and local leaderships. Rebel councillors from Southampton, Warrington, Hull's 'Red Labour' Group, Leicester Independent Councillors Against Cuts, and Walsall's sitting Mayor all spoke about how they had found themselves left with no choice but to stand with local people and to start working with TUSC to oppose cuts. 

Who realised how much worse things could get?
In different ways, they all spoke with passion about how, just as I decided myself some years ago, the Labour Party was no longer the Party they had once joined. As Kevin Bennett, suspended Labour Councillor in Warrington, explained, he knew that he had to be "a trade unionist first and a Labour member second". That's why he was announcing that he would be standing for TUSC in May.

The afternoon session concentrated on a principled and comradely debate on TUSC's election programme, debating how, for example, to best take up how some of our opponents were using racism to deflect workers from the real causes of the problems they face. Several amendments were agreed adding useful points to the TUSC General Election platform including "No to TTIP and all secret austerity treaties", "No to profit-driven GM technology", "Reverse attacks on trade union facility time" and to "Abolish the increases imposed on state retirement age, creating jobs for younger people".

With my candidature in the Lewisham West and Penge constituency now officially endorsed by TUSC, I will be wasting no time in pulling together my campaign committee in Lewisham West and Penge and building our campaign to challenge the pro-austerity agenda of all the main parties.

Together with everyone else at the Conference today, we will be going out to build the TUSC challenge - the only challenge committed to refusing to implement cuts and to build a political voice for working people - a voice that will be so vital whichever of the pro-cuts parties forms the next Government.

Friday, 23 January 2015

Don't vote for more of the same in Lewisham West and Penge

■ Fed up with inequality, long hours, unaffordable housing and low pay?
■ Sick of the same old parties cutting our services and living standards?
■ Worried about the future of our schools, NHS and public services?
 

Vote against cuts and privatisation

Most ordinary Londoners will be pleased to see the back of this Tory-LibDem Government. They have spent five years helping the super-rich get richer at our expense. But all the main parties promise to carry on with the same cuts! 

Tory Chancellor George Osborne promises years more savage spending cuts. But Labour’s Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls promises exactly the same too.

Voters deserve better than a choice between parties that offer essentially the same diet of cuts, austerity and privatisation. That's why, in this May's General Election , TUSC, the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, will be standing candidates in over a hundred constituencies across England and Wales. 

TUSC was set up in 2010, co-founded by the late RMT union leader Bob Crow. TUSC calls on trade unions to stop relying on New Labour and to launch genuine independent political representation for working people. 

Selected to stand in Lewisham West and Penge

Last night, TUSC's local selection meeting agreed to back me as the TUSC candidate for the Lewisham West and Penge constituency, covering Forest Hill, Sydenham, Perry Vale and Bellingham wards in Lewisham and Clock House, Penge and Crystal Palace wards in Bromley. If my candidature is agreed by the TUSC national steering committee, then I will be agreed as one of those hoped for hundred-plus TUSC General Election candidates.

TUSC's Election Conference, being held tomorrow in London, will see prospective candidates and campaigners gather to plan the election campaign and to agree the TUSC election platform. Like all TUSC candidates, I will be supporting that agreed platform and campaigning for demands like:

● No cuts - for high quality public services and a free National Health Service
● No to academies. Good schools for all, under democratic local control
● Raise the minimum wage to £10 an hr. Invest to create and protect jobs
● For high-standard, eco-friendly, affordable council housing.
 

These demands are vital in Lewisham West and Penge. Tory Bromley Council is cutting services, trying to privatise libraries and turn schools into academies. Lewisham’s Labour Council is doing just the same!

For a Workers' MP on a Worker's Wage


I have been living - and campaigning - in Lewisham West and Penge for over 25 years. In the early 1990s, I was the main organiser of the Penge Anti-Poll Tax Union, part of the victorious campaign that defeated Margaret Thatcher. 

I moved to Sydenham and was elected Secretary of the Lewisham branch of NUT, the teacher’s union. I have since played a key role in many local campaigns against cuts, opposing racist attacks, and supporting and leading trade union action to defend schools, jobs and services. I have taught locally - in both Bromley and Lewisham schools - and my children have also all attended local schools. We have been helping to build the campaign to Save Sedgehill from being turned into an academy.

