Saturday, 26 March 2016

NUT Conference votes for strike action to defend teachers and education

This afternoon, NUT Annual Conference voted overwhelmingly for a Priority Motion on 'The White Paper: The Wrong Priorities' which includes a call for a ballot for discontinuous action to begin with a one-day strike before the end of the summer term and to seek to coordinate action with other unions too.

The full agreed motion covers a wide range of explanatory points, including in summary:
* congratulating those who signed the two 100,000 petitions
* that Government mismanagement is creating a crisis in education, with teacher shortages, insufficient school places, severe funding shortfalls and reforms that threaten to turn schools into exam factories.
* mounting an immediate campaign explaining why the white paper proposals are the wrong priorities.
* condemns its underlying principles of deregulation and proposals to replace QTS with accreditation solely decided in schools.
* believes there is no electoral mandate for what the FT has called "a risky experiment" and that it is now clear the Government is intent on creating an education market place which will have privatisation as an ultimate aim.
* believes the white paper ignores a growing body of evidence and will lead to chaos, teacher turnover and even lower morale, removing democratic participation of parents.
* that the fragmentation and disruption will put education at risk.

It instructs the Executive to :
* urge all school unions to jointly campaign to defend state education.
* work together to develop alternative policy proposals that support genuine school improvement and local democratic accountability.
* seek wide support for a unifying statement calling for urgent action on the real priorities and a halt to further academisation to enable a national debate over the future direction of education.
* bring together a coalition to promote and protect state education with activities including a mass lobby of parliament, a national demonstration and regional lobbies.
* prepare materials for teachers and parents and organise stalls and activities to mobilise support
* consider holding a public inquiry to examine the track record of academies

Finally, it instructs the Executive (here quoted in full) to:
i. Recognise the threats to jobs, pay and non-pay terms represented by the funding cash freeze and the intention to academise all schools and therefore to declare a dispute with the Secretary of State seeking more funding and a common system of pay and conditions to apply to all state funded schools in England and Wales, using the lessons of our defeat of the Government legal challenge over the sixth form colleges dispute;
ii. Recognise that these threats apply to all school staff, and therefore to encourage all other education unions representing teachers and support staff to declare similar disputes, sharing our legal advice with them;
iii. Specifically approach ATL, GMB, NAHT, NASUWT, UNISON and UNITE to seek agreement on a common plan for a ballot for discontinuous strike and non strike action;
iv. Present for discussion with those unions a timetable to begin with a one-day strike before the end of summer term;
v. To enact this timetable and action with any union willing to join us in the summer term, but otherwise to enact it ourselves - and then seek to coordinate further strikes in the autumn term with unions able and willing to join us then;
vi. Recognise that inadequate funding in Wales also threatens jobs, pay and non-pay conditions of teachers and that the effective abolition of national pay and conditions in England would accelerate moves to devolution of pay and conditions to the Wales Government to the inevitable detriment of teachers in Wales.
vii. Recognise that our fight is part of the wider battle to defend public services and therefore to approach the BMA to explore the possibility of coordinating our campaigns and action;
viii. Recognise too that in order to win the national ballot extraordinary measures will be needed at every level of the union.

Conference has decisively agreed a plan of action. Now every step must be taken to decisively win the ballot, to defend teachers' jobs, pay and conditions and, in doing so, to defend education as a whole.
 

Monday, 21 March 2016

The Education White Paper - condemned in its own words

Ignoring the Evidence (1)
Remarkably, the word 'evidence' appears over 80 times in the Government's new White Paper "Educational Excellence Everywhere".


Apparently, the Government will "ensure discredited ideas unsupported by firm evidence are not promoted" in education. Yes, read that again, 'discredited ideas unsupported by firm evidence'. Has someone at the DfE got a malicious sense of humour or have they just forgotten to point out to Nicky Morgan that this is about as good a definition of the academy programme as you could write?

