Friday, 27 September 2019

Labour votes to abolish academies and private schools


This article was written for - and published - in The Socialist newspaper, 25 September 2019 . I would also add that Labour also need to make clear to staff working in independent schools that their jobs and livelihoods would be protected in the transition to private schools becoming part of the state sector.

John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn march with teachers and striking doctors, photo Paul Mattsson
John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn march with teachers and striking doctors, photo Paul Mattsson


Angela Rayner, Shadow Education Secretary, announced at her party's conference that a Labour government will abolish tuition fees, provide free nursery education for all two to four year olds, cap the cost of school uniforms and end the hated Ofsted inspection regime.


These promises alone could help enthuse young voters, parents and school staff into campaigning to elect Jeremy Corbyn. But conference went further still.


Rayner had been far less clear about how Labour's promised 'National Education Service' would include private and academy schools. However, delegates voted for motions that called for a complete end to both of them!


The growth of academies was supported by both the Tories and Blair's 'New Labour'. It represented a conscious attempt to create a market of competing chains of schools, making it easier to slash education spending, especially on central services previously provided by local authorities, and to undermine national pay and conditions for school staff.


Nearly half of England's pupils now attend academy schools, run by a chaotic array of hundreds of different 'multi academy trusts'. Of course, they haven't improved education - only the bank balances of those who control them.


The evidence about the failings of the academy model has been growing, along with many vociferous local campaigns against them. Yet too many Labour councils have failed to oppose academisation.

Local authority control

The successful motion called for all publicly funded schools to be under the control of their local authority through "reformed, democratically accountable local education committees with stakeholder representation".


This could, if developed fully, allow genuine democratic control of schools through elected representatives of the local community, parents, trade unions and school students.


The motion stated that the committees must be "the default providers of services and appropriately funded". Reversal of education cuts will certainly be vital to allow all children and schools to thrive, supported through central services that can make sure all needs are met.


Labour conference also voted to remove private schools' phoney 'charitable status', to redistribute their wealth to state education institutions, and for a quota that would only allow universities to admit the same proportion of private school students as in the wider population. That's only 7% - but they make up around 40% of successful Oxbridge entrants.


Britain's wealthy have never had to worry themselves about the pressures on state schools. For them, the existence of a separate system of elite private education has allowed them to buy schooling for their children providing far smaller class sizes and a wider curriculum than the increasingly narrow diet enforced on working-class youth.


As austerity bites, the proportion of pupils from state schools attending university has started to fall, particularly in the top 'Russell Group' institutions.


Of course, the wealthy will not allow any of their privileges, educational or otherwise, to simply be voted out of existence. However, the fact that Labour delegates supported the motion is a reflection of the huge anger against growing inequality in society, not just in education but in our workplaces and communities.


If Corbyn can convince workers that he understands that anger, and has a programme to address it, then the Tories can be thrown out of office.

Friday, 23 August 2019

School Teachers’ Pay – 2019 Review Body Report confirms crisis – but completely fails to address it


At the end of July 2019, the Government again belatedly released the latest recommendations of the School Teachers’ Review Body (STRB) for the 2019/20 national pay award for teachers in England.

STRB share responsibility for the disastrous effects of pay restraint and performance pay

This was the STRB’s 29th Report since it was set up under the Conservative Government in 1991, as part of the neo-liberal ‘education reform’ measures designed to undermine teacher trade unionism and to cut and privatise education. In the succeeding three decades, where teacher trade unions in England have been left without direct negotiating rights over national pay and conditions, the Tories’ original objectives have largely been achieved. Pay levels have fallen overall while teacher workload has risen, a clear national pay structure has been shattered by performance pay and ‘freedom’ for schools to set their own pay scales, and school budgets have been cut with UK education spending as a proportion of GDP falling back to levels last seen in the 1960s.

In all those years the STRB has, of course, proved to be far from the ‘independent’ body that it claims to be. In reality, the Review Body’s various dignitaries have, with very few exceptions, faithfully carried out their role of making recommendations in line with Government policy – i.e. pay restraint and, as was their remit from the outset, to “consider how the pay of schoolteachers might be more closely related to their performance”. https://api.parliament.uk/historic-hansard/lords/1991/dec/17/teachers-pay-and-conditions-act-1987.