To make clear that I am different from the distrusted and despised career politicians, I have also pledged that, if elected as MP, I would continue to take only my existing classroom teacher's take-home pay, donating the extra salary towards building trade union, socialist and community campaigns.


Monday, 12 January 2015

A statement from Sedgehill students

This statement was released by the Save Sedgehill campaign team tonight:


"The Secretary of State for Education has approved the establishment of an Interim Executive Board for Sedgehill School."

This is the news we've all been anxious for. We've all fought hard and campaigned for our school and our community values. We've done a great job. We've gained over 2,000 likes on this Facebook page and even more combined signatures on our various petitions. We've shown the misinformed heads at the top of the council what democracy in action looks like and just how mighty our lion's roar can be if we all roar together.

On Friday, Lewisham Council announced in a statement on their website that the Secretary of State for Education, Nicky Morgan, has approved the establishment of an Interim Executive Board for Sedgehill School. This is the board of appointees of the council's choosing which will very soon forcibly replace the governing body of our community school, with many of the replaced governors being democratically elected into their positions.

While this is hardly the outcome we were fighting for, the goal of keeping Sedgehill the inclusive, welcoming, nurturing and constantly improving community school that it is has not changed. Nevertheless, we hope that we can continue our studies as students and our parents and the local community can continue to interact in the same uniquely great way as ever and we hope that our as exceptional staff as possible will continue teaching and taking care of Sedgehill to stay true to this goal.

Our goal is now to ensure that the IEB will work towards the common goals and aspirations of this genuine community school, its students, parents, staff and community and carry on the great work they've all done so far. We will vehemently oppose any attempts to impose plans which will damage the education of students or the unique sense of community at Sedgehill School.

We, as students of the school we love and enjoy can't thank all those who have supported us in the past month enough for their fantastic support throughout our campaign: THE LION WILL ROAR FOR EVER MORE!!. ‪#‎SaveSedgehill‬

Signed, the Save Sedgehill campaign team:
Adam Powell-Davies - Year 11 Deputy Head Boy
Audrius Sukaitis - Year 13 student
Courtney McMahon - Year 13 Ambassador for Photography, Drama & Music
Diana Banks - Year 12 Ambassador for Psychology
Edis Goldner - Year 11 Prefect
Ellie Clayton - Year 12 Ambassador for Economics
Lucille Jousselin - Year 13 Ambassador for English
Oleta Haffner - Year 13 student
Omodara Olatunji - Year 11 Head Girl
Patrick Garcha - Year 12 Ambassador for Music
Selina Stephanie Jones - Year 12 Ambassador for Biology & English Literature
Sophie Mauritz - Year 12 Student
Zoe Powell-Davies - Year 11 Prefect

Sunday, 11 January 2015

TUSC opposes Bromley Council's attack on council trade unions

Just as unions warn that Bromley Council is set to unveil plans for some of the biggest cuts in its history, the Tory Council has announced plans to immediately cease trade union 'facility time'. 

Facility time arrangements, commonly supported by employers right across the country, allow workforce representatives to be released from their jobs to carry out trade union representation and other duties.

This disgraceful plan could leave thousands of local authority trade union members in Bromley UNITE and Bromley UNISON without access to a local lay representative to help organise and defend them, just as they see their jobs threatened with cuts and privatisation.

As an online petition which has already gathered over 200 signatures makes clear, "Bromley council is embarking on over £70m of cuts in the next four years despite siting on over £100m in reserves and £500m of assets, they are also looking to privatise over 2000 workers. These cuts will devastate the lives of the young, the old, disabled and vulnerable in Bromley and it will mean many more workers will face the misery of pay cuts and redundancy. Never has it been more important for them to have the protection of their unions". 

Please sign the petition via: https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/stop-attacking-union-members-rights
A Facebook group 'Boycott Bromley' has also been set up, calling on workers to let Bromley know that they won't apply for jobs in a Council that attacks workers' rights to be represented by their union.

TUSC, the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition, opposes these attacks on the democratic right to trade union organisation. We offer our support and solidarity to the local authority unions seeking to oppose this attack - as well as the threat of cuts and privatisation too.

Following a TUSC selection meeting to take place on January 22nd, I hope to be officially able to announce that I will be standing as the TUSC candidate in the Lewisham West and Penge constituency. It covers three wards in the London Borough of Bromley - Penge, Crystal Palace and Clock House - as well as four wards in Lewisham borough.