There is no evidence supporting the ideologically motivated, profit-driven educational vandalism of forced academies. This is a Government in chaos seeking to inflict chaos on education as a whole.

Ignoring the Evidence (2)
This Government is not just ignoring evidence when it comes to all-out academisation. Driven by a determination to lower costs, they have already introduced a divisive system of performance pay designed to deny teachers pay progression and bully staff into take on even greater workload.

The White Paper consistently talks about using the evidence provided by the Education Endowment Foundation and "spreading the evidence on what works in education". 


Again, perhaps the DfE need to study the evidence more closely, because this is what the  EEF have to say about performance pay: "the results of more rigorous evaluations, such as those with experimental trials or with well-controlled groups, suggest that the actual average impact has been close to zero".

Parental and Community Involvement
One of the strategies for 'educational excellence' highlighted by the EEF above is, of course, parental involvement. In the White Paper, the Government claims it will "empower pupils, parents and local communities". How do they propose to do that exactly? Well by removing any accountability to local communities through democratically elected local authorities of course. 



The White Paper says that it recognises that "the crucial role of governance makes it more important than ever to ensure that only the right individuals are involved". Parents, of course, are not the right individuals. What do they know or care about education? Their rights to be elected on to Governing Bodies will be removed. Under the White Paper, "we will no longer require academy trusts to reserve places for elected parents on governing boards".

Empowering 'great leaders'
Of course, the 'right' kind of people do need empowering - starting with the sponsors of course. Already, academy chains use their control over contracts to generate significant profits for linked subsidiaries. As Stephen Ball explains in a post for the British Educational Research Association, "Ms Morgan seems not to have noticed that for-profit activity already plays a huge role in public education in England".

When the White Paper states that Government "are working with the publishing industry and with schools, MATs and others to encourage them to develop and share a new generation of teaching materials, textbooks and resources to help teachers deliver new curricula effectively", you can be sure that some major multinationals are looking to cash in.

Taken from http://schoolsweek.co.uk/academy-ceo-pay-how-the-biggest-trusts-stack-up/

Then, of course, there's the unscrupulous empire-building Heads of Multi-Academy Trusts, or 'CEOs' as they often prefer to be labelled. As a principled Headteacher put it in the TES last week, "we see even smallish multi-academy trusts with chief executives earning more – sometimes much more – than the prime minister. We see chains employing small armies of pinstriped executives who talk of standards but rarely set foot in a classroom to teach a lesson they have prepared themselves or give back books that they have marked".

Ending the two-tier system
I could go on, but let me finish with the policy that has already seen angry opposition result in two different online petitions securing over 100,000 signatories in just a few days: "This white paper sets out how, by the end of 2020, all remaining maintained schools will be academies or in the process of conversion".

The Conservatives are - or were - arrogant and insulated enough from 'public opinion' to think that they could go all out to put an end to the 'two-tier' system of academies and maintained schools by forcing through total academisation. Perhaps already some of them are beginning to realise they may have overreached themselves.

London is host to just one of the demonstrations taking place this Wednesday

A groundswell of angry opposition is emerging. Concerns are even now coming from within the Tory party itself with the Conservative lead for Education in David Cameron's own Oxfordshire Council saying that the academies plan is 'big brother gone mad'!

The cracks emerging within the Conservative Party should give confidence to everyone building the movement to defend education against this White Paper. So let's keep up the pressure to defeat these attacks - but let's not limit our objectives just to halting this latest attempt to sweep away democratically accountable comprehensive education. 

Yes, there is a way to end the 'two-tier' system - and that's to call for the law to be changed so that academies can be returned back to the maintained sector and so that the new schools needed to meet rising pupil numbers can be opened as community schools, not as 'free school' academies.


Sunday, 20 March 2016

Victory at John Fisher School over budget-driven threats to teachers' pay

They provided the PERFORMANCE - but now teachers have their PAY too
I am pleased to be able to publicise a significant victory at John Fisher School in Sutton where, after three days of strike action taken by members of both the NUT and NASUWT, staff's key demands have been achieved.