The members of the STRB have to share responsibility for the disastrous effects these policies have had on teacher retention and morale. Ironically, with the greater ‘freedoms’ that academy chains were given to ignore the findings of the STRB altogether, some chains, like E-Act, are now discussing using them to get rid of performance pay in their schools because of the damaging effect it has had on teamwork and creativity. https://www.tes.com/news/meet-academy-boss-who-wants-scrap-performance-related-pay.

2019 Report fails to seriously challenge the spending limits placed on them by Government

The latest remit given by the Secretary of State to the STRB in 2018 contained an obvious contradiction. It asked them for recommendations that would “promote recruitment and retention, within the bounds of affordability across the school system as a whole”. But, of course, unless the imposed spending limits are seriously challenged, teacher pay and conditions, and the resulting teacher retention crisis, cannot be seriously addressed.

The Government remit stated that only a 2% increase in per teacher pay was affordable nationally. Faced with the damning evidence that it had collected about the threat of teacher shortages (see below), the STRB recommendations pushed that figure up slightly to a 2.75% increase for 2019/20 and this has been accepted by Government. For the full 2019 STRB Report, see: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/school-teachers-review-body-29th-report-2019.

A 2.75% pay award is still only equivalent to current RPI inflation. It does nothing to address the 15% fall in the real terms value of teachers’ pay since 2010 estimated by the NEU. The STRB doesn’t challenge this claim, itself accepting that “A decade of relative decline has taken the teachers’ national pay framework too low in relation to the graduate labour market and the wider economy”.

Instead of demanding the additional funding needed to significantly increase salaries, the STRB Report makes clear that their 2.75% recommendation was based without any “assumptions about additional funding being provided to schools by the Government from September 2019”. While the Report accepts that “for some schools, the implementation of a pay uplift in September 2019 will be a significant challenge” their main emphasis is on the ‘autonomy’ that schools have both over their finances and over individual performance pay decisions, and the fact that most schools still carry surpluses from past savings. In other words, when push comes to shove, it’s up to schools to balance their budgets not for the Government to fund schools adequately.

While most schools might still be formally in surplus, the reality, as acknowledged in the STRB Report when reporting on Education Policy Institute’s 2019 research, https://epi.org.uk/publications-and-research/school-revenue-balances/, is that 48 per cent of maintained primary schools and 60 per cent of maintained secondary schools spent more than their income in 2017-18. 30% of maintained secondary schools are already in actual deficit with an average deficit of a staggering £484,000! (Fig 32).

The danger is clearly therefore that some cash-strapped schools will indeed try to hold back their pay bill in other ways, particularly through denying pay progression. Alternatively, more jobs and resources could be cut to pay for increased pay costs.

Schools should refuse to make such invidious choices and budget for what is needed to fund pay progression and annual increases for all staff, as well as the staffing and non-staffing resources needed to meet needs. In turn, Local Authorities should support schools going into deficit as a result and call Boris Johnson’s bluff. In standing to become the new Tory leader, Johnson promised more school spending. So, rather than make cuts, schools should demand the Tories – or whatever Government might emerge over the next weeks and months – provides the funding needed.

Interestingly, the STRB itself cautions that prioritising short-term savings “instead of teacher supply through an investment in pay” will only lead to “additional costs and reduced productivity across the education system in the longer term”.  It does advise the Government to make funding for teachers’ pay a priority in their forthcoming Spending Review. Of course, what is really needed is a Government that is seriously investing in education and for the future, not just considering the usual short-term objectives of capitalist economics.

2019 STRB Report confirms the depth of the recruitment and retention crisis

As with previous STRB Reports, the data hidden within the 2019 Report reveals the real costs of failing to invest in staff salaries and education as a whole and is in contradiction with its final timid pay recommendation that fails to challenge the Government’s spending limits.

The STRB’s summary of its findings on teacher recruitment and retention presents what it itself describes as “a worrying picture”, made worse by the fact that rising pupil numbers mean more teachers will be needed in future, particularly in secondary schools. They include these facts:

·        The Government’s target for recruitment to postgraduate Initial Teacher Training (ITT) was missed in 2018/19 for the seventh successive year.