I welcome the support that my proposed stand has already received from several members of Bromley Trades Council, including trade unionists threatened by these proposals. 

Glenn Kelly, Unison branch secretary, gave his personal backing, saying "it's about time we had a politician in Bromley that was willing to stand up for the people of the borough and its workforce instead of simply carrying on cutting jobs and services".

TUSC's campaign in Lewisham West and Penge will challenge Bromley Tory Council's cuts, privatisation and attacks on trade unions. At the same time, we will also challenge Lewisham Labour Council's own planned cuts and its use of pro-academy Tory legislation at Sedgehill School. 

Lewisham West and Penge voters face two parties, Labour and Conservative, both carrying out Tory policies. TUSC wants to stand to give local people a real alternative - a choice to vote for a local MP that supports trade union rights and opposes cuts, whichever party is choosing to impose them.

Friday, 9 January 2015

IEB imposed but the fight to Save Sedgehill continues

Predictably enough in the end, the Department of Education finally confirmed tonight that Tory Education Ministers Nicky Morgan and Lord Nash have given the go-ahead to Lewisham Labour Council to remove the Governors of Sedgehill School and replace them with their own chosen appointees.

An Interim Executive Board (IEB) of just three appointed individuals will now be put in place. These are: Robert Ellis, a consultant and retired inspector, previously vice principal at Leigh CTC which is now part of the Leigh Academies Trust; Bernie Borland CBE, now Chair of Governors at St. Paul’s Academy, Abbey Wood; and Irene Cleaver, recently retired Executive Headteacher of the King Alfred Federation of Athelney and Elfrida primary schools in Bellingham.

This IEB was not wanted by the School and its community, nor was it needed. As the evidence posted on this blog and in many other places made clear, Sedgehill was in no way a ‘failing school’ requiring this disruptive and distracting interference. However, as soon as Lewisham Labour Council went ahead and sent in the IEB application, stopping its imposition was always going to be extremely difficult.
A parent explains why the IEB was unjustified


The DfE, with its clear agenda to replace community schools with academies was always likely to agree to support the IEB. They hope that the first step – setting up the IEB – will lead to a second – academisation. As is stated clearly on the IEB application form which this Labour Council were nevertheless happy to complete, “we expect the IEB to actively consider a sponsored academy solution as part of the proposed exit strategy”.


Reading those words, the links between some of the IEB members and existing academies is worrying. However, as things stand, no academy has yet been imposed. The existing Head is still in place. In fact, and thanks to the strength of the tremendous campaign of opposition, the original partnership proposed by the Council, which would have seen the existing Head replaced with management from Bethnal Green Academy (BGA), had already fallen through.


The mass opposition of parents, staff and students has shown that the Sedgehill School community is a force to be reckoned with. The campaign has made absolutely sure that the Council and the DfE knew that they had to tread carefully. Now the IEB should know that it needs to tread carefully too.

Parents are very clear that we want neither our community school ethos nor our children’s education being messed up by any unhelpful meddling, especially for the Year 11’s who are already on track to perform very well this summer. We hope, and expect, that the IEB members, who clearly have long experience in education, will realise that this is a well-loved community school that needs to be supported, not interfered with.

Staff will feel particularly concerned about what this change could mean. If the IEB and Council try and unfairly pile pressure on staff then demoralisation could easily set in, and children and education will be the losers, as well as staff themselves. The NUT will work to oppose such proposals.

I hope that the IEB will quickly call a meeting for parents, students and staff so that they can introduce themselves to the school and listen to the voices of the community speaking up in favour of the School, just as they did so powerfully in the meeting hosted by the outgoing Governing Body last month.

Any suggestion that the IEB is looking to turn Sedgehill into an Academy will be met with outrage by staff, parents and, most certainly, by the students who made thieir views so clear at the mass rally outside Lewisham Town Hall at the end of last term.
 

Sedgehill NUT members have already made very clear, in an indicative ballot vote of 40 yes votes to just 1 against, that they are prepared to support strike action to oppose any proposal that their employment status changes to working for an academy trust. As we have, as yet, no guarantees that this will not be the case, then a formal ballot for strike action is opening next week, alongside similar ballots in four other Lewisham schools facing possible academy conversion plans. If the ballot results confirm the clear majorities shown in last term’s indicative ballots, then this could well mean that a protest strike across all five schools may take place next month.