The strike action was taken in protest at the Governors’ refusal to grant pay progression to teachers, even though they had achieved their performance management objectives. The Governors put the blame on budgetary difficulties.

Last week, at the end of two consecutive days of strike action, the school called for further negotiations. At the end of these talks, Governors conceded that all eligible teachers will receive a full one point pay progression backdated to September 1 2015. Teachers' action has won their pay rise!

Although the dispute is still not fully settled pending further negotiations on pay policy and other outstanding issues, clearly a significant victory has been achieved. This is not just a victory for John Fisher staff, and a reward for their tremendous response and packed school gate turnout on all of the strike days, but an encouragement to all teachers where schools faced with budget cuts might attempt a similar attack on pay progression. 

"ASPIRE" - All Staff Pay Is Rightfully Earned

Friday, 18 March 2016

Free Schools - Lies, Statistics and Selection

Today, I was asked to contribute on behalf of the NUT to a feature being broadcast tonight by BBC London News on 'Free Schools' - the label given by the Government to a particular type of academy, one that is opening as completely new provision. 


I was happy to contribute to explain that there is no evidence to back up the Government's claim that their ideologically-driven plans for forced academies and new 'free schools' will improve education. On the contrary, they will destabilise and damage education. 

As I explained in the few seconds that I was given by the BBC, the Tories' privatisation plans will fragment schooling, with different academy chains working in competition instead of co-operating together. Yet, school partnership, fostered by the 'London Challenge', is felt to be the secret to much of London's educational success over recent years.

Free Schools - the facts
I also explained that Free Schools will operate in isolation with no Local Authority to back them up when things go wrong - as they will. As the NUT edufacts page explains:
  • There is no evidence that free schools improve standards. The DfE has claimed that free schools are more likely to be rated outstanding by Ofsted than other state-funded schools. However, in its 2015 report Ofsted itself concluded: "we have inspected 158 free schools and inspection outcomes are broadly in line with those for all schools".
  •  Problems in ten free schools have led to closure, partial closure or takeover by another academy sponsor. Two free schools were closed completely due to serious issues with performance and management while one free school was told to stop taking in secondary age pupils after it was criticised for failing to safeguard its children. A further two free schools have closed because of problems in recruiting pupils. At least five free schools have been transferred to the control of other academy sponsors because of concerns about performance or lack of demand for places.
  •  Like academies, free schools can employ unqualified teachers. In fact, they employ three times as many teachers without qualified teacher status (QTS) in proportion to their full time equivalent (FTE) staff than state funded schools as a whole.
  •  Free schools are also less accountable. They currently make up six per cent of all academies but account for ten per cent of the 58 allegations of “financial irregularity” made against academies and free schools in the three years to September 2015.

Academies - the facts
The real facts about academies are summarised in a recent post by the Local Schools Network .Their statistics show that schools are far more likely to remain 'inadequate' (in Ofsted terms) if they become sponsored academies and that sponsored academies' results increase at a slower rate than maintained schools. To quote just one of their statistics: "of the top 20 Multi-Academy Trusts, only 3 achieve value-added for their pupils that are above the average; 17 of the 20 achieve below average value added".
 
Sponsored academies are much more likely to remain 'inadequate'

The official data analysed by the LSN "points to one clear conclusion, that conversion to become a sponsored academy, on average, slows the progress of a school". The post concludes that "the central challenge for English schools is now arguably the poor performance of sponsored academies, when compared to similar local authority schools. While government policy is based on an ideological objection to local authorities, the data is clear. Indeed it is hard to think of any educational policy in living memory more likely to lead directly to worse performance for schools".

video 
Watch the feature from tonight's BBC London news

Selective facts - and selective education
With consistent agreement across a range of researchers about the lack of educational evidence in favour of academies, I was surprised at what I was told when I reached the BBC today. The reporter explained that I would be taking part in a feature discussing how data from the pro-academy New Schools Network purported to show that Free Schools outperformed other schools in London at post-16 qualifications.

