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.

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