The Save Sedgehill campaign can be proud of what it has achieved so far. It has shown the depth of feeling against the Council’s plans, and also shown the widespread opposition to academy status. Significantly, the campaign helped persuade BGA to withdraw, even if it was not able to stop the IEB eventually being imposed.

The campaign now moves on to the next battle - to make sure that the IEB works with the school and its staff to carry on the good work of this genuine community school. I will be arguing strongly that we must maintain our determination to oppose any attempts to impose academy plans that would damage education at Sedgehill and could also threaten the break-up of local authority schooling right across the borough.

Labour's unaccountable 'DoSSers' reinforce academies instead of getting rid of them

Today's Mail and Telegraph have been trying to alarm Tory voters by claiming that Ed Milliband has promised that a future Labour Government would return academies to Local Authority control. If only! That, unfortunately, just isn't their plan at all.

Yes, Milliband talked in his speech yesterday about the need for "proper local accountability" and, yes, thanks to some smart work from local NUT activists, he was snapped holding a copy of the NUT's Education Manifesto.

But while the NUT Manifesto rightly demands "Return oversight of all state funded schools to local authorities", New Labour policy has something very different in mind. 

http://www.labour.org.uk/issues/detail/higher-schools-standards
New Labour thinking, based on the 2014 'Blunkett Review', regrettably does not include reversal of the damaging academisation of Local Authority schooling, a process first begun under Tony Blair. In fact, Blunkett's paper made quite clear that “Academies are here to stay and we need to build on this landscape”.

New Labour simply hopes to somehow manage this fragmented landscape by introducing “Directors of School Standards” to oversee school provision. However, unlike Local Authorities, the 'DoSSers' would be appointed, not elected.

What kind of 'proper local accountability' is that? 


For more detail, I have reposted the post on this blog from April 2014 below:

Blunkett Review – more relentless pressure, more damaging marketisation

Teachers reading the Guardian’s headline this morning, “Labour vows to rub out Michael Gove’s education reforms” must have hoped that a minor miracle had happened.

It was only a few weeks ago that Tristram Hunt had declared that "I don't think you want to waste political energy on undoing reforms, that in certain situations build actually rather successfully on Labour party policy". Could it be that David Blunkett’s Labour Party Policy Review had recommended significant changes instead?

Extending marketisation even further

Unfortunately, the Guardian headline is wishful thinking – or New Labour spin. A quick read of the full “Putting students and parents first” report soon confirms that Blunkett’s ‘rubber’ has only made some very minor corrections. Worse, the Blunkett Review not only maintains the direction of travel of successive governments but, in key areas, extends the process of marketisation of schooling even further.

This is, after all, hardly a surprise. David Blunkett was one of the architects of New Labour’s education policies, angering teachers with his talk of “relentless pressure” on teachers. At the 2001 NUT Conference, the then NUT President, John Illingworth, rebuked him from the platform for policies that were leading to teacher shortages.

Yet more 'relentless pressure' on teachers

Thirteen years on, the pressure has got even more relentless and the demoralisation and turnover of teachers remains a key issue facing education. However, it seems that Blunkett hasn’t listened. His 2014 review now uses the phrase ‘relentless drive to raise standards’. Now every teacher works hard, sometimes too hard, to do the best for the children they teach. However, if ‘relentless pressure’ simply means more bullying and even longer hours, instead of genuine support and resources, then teachers will continue to be driven from the profession and children’s education will continue to suffer.

A worrying sentence in the report suggests that even longer hours might, indeed, be what could really be on offer: “freedom for all schools to adapt the school day and the school week”. While Gove backed away from his proposals to alter directed time, the Blunkett review implies that New Labour might be prepared to go where Gove feared to tread.

'Value for money' = Spending Cuts

Similarly, when it comes to funding, there is nothing to suggest that Labour will be funding schools sufficiently to recruit more teachers so as to reduce workload, nor to allow the improved access to professional development that the Review supports. The sections on the funding formula and Pupil Premium are inconclusive. What stood out to me were the several references to ‘value for money’ – always a euphemism for spending cuts.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t proposals in the Review that correct some of the more nonsensical parts of Gove’s regime – like the wasteful spending on free schools in areas where there are surplus school places. However, his plans to stop Academy chains misusing funds on Executive salaries seems to forget what drives some ‘entrepreneurs’ to get involved in the education market in the first place!