·        Retention rates for teachers in the early years of their careers have continued to worsen.

·        Retention rates are starting to deteriorate for experienced teachers, and there has been a marked increase in the number of teachers aged over 50 leaving the profession.

·        Retention rates for head teachers have also fallen in recent years.


The STRB Report shows how, in the latest year where there is data available - up to November 2017 - the number of teachers leaving the profession was slightly greater than the number joining (both figures are around 10% of the overall numbers of full-time equivalent teachers in state schools. This translates into a 1 in 10 annual teacher turnover in schools, although in some schools it will be considerably higher, causing considerable instability for both staff and students (STRB 2019 Fig.1).

This fall in the overall number of full-time equivalent teachers is happening at the same time as pupil numbers continue to rise. As the Report also explains, this translates into an ongoing trend of increasing pupil to teacher ratios in both the primary and secondary sectors. Again, this can only be damaging to education.

While the annual leaving rate of around 10% of the profession has been fairly consistent over recent years, Figure 7 within the 2019 Report illustrates a significant change in who is leaving teaching. With an increasing divergence between the two figures over recent years, the vast majority of leavers are now through resignations ‘out of service’ rather than teachers retiring at the end of their careers.

Pay is a significant factor behind the recruitment crisis

Some argue that pay is not a significant factor for teachers. Clearly other pressures, not least intolerable levels of workload, are also significant – pressures which, if the STRB were serious about their concerns, should also be addressed by a recommendation that the effectively open-ended nature of working hours set out under the current Pay and Conditions Document is removed.

Of course, pay and workload are linked, particularly when teachers consider what their hourly rate of pay might be. For example, a Newly Qualified Teacher on M1 in England will now have a monthly gross salary of £2,031. However, if they are working, as many will be, 60 hours a week, that works out at less than £8 an hour! That may well have to cover pension contributions and student loan repayments too.

There is an interesting observation in the Appendix to the STRB Report describing meetings with teachers on school visits carried out by STRB members: “Even when [some] teachers did view their overall level of pay as fair in itself, their outlook changed when workload was factored in. When taking account of the hours worked, these teachers did not consider the level of remuneration received to be reasonable”.

Overall, the STRB’s clear view is that the “steady decline in the competitiveness of the teachers’ pay framework is a significant contributor to teacher supply difficulties”. They evidence that decline by pointing out that:

·        Median starting salaries for other graduate careers remain higher than those for teachers in most areas of England, and the earnings of experienced teachers are lower than those available in other professional occupations.

·        Over the last decade, the position of the national teachers’ pay framework in the earnings distributions for both professional occupations and the wider economy has deteriorated. In other words, more people in more occupations are becoming better paid than teachers (STRB Fig 13).

STRB 2019 Fig 14 shows that the gap between the median earnings of teachers aged 21 to 30 and others in this age group in professional occupations is stark – and getting worse across England.

London Pay

As the chart above confirms, the gap in earnings is particularly pronounced in London. The latest recommendations will increase the effective “London Weighting” for a teacher working in London compared to the rest of England and Wales – but will continue to fail to adequately compensate for the greater cost of living in the capital.


The STRB Report contains some anecdotes that confirm the particular difficulty facing teachers in London. It states that “we were told that teachers in London schools often left at the point when they wanted to start a family as they could not afford housing” and that “all of the NQTs we spoke to in Tower Hamlets said that they had opted out of the Teachers’ Pension Scheme, with one telling us this was because they “needed every penny” to afford to live in the area” (STRB 2019 Appendix C).

Retention crisis includes the loss of experienced teachers as well as newly qualified staff

The STRB had been asked to consider targeting increases towards early career teachers to address the particularly high turnover amongst that group of teachers.

The data provided certainly confirms the scale of the problem, and that it’s a problem that is only getting worse (STRB 2019 Fig. 19)

·        Between 2011 and 2017, the percentage of teachers leaving within three years’ service increased from 20 per cent to 27 per cent, while the percentage leaving within their first five years increased from 27 per cent to 33 per cent over the same period.