It seems an unlikely claim, particularly given the difficulties at the 'Tech City' 16-19 Free School in Islington, where NUT members recently took strike action as I explained on this blog back in November. It would certainly have to be a conclusion based on a very small sample of schools as there is little existing 16-19 Free School provision in London.

Having now seen the bulletin broadcast on BBC London News tonight, it seems the claims are mainly being based on the success of the King's College London Maths School in Lambeth, the Free School featured in the programme. Yes, the exam results of the KCLMS are very good but is that any surprise when you consider its intake?

To be accepted at KCLMS you need at least an A or A* in GCSE Maths and Science/Physics, then to attain the 'threshold mark' in the KCLMS' own admission test and then be selected at interview. In short, this is a highly selective 16-19 institution, making any comparisons with comprehensive maintained schools completely misleading.

Far from justifying the Conservatives' academy plans, the New Schools Network's spurious claims really serve to highlight another dangerous aspect of this divisive policy - it will mean an acceleration in pupil selection. The academy chains, who would have almost total control over school admissions nationally, will compete with each other to enrol the children that will boost league table scores at a low cost - and undoubtedly find ways to exclude those who don't

It is for good reason that the NUT has condemned the Tories' plans as "undoing over 50 years of comprehensive public education at a stroke". They must be defeated.


Come to the demonstration on Wednesday at 5pm - now with a post-demo indoor rally too

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Tories go all out to privatise education - don't let them succeed!


News broke this afternoon that Wednesday's budget will include a proposal to turn ALL schools into academies. In effect, this would mean the privatisation of all the schools that have remained as maintained schools - still over three-quarters of the total - and the destruction of any democratic accountability through elected local authorities.


Marching - and winning - against academies in Lewisham in 2015

The Government cannot seriously expect anyone to believe that this is being done for good educational reasons. No, the evidence grows stronger every year that academisation is, at best, no magic solution for school improvement.

At worst, it leaves schools at the mercy of unaccountable organisations who are willing to remove pupils to boost league table scores and to allow those in charge to pay themselves inflated salaries from budgets that should be spent on children's education, particularly at the expense of the most disadvantaged children. 

It would finish the job of dismantling Local Authority input into education, leaving schools without the support and resources to meet every child's needs. This would be at the same time as it is becoming increasingly clear that many 'academy chains' are failing to provide such support and that the Government would struggle to find sufficient sponsors to take on these schools. Their dogma is endangering our children's futures.

It would encourage the fragmentation of trade union organisation and national terms and conditions, in an attempt to drive down costs by cutting pay and jobs, narrowing the curriculum, introducing more unqualified staff and driving up class sizes. It goes hand-in-hand with the 'unfair funding' at the heart of the Tories' National Funding Formula. That, of course, is precisely why this privatisation plan is being announced as part of the Budget.

As the NUT's press release correctly said tonight, “Finally the Government has come clean on its education priorities and admitted that its real agenda all along has been that every school must become an academy. The fig leaf of ‘parental choice’, ‘school autonomy’ and ‘raising standards’ has finally been dropped and the Government’s real agenda has been laid bare – all schools to be removed from the support of their LA and schools instead to be run by remote academy trusts, unaccountable to parents, staff or local communities. Parents will be as outraged as teachers that the Government can undo over 50 years of comprehensive public education at a stroke"

“The most urgent problems in schools are to do with the chronic teacher shortage, real terms funding cuts, the school places crisis, chaotic implementation of the curriculum, and workload going through the roof. The drive towards total academisation will do absolutely nothing to fix those problems.”

As I found when debating with a pro-academy Headteacher on behalf of 'Stop Academies in Lewisham' last year,  when the arguments for and against academies are put to parents, then there is clear opposition to academisation. However, this Government doesn't want a proper debate, it just wants to railroad through these privatisation plans.