There are a few welcome phrases which can be pulled out from the review, for example around local approaches to the curriculum (although there’s no mention of input from teachers and their unions and the reference to a curriculum that reinforces a ‘sense of national identity’ is more debatable). However, even the supposedly “clear recommendation that schools should be employing qualified teachers”, mentioned in today’s NUT press release, is far from clearly worded.

'Qualified teachers' promise may not be what it seems

What the Review actually states is that there is a “need to ensure that properly qualified teachers ‘oversee’ the learning process”. It’s not hard to see that ‘oversight’ is a very different commitment to the one that parents and teachers would be seeking*.

Blunkett tries to argue that his proposals are about ‘collaboration’ not ‘competition’ by saying that schools will have to work in partnerships. For example, primary schools will be brought together in arms-length ‘Community Trusts’.

However, what Blunkett really seems to be suggesting is that there should be a managed break-up of what’s left of Local Authority schooling. “Reformed and modernised” Local Authorities will be reduced to a scrutiny role, providing data for others to use. Real power would lie with regional “Directors of School Standards” to oversee school provision and to ‘invite proposals’ for opening new schools where they judged additional provision was needed.

The end of elected Local Authority control of education

Blunkett wants to suggest that his model will enhance parental involvement. In reality, the last vestiges of democratic local authority control over education will be lost. The ‘DoSSers' will be appointed, not elected. Parents will find they have no real input.

The Review makes crystal clear that “Academies are here to stay and we need to build on this landscape”. Blunkett tries to argue that the type of school is irrelevant; it’s just the quality of teaching that goes on within them that matters. Firstly, and a feature of the Global Education Reform Movement internationally, such an argument of course tries to ignore the effect of class and poverty, a social divide being made worse by government policies. Secondly, he fails to acknowledge that the marketisation that he promotes will undermine education, not improve it.

Academy chains will become the dominant provider of schools. Yes, schools might have the power to move from one chain to another but this just reinforces the false idea that, somehow, a ‘free market’ between competing academy chains will benefit education. No, privatisation consistently fails public services.

Replaced by unaccountable localised Academy Chains

With no obvious irony, the Blunkett review states that “it is our belief that best practice lies within smaller configurations, geographically-based and properly focused”. But the Review certainly isn’t recommending Local Authorities! Instead, it seems that their place is to be taken by unaccountable locally-based academy chains.

The Blunkett review is trying to do the impossible – to provide a manageable coherent marketplace for education. But markets aren’t coherent and stable. They certainly won’t be accountable to parents and students. Parents and teachers together have to continue to demand properly-funded, locally accountable, community schools, as the only way to guarantee a good local school for every child.

* A sentence on page 32 of the Report says the following: "Supervision of others with expertise to offer is part of the professional role of the qualified teacher. So instructors, visiting academics, peripatetic teachers, or those with business experience would be welcome".

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Charlie Hebdo attack - don't be divided!

This is my attempt at an accurate translation of an article posted tonight on the website of Gauche R√©volutionnaire, the French section of the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI/CIO): http://www.gaucherevolutionnaire.fr/?p=1760

Deadly attack against Charlie Hebdo: for the right to freedom of expression! Don’t let them divide us!

The attack by heavily armed men on the offices of the Charlie Hebdo newspaper and the killing of 12 people is a tragic event. We strongly condemn this cowardly and barbaric attack.

Such brilliant cartoonists as Wolinski, Charb', Tignous and Cabu have, in many ways, fought intolerance, racism, censorship ... That they died under the bullets of intolerant madmen, revolts us. At the same time, in this indiscriminate attack, many workers, "ordinary” employees of the newspaper, were also killed.


By targeting this satirical left-wing newspaper, these Islamic reactionaries (according to the latest information), claim to act against attacks suffered by Muslims in France. This is false! We didn’t agree with Charlie's approach on certain issues. Charlie Hebdo had chosen to publish cartoons of Mohammed. This had not aroused much interest nor seemed to us to be particularly funny or necessary. But freedom of expression and opinion is a total right that we defend at all costs. We know that this right can be attacked very quickly by the ruling class.