·        The leaving rate between 1 and 2 years’ service has increased markedly from 5 per cent for 2010 & 2011 NQTs to 9 per cent for 2015 NQTs. There has also been a notable increase in the leaving rate between 2 and 3 years’ service.

However, the Report shows that it’s not just an issue confined to early career teachers. After all, those teachers who manage to progress onto the Upper Pay Range will find that their salaries are beneath the national average for other professional occupations – and that the relative comparison is getting worse (STRB 2019 Fig 22a).

The STRB concluded that “targeting starting pay risks being ineffective even in its own terms. Those considering joining the profession, and particularly career changers, look ahead to potential future earnings, as well as at starting pay”.

They also provide data (Fig. 23) that starkly shows how the earnings for more experienced teachers fall behind those in other professional occupations across England, particularly in London – and that, again, the decline is getting worse.

The pay differential might not be quite as pronounced for the over 50s but, perhaps linked to the pressure of teacher workload, the rate of leaving has also risen sharply in that age bracket, in both primary and secondary sectors (STRB 2019 Fig. 25)

Looking ahead – what threats to come?

The 2019 Report only confirms that urgent action is needed but that the STRB, while providing some of the data that shows that need, will never seriously challenge the austerity policies that have held down and fragmented teachers’ pay. Indeed, the Report hints at other possible future attacks, perhaps targeting increases geographically or by sector and/or subject according to market pressures, if unions fail to act and a future Government facing economic downturn then feels confident to further drive down pay.

Despite the barriers thrown up by the Trade Union Act ballot thresholds, teachers in England need to take heart at the successes of the EiS in Scotland in winning the first stage of their pay campaign: http://socialistpartyscotland.org.uk/2019/04/07/lessons-of-the-scottish-teachers-pay-victory/. After all, when labour is in short supply, combative unions have traditionally been able to translate those shortages into salary gains for its members through a clear and determined campaign. Of course, a gain for teachers would also be a gain for education as a whole through tackling the retention crisis.

Friday, 5 July 2019

A few reflections on leaving London

Regrettably, I was unable to keep a commitment to speak at the Hammersmith and Fulham NEU end-of-term social last night, but sent a message which I am told went down well. So here's what I sent - and would have liked to have said in person:

"I am really sorry that I can't be with you tonight but, as some of you know, life has dealt me some unexpected cards and I am having to learn to follow Den's wise counsel and 'put family first'.

The end of the school year is always a good time for reflection, and ending my post as London Regional Secretary even more so - so here are some brief parting reflections for you to consider.

As school trade unionists we know we are organising in challenging times, with the Union merger adding extra challenges that have not always been sufficiently recognised in advance.

The high level of staff turnover in London schools is a concrete expression of the damaging effects of school cuts, inadequate pay, excessive workload, academisation, and the stress on staff and students alike of working under an 'exam factory' culture.

Yet those challenges also provide opportunities for trade unionists to make a difference to our members and the communities we support. The 49% turnout across the London Region in the primary assessment ballot that closed this week gives another example of how London NEU can lead by example and show how, if we organise and give a correct lead, the underlying discontent could be turned into successful action.

Hammersmith and Fulham NEU can certainly be proud of its latest indicative ballot results – a 58% turnout plus over 40% of your primary members voting ‘YES’ to industrial action.

These results are further testament to the work that has been done over years by local reps and Officers to build and maintain the Union. I am sure that all of you here will continue to build the NEU where a Union's real strength lies - not in Union Offices, although they are needed too - but, above all, in the workplace. With trained and confident workplace reps, backed up by well-organised school groups, we can not only successfully defend those individuals who may sometimes need Union support but, above all, we can organise collectively to make gains for every Union member.

And finally, when staff and schools are being unfairly graded, blamed and criticised, we need our colleagues to understand that even our best efforts will never be able to fully counteract the poverty and inequality which will remain the main influence on educational outcomes. That's why as trade unionists we must always remember to also play our part in the wider labour movement to build a society that puts an end to inequality, here and across the world.

So, please think of me as I strive to dust off my teaching skills when I return to the classroom in Cumbria and I will, in turn, rely on you to continue to make a difference for both the educators and the educated in Hammersmith and Fulham".