However, let's warn this Government, if they're prepared to listen. In their hurry to cut and privatise public services, they are overplaying their hand and going beyond the limits of what they can get away with. This all-out academisation plan will provoke an angry response and an inevitable fightback.

As the determined mood of teachers on today's Sixth Form Colleges strike showed, NUT members are prepared to act to oppose attacks on our pay and conditions - and the damage those attacks cause to education. This academisation plan is a further national attack on pay, conditions and education. As the NUT's successful defence of its Sixth Form College strike in the High Court showed, then unions can - and will -  take action to stop those attacks.
 
On the march in Westminster today to defend Sixth Form Colleges

Sunday, 13 March 2016

Highlighting the desperation of teachers

Below, I am sharing a link to a post that was sent to me from Paul Wallis, the President of Barking and Dagenham NUT after I attended their AGM. It's one of many such 'why I'm leaving letters' on teachers' blogs - and you may have read it already - but it's another reminder of the reality of teaching that we need to expose - and organise to change. 

Paul writes: "I think it can only strengthen members faith in the NUT and its leadership when senior officials such as yourself are prepared to attend these functions. Please see the blog below that I read out last week as part of my contribution and that you asked me to send to you. My intentions were not intended to be negative in any way, but to highlight the desperation of teachers. The comments do however seem to reinforce the belief that we need to start being more proactive about the profession's standing and our invaluable contribution to the structure and maintenance of a healthy society". 

Here's some of the letter that Paul read to his AGM:

 "This is a job and a profession that I never thought I would ever leave.

 But right now, my own children and my family need to come first.

There’s a common phrase that is branded around within schools, ‘Every Child Matters’.

And yes, that’s true. However teaching, be it full time or part time is growing increasingly impossible for teachers with their own children. The sheer demand of the job that impacts so heavily on a teacher’s own time, made me grow increasingly resentful for the time I was spending on the children in my class, as opposed to my own children. My own 2 beautiful children who needed their Mummy.

Sadly, it’s more a case of ‘Every Child Matters, apart from your own.’

And I wasn’t prepared for that to be the case, anymore.

No more using my days off to write lesson plans for the following week.

No more spending weekends alone, making resources while the rest of the family head off to the park.

No more rushing or skipping a bedtime story so that I can get on with the stacks of marking, every night.

No more hours analysing computer screens of tracking sheets and data spreadsheets.

No more proving progress in order to justify and maintain my salary.

Very sadly, teaching is not a job any more; it’s a lifestyle choice. I wanted to make the choice to change my lifestyle. I was missing out on my children.

Regretfully, the number of qualified teachers leaving the profession is only going to rise, if nothing is done to change the unrealistic conditions of service.

 Eventually there are not going to be enough teachers for the number of children in Britain and therefore, is the focus on pupil led learning and the under utilisation of a teacher’s skillset, a way of opening the door for unqualified staff?

I am genuinely concerned about who will be teaching my own children, when they get to school age. It’s not acceptable to simply just have a body at the front of the classroom.

For our education system to rival the best in the world, we need to retain experienced staff who are experts in their field, who have trained and dedicate their careers to helping our children grow".

For the full post, read:


Thursday, 3 March 2016

ASA Ruling - let the facts speak for themselves

The news has been broken by Schools Week tonight that the Advertising Standards Authority Council has found in favour of the Department for Education (DfE) and ruled that it was not misleading to claim that teachers could earn up to £65,000 in salary.

As I wrote to the ASA on being told the outcome of my complaint, "I can assure you that when this ruling is released then it will be greeted with dismay and anger ... and the Council decision will damage the reputation of the ASA in the eyes of many teachers". Now that Schools Week has broken the news, I believe that my prediction will be proved correct.