In no way will the situation facing Muslims in France be alleviated by this act, quite the contrary. They will most often be the ones who will now pay the consequences in the street, each time a reactionary and indiscriminate act is committed. These terrorists who claim to defend a "religion" are no better than the Islamophobic reactionaries. In fact, they go hand in hand together to build intolerance and obscurantism. This heinous and cowardly terrorist act strengthens the reactionaries of all stripes who want to divide workers and young people on a religious or communal basis.

This attack will serve the ruling classes and the capitalists. Hollande, Sarkozy or Le Pen can try to claim that they are the defenders of our freedom, when they are the ones who suppress struggles, stigmatise migrants, and attack our rights.

The climate of Islamophobia is becoming ever stronger.

This climate leads some Muslims in France to understandably feel under attack. We reject any form of racism, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, sexism ... and we are fighting for a world of solidarity, friendship and tolerance, a world which has nothing in common with those who want to take advantage of these events.


This attack is indeed gold to all racists and reactionaries who want to impose a strengthening of the ‘Vigipirate’ internal security system and repression, especially on the North African population.

We will not take part in "Republican" demonstrations with the right and the far-right to denounce this attack. Islamophobic intellectuals, right-wing politicians, government policies supporting war in Africa and the Middle East and supporting the transfer of wealth to the rich have created the nauseous climate which leads to this murderous madness in response.

No form of ‘national unity’ can be made with those looking to ride a wave of racism and xenophobia. On the contrary, in this climate, the clear voice of the workers’ organisations must be heard. Trade unions, labour movement organizations and associations should put out a call to rally and pay tribute to the victims of Charlie Hebdo on their own platform: for the unity of workers, youth and the great majority of the population regardless of their origin or belief, for freedom of expression, against all reactionary and fundamentalist terrorists, against the racist and imperialist policies of French governments that increase sectarian divisions, intolerance and obscurantism.

A mass movement against racism, and against the policies that force millions into poverty and insecurity, must be built. It is on that basis that we must show support for the journalists and employees of Charlie Hebdo.

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Don’t look to Tristram Hunt and New Labour if you want to defend education


Parties of poverty, privatisation and privilege

Millions of voters, angered at the poverty, privatisation and privilege promoted by this Coalition, hope that Cameron and Clegg will be thrown out of office this May. The question is, who they can vote for that offers any real alternative instead?

Far from reversing austerity, Ed Miliband has made crystal clear that severe cuts will continue under New Labour, as he declared this week that “ours is a plan to cut the deficit every year”. In practice, of course, these recessionary cuts will continue into the future but the deficit will remain.

Under New Labour, “Academies are here to stay”

When it comes to education, Shadow Minister Tristram Hunt has also made very clear that very little will change under New Labour. As he put it last March "I don't think you want to waste political energy on undoing reforms, that in certain situations build actually rather successfully on Labour policy". In other words, the support for academies that began under Tony Blair, and then expanded by Michael Gove, will continue if a Labour government is elected in May.

The NUT’s education manifesto – endorsed by TUSC – calls on a future government to “stop the forced academies programme immediately” and “return oversight of all state funded schools to local authorities
. In contrast, the 2014 ‘Blunkett Review’ of party education policy made clear that, under New Labour, “Academies are here to stay ”.
 

Why? Even the Department for Education has had to admit that sponsored academies do no better than comparable local authority schools. As a Southwark Governor writing in the ‘New Statesman’ asked recently in frustration "Why didn’t Labour jump on this? What could be better than exposing the Tories’ deceitful use of statistics at the same time as denouncing forced academisation as a waste of money, devoid of an evidence base, anti-democratic and a clear statement that the government thinks it knows better than parents what is best for their children?" (http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2014/11/coalition-s-flawed-academy-programme-political-gift-labour-refuses-accept)

The answer, regrettably, is that New Labour is now fully signed-up to the pro-market policies of the international Global Education Reform Movement. Like other GERM adherents, Hunt, Blunkett and their ilk will argue that the 'type of school is irrelevant’; it’s just ‘the quality of teaching’ that matters. Firstly, that approach is designed to put the blame on teachers, ignoring the effect of class, poverty, and the ever-widening inequality that continuing ‘austerity’ will bring. Secondly, it is a policy designed to promote the hiving-off of schools to edu-businesses and the removal of democratic local authority organisation of schools. Above all, it is a policy that will divide and worsen education, not improve it.
 