Tuesday, 18 June 2019

Education under a Labour Government

"Education has always been a key question for the labour movement – and rightly so. 

If you go back to the pioneers of our movement, to the self-educated Chartists and the founders of mass trade unionism, to the first victorious Labour candidates fighting for seats on the London School Board, to Marx and other socialist theoreticians, then the struggle to win genuine education for the working class has always been a key part of the wider struggle for a better future, for a socialist future.

After all, the struggle for better pay and conditions, for better housing and health, are not ends in themselves – but to provide the environment in which the human personality can genuinely flourish, where the skills and talents of all individuals can be developed to their maximum for the benefit of society as a whole – to coin a phrase, for the many, not the few.

The National Education Union, formed from the merger of the ATL and NUT unions, although not affiliated to any political party, is proud to say we stand in those traditions of struggling for a better future and for a high quality, comprehensive education system for all.
 
As a union of over 450,000 members, we have the potential strength to influence the debates needed around education and to organise to make the changes necessary. In London, our density is greatest of all – with 75,000 members, largely teachers but also support staff.  

Barnet – with over 3300 in-service members, is our largest London District of all – although that brings both its complications and its strengths.

The NEU welcomes Labour’s commitment to develop a National Education Service which, alongside policies needed to eradicate poverty and inequality, has the potential to transform education and the lives of children and young people.

However, we have to recognise that those policies will only be won, and implemented, through a struggle against those who do not share our common values, who stand not for equality, but for inequality and austerity. 

That means understanding how the consensus in favour of a well-funded comprehensive education in the interests of a society as a whole was broken at the end of the post-war boom, From a time when even Margaret Thatcher could preside over more grammar schools becoming comprehensive than under any other Education Secretary, capitalism entered stormier times where education for all was a luxury it no longer saw fit to afford. 

The gains of comprehensivation – while far from perfectly implemented – were wrecked by the imposition of neo-liberal education policies implemented in Britain – and internationally – with the aim of cutting costs by making schools compete in an education marketplace, while opening up education as another source of income for private companies and Academy Trusts.

The politicians first created that marketplace by making sure all schools could be compared like supermarket goods – through a prescribed National Curriculum and standardised tests to compare school – and teacher – performance. Then, instead of blaming Governments for failing to address poverty, for failing to fund education, the blame could be placed on individual schools, Heads and staff – and their trade unions - for failing to perform as well as their competitors. Just to make sure, Ofsted was created to label the failures and make sure they were turned over into the hands of the Academy Trusts.

For a while, that ideological attack – where, I am afraid, there was a new consensus that included Conservative and New Labour politicians succeeded. Education spending has been cut, locally accountable community schooling has been dismantled in many areas, SATs and Ofsted have forced up stress and workload on staff and students alike.

Since 2015, the NEU calculates that schools have had their funding cut by £5.4 billion in real terms. 91% of schools have had their funding cut. In Barnet, schools have lost out by £32M between 2015 and 2019 – that’s £290 per pupil. 

It’s not just the NEU that understands the reality of education cuts. Just today, the Institute for Fiscal Studies has produced an analysis of Conservative leadership contenders’ claims about providing extra spending for schools (although the fact that the Tories have to talk about it shows the pressure they are under). They confirm that existing government plans for departmental spending forecast further cuts – not increased education expenditure.

Buildings maintenance, staff training and learning resources have been cut across the sector. That’s bad enough - but the large majority of a school budget is spent on staff. So school cuts have meant cutting TAs, not replacing teachers as they leave, meaning larger class sizes, needs left unmet, even higher workload for those staff left. The Government’s own workforce statistics show that, while England’s schools have had 137,000 more pupils, schools have had 5,400 fewer teachers to support them - and similar reductions in support staff numbers too.

Some areas of education face even sharper attacks – like nursery schools, post-16 and special needs provision.

If you want to know more, this Saturday, June 22, a ‘Together for Education’ rally at Westminster Central Hall will be gathering together trade unions, councillors and campaigners – you’d be welcome to attend if you want to know more.