Earlier this year, and fearing that the continued delays might suggest this outcome, I wrote saying that "I trust that the ASA will be able to withstand the undoubted pressure that will be coming from the Department ... There are considerable numbers of teachers who are now also patiently awaiting an outcome and maintaining their faith in the ASA to make a principled decision".

The decision has now been made. I can only leave it to others to look at the relevant facts and decide if it was a principled one.

I will respect the confidentiality asked of me by the ASA in not publishing the earlier draft recommendations of the Investigations Team which had been sent to complainants for comment, recommendations which had suggested a rather different outcome. However, with editing only so as not to reveal exactly what those recommendations concluded, I am posting below the additional comments that I submitted in response:

"I am writing in response to your email of 15 December inviting me to submit any further comments on the draft recommendation that addresses the complaint that I submitted, alongside over 100 other teachers, to the "#teachersmake" advert produced by the Department for Education.

Firstly, having again replayed the advert, I would like to concur with your finding that its premise was clearly to encourage potential recruits to think of the financial benefits that could result from becoming a teacher. Both the ‘#teachersmake’ hashtag and the opening line of ‘what does a good teacher make these days?’ were clearly aimed at making those watching reflect on teacher salaries. Even while statements were being made about how teachers also ‘make’ benefits for their school students, the on-screen text referred to ‘salaries & bursaries’. However, these comments were only a lead-in to the intended conclusion of the advert, when the comment is made "and if you’re wondering what else a good teacher makes, it’s probably more than you think", followed by the concluding, and in my opinion highly misleading, on-screen text "Up to £65k as a great teacher".

The advertisement caused immediate dismay amongst the teachers that I am in contact with as it [in my view] created a false impression that classroom teachers could have a reasonable expectation of earning salaries approaching £65k. This is, as the DfE’s own figures have now confirmed, simply not the case. Only 485 classroom teachers are paid this amount, approximately 1 in every 1000 teachers. 


The DfE's figures confirm just 485 teachers earned "£65,000 or more" in November 2014. If the ASA are arguing that the advert was meant to refer to Leadership salaries as well, why did the DfE say only 'up to' £65k, the top of the Leading Practitioners scale ??

Not only has this exaggerated claim misled potential recruits to the teaching profession, it has also potentially misled other viewers, including parents of schoolchildren, who may now have a false impression of the salaries that their children’s teachers earn, potentially causing difficulties in parent-teacher relationships as well.

To add a new set of data available to the DfE which they have not referred to, the School Teachers’ Review Body noted (in Chapter 3 of its latest 2015 Report) their concern that, compared to the average for graduate professions, teachers make slower salary progression. Once again, the DfE’s implication that teachers can make rapid progression to such high salaries is simply not backed up by their own facts.



The DfE ... chose the figure of £65k precisely because it is the highest figure that can be paid to a classroom teacher through the application of the Leading Practitioners scale, set down in the latest STPCD.


First of all, it is clear that £65K is only ever achievable in the Inner London area alone. A defence that, because the on-screen text mentions that salaries are ‘subject to location’, is completely inadequate. The text is not carried alongside the concluding figures and, in any case, even if it had been, this would have done little to correct the false impression that salaries of ‘up to 65k’ could be attained if you were a ‘good teacher’. Centrally, the whole advertisement is based on this premise which, as the statistics show, is a false one.

It might also be worth noting that, not only is a salary of "65k" highly unlikely to be achieved, even a salary of over £50,000 is only reached by a small minority of classroom teachers. Again, referring to the DfE’s own statistics as set down in Table 9a of the latest school workforce data, just 2% of teachers can expect to earn salaries of £50,000 or more; 80% earn less than £40,000. I have produced the data (excluding those where salaries were ‘unknown’) in graphical form below:



In conclusion, I am willing to accept that the aim of the ad was to inspire and motivate viewers to enter into the teaching profession. However, making false claims will only undermine such efforts and demotivate recruits who will find only too quickly that they have been misled". 

The ASA Council have reached a different conclusion. I can only post my opinion and let the facts speak for themselves.