NO ACADEMY - YES to DEMOCRACY

The recent efforts by Lewisham Labour Council to impose an Interim Executive Board at Sedgehill School provide clear evidence of the way New Labour policy is going. It also shows that it isn’t enough just to argue for schools to be returned to Local Authority control. We also need to extend how that local democracy operates. I think we should rebuild the traditions of the directly-elected London School Board that did so much to develop education at the end of the nineteenth century. An accountable Board including elected representatives of school staff, parents, governors, local trade unionists, community organisations and secondary school students could work together to genuinely develop community schooling.

Tristram Hunt – a Tory in disguise?

Given the lack of real difference in policy between all the main parties, it’s not surprising that in a YouGov poll commissioned for the NUT a year ago, 25% of teachers already didn't know which party they could bring themselves to vote for. That figure can surely only have increased after what Tristram Hunt has had to say in the last twelve months:

  • Tristram calls for teachers to pass ‘re-licensing’ tests or face the sack
Instead of calling for schools to be given the time, support and resources they need to meet students' needs, last January Hunt joined with Gove in blaming teachers for the problems of education. It seems that New Labour are happy to adopt the same punitive, demoralising policies designed to pressurise teachers into maintaining their intolerable workload for fear of being 'failed'.
Just one of the many tweets to Tristram
  • Tristram’s insulting ‘oath’ for teachers
In October, Tristram Hunt called for teachers to make an 'oath' declaring their commitment to the profession. His suggestion was met with widespread derision and anger. To question teachers’ commitment, so soon after the NUT’s workload survey had exposed the reality of the excessive workload facing teachers, took some doing. In fact, it was new Tory Minister Nicky Morgan that first realised she should acknowledge that there was a genuine teacher workload issue to resolve, not Labour’s ‘opposition’ spokesperson.
  • Gimmicks instead of genuine action to counter private school privilege
In November, Hunt called on private schools (where he received his own education) to do more to support state schools. Back in 2006, Gordon Brown was at least prepared to make the ( now long-forgotten ) promise that a Labour Government would aim to match the spending per pupil in private schools in the state sector. In 2014, Hunt just offered gimmicks like making private school pupils play football with state schools.
  • Hunt turns to Winston Churchill and his ‘British spirit’
In December, Hunt made a speech calling on schools to “do more to build pupils' character and resilience”, referencing Winston Churchill and the ‘British spirit’. As a historian, you’d think Hunt might remember that Churchill was thrown out decisively in 1945 by workers demanding a real ‘land fit for heroes’. The ‘British spirit’ shown then was the determination of working people to demand a decent future for their families, not some stoic acceptance of poverty and inequality. Our community schools do everything they can to support young people. What they need is for politicians like Hunt to stop making empty speeches and to start investing in the jobs, homes and education needed for their futures.
  • New Year – and another vacuous pro-market article
Hunt’s New Year article in the Observer was trailed as one that might finally start to win back teacher support. In reality it was devoid of any significant changes. Another blog has already exposed its empty rhetoric, offering “no reversing of structural reform, no halting of curriculum changes, and no ending of the assault on teachers through PRP”  
https://disidealist.wordpress.com/2015/01/03/tristram-hunts-observer-piece-replying-to-nothing-is-hard/

So who do teachers vote for in May?

In May, do voters just have to make-do with the ‘lesser evil’ of Labour, particularly when Tristram Hunt’s education policies hardly seem ‘less evil’ at all?! There has to be a better alternative for teachers and parents to vote for!
 

Some teachers will look to the Greens, who undoubtedly have a far better education policy than Labour. Like TUSC, they have endorsed the NUT’s Manifesto for Education. However, it has to be pointed out that, when elected, the Greens have failed to make a stand against Government cuts. Brighton’s Green administration, elected on a mandate to 'resist austerity', is on course to have cut £50 million from jobs and services in the last three years.

I believe that we need elected representatives that will refuse to implement cuts and use their positions to build a mass movement of workers, service users and communities to demand services are properly funded by central Government. That’s the policy of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, supported by the Socialist Party and others such as the RMT Union - and the late Bob Crow. 


I believe that we need to rebuild genuine representation for trade unionists and working people in Parliament and in our local Councils, to provide a voice that the Labour Party no longer provides. That's why I will be supporting – and hopefully standing myself - for TUSC in the General Election this May.