But now parents and voters are seeing through the spin and realising what is at stake.

The same goes for high stakes testing like the SATs tests at 7 and 11 and the baseline, phonics and multiplication tests used to compare schools.

More and more staff and parents are beginning to realise that these tests are nothing to do with improving education – they are in fact unreliable and unnecessary – giving parents little of the real information they want and need about their child’s progress. Of course teachers and schools have always relied on assessment to inform their work – and to inform, children, their parents and carers – but imposed high-stakes testing is to label children, not help them.

Their purpose lies in the marketisation of education, putting pressure on staff to teach to the test, narrowing the curriculum and, in turn, putting pressure on young children, all because of the threat of failure – personal failure leading to capability threats and rejected pay progression – and institutional failure through Ofsted grading and their position in league tables.

Again, the tide is turning – and the fact that Jeremy Corbyn announced to NEU Conference in April that an incoming Labour Government would scrap SATs is welcome testament to that change.

But, as with cuts, an appeal to reason won’t change the mind of a Tory Government – why would they be electing any of their leadership candidates if good sense was anything to do with it!

That’s why the NEU are presently conducting an indicative ballot of all our primary members asking members whether they would be prepared to take action to boycott high-stakes testing next year.

The ballot ends on July 2nd – and any help you can give in supporting Barnet NEU in contacting its primary members would perhaps be one of the most urgent and concrete steps that could come out of this meeting tonight.

In conclusion, decades of market-driven education policy – and the twin attacks of spending cuts and high-stakes testing, have damaged the well-being and life chances of too many young people. We need to stop those attacks – and win a Government that will look after the interests of the billions, not the billionaires – and not least, the interests of our young people by constructing the education of the future".

Thursday, 28 March 2019

Three Mile Island - 40 years on

ON THE MORNING OF 28 MARCH 1979, pumps feeding water into the steam generator at Three Mile Island’s No.2 (TMI-2) nuclear reactor near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, USA, failed. Emergency shutdown systems appeared to have worked correctly - but they hadn’t.

Like all nuclear power plants, TMI-2 used the heat energy produced by nuclear fission reactions to turn water into steam. Just like a power station burning coal or gas, the steam pressure then turns a turbine that spins the electrical generator. However, nuclear fission doesn’t just generate energy. It also produces dangerous waste products like radioactive caesium, iodine, strontium and plutonium. Some remain highly radioactive for hundreds of thousands of years.

Unlike the later disasters at Chernobyl and Fukushima, a major release of radioactivity was avoided at TMI-2 - but only just. For 16 hours, plant operators struggled to make sense of their instrument readings. A faulty control panel meant they didn’t realise that a safety valve had jammed open, allowing coolant to escape and the reactor core temperature to soar.

By the time they had worked out what was wrong, half of the uranium fuel had melted. The damaged TMI-2 unit had to be permanently closed. It took 14 years and $1 billion to decontaminate the plant by removing two million gallons of radioactive water and putting over a hundred tons of debris and fuel into secure storage.

The nuclear power industry claims nobody suffered health effects from the radioactivity that was released during the TMI-2 incident. However, that is disputed by local cancer sufferers who blame the accident, and the government’s attempts to play down the dangers at the time, for their illness.

What’s certain is that the Three Mile Island accident dealt a severe blow to the idea that nuclear fission could provide safe, clean energy. The US government was forced to introduce more stringent construction and safety regulations. This put a further squeeze on the profits that could be made from building hugely expensive nuclear power stations.  

The 1986 Chernobyl disaster, when a fire in the graphite core of a nuclear reactor released radioactive plumes for ten days, fuelled public opposition further. In the USA, over 100 orders for new reactors were cancelled and no new plants were approved until 2012.

The advocates of nuclear power then tried to reinvent fission as ‘green’ energy since, unlike burning fossil fuels, it does not generate the greenhouse gases that cause climate change. However, the 2011 Fukushima disaster then provided another deadly reminder of the disastrous consequences of systems failure in a nuclear power station.

The disaster at Chernobyl was a product of an impatient, unaccountable Soviet Union bureaucracy pressuring technicians into a reckless experiment aimed at speeding up repair times. Fukushima was the product of a reckless private operator, the Tokyo Electric Power Company, ignoring the risk from tsunamis and earthquakes. But could these risks be avoided if nuclear power was part of a nationalised energy system under workers’ management?

A genuine safety culture could reduce risks but, just as at Three Mile Island, the chance of human error and mechanical failure is always present. Even if an accidental release of radiation is avoided, every radioactive reactor eventually has to be decommissioned, at huge cost, when the power station closes.

They can’t just be dismantled like an old factory. The radioactive material has to be safely and securely stored for many thousands of years before its contents could be safe to release into the environment. A 2018 government report estimates the cost of cleaning up just the UK’s 17 nuclear sites could be over £200 billion.

Many of the UK’s nuclear power plants are already operating beyond their originally planned lifetimes as it is. The Hunterston B reactor in Ayrshire has been out of action ever since 370 hairline cracks were found in its ageing graphite core. They can’t be mended so EDF, its private operator, has applied for permission to increase the safety limit to 700 cracks instead!

The fact that only one new UK nuclear power station is under construction, Hinkley Point C in Somerset, is because the economics of nuclear power are now so clearly flawed. This white elephant, a legacy of New Labour's Tony Blair and Gordon Brown’s support for the nuclear industry, will, if its technical flaws are overcome, end up being the most expensive power station ever built. The cost will be met by bill payers through a deal that guarantees that EDF will be paid about twice the actual going rate for the new reactor’s electricity output.

Not everyone has struck lucky like EDF. Hitachi and Toshiba have pulled out of their plans to build other new nuclear power stations planned for Wales and Cumbria. In Pennsylvania, the remaining Three Mile Island No.1 reactor is itself facing shutdown this year - not through any accident but because it’s been making a financial loss.

Instead of continuing to subsidise risky and expensive nuclear power, urgent investment is needed in the further development of wind, solar and other renewable sources while rapidly improving energy efficiency. 

Energy generation and transport industries should be part of a nationalised environmental plan of production. This is the only solution to urgently tackling climate change while also providing skilled jobs, particularly for those presently employed in the nuclear industry.

Austerity-ridden capitalism is unable to make the investment needed to rapidly and safely phase out nuclear power, far less the global plan needed to tackle global climate change. For that, socialist change is needed.

Wednesday, 13 February 2019

What does the Government evidence to the STRB tell us about teacher pay and retention in London?

The Government provided evidence to the School Teachers’ Review Body in January 2019 that needs to inform the NEU’s campaign for improved pay and conditions for London’s teachers:

1) A campaign over London teachers’ pay also needs to be a campaign for improved funding

It is no accident that the Government’s submission (or, in reality, instruction) to the STRB starts by emphasising the economic outlook and the need for “fiscal discipline”. In the Government’s view, “public sector pay remains competitive” and any awards need to be based on “affordability”.

The evidence also stresses the particular need for affordability in schools. As usual, the Government stresses that schools should use performance pay and pay scale autonomy to limit costs but “while recognising the importance of schools’ flexibility to set their pay policies in light of local circumstances, we continue to consider it very important that the STRB pay due attention to the likely impact of its recommendations on schools’ budgets, in the light of this affordability evidence” (para. 45). It also warns that “although the government provided funding, through a teachers’ pay grant, to support the implementation of the 2018 award, it should not be assumed this will be the case again for the 2019 award” (para. 34).

In summary (para.4), it states that “the evidence sets out the importance of ensuring that the pay award does not place undue pressure on school budgets, with a 2% increase in per teacher pay being affordable nationally” and that any awards “also need to be considered in relation to other areas where schools may wish to invest (such as school improvement, teacher continuing professional development, pastoral support and teaching resources)”.

It is therefore clear that any campaign for increased salaries for London teachers also needs to be linked to a campaign for improved funding for London schools.

2) A London pay campaign needs to relate to a national campaign over declining teacher salaries

In its initial submission to the STRB this January, the NEU took up the issue of “affordability” pointing out that “last year, the STRB sought to address the deterioration in the value of teacher pay and the “further deterioration” in teacher supply. Although insufficient in our view, the STRB’s recommendation for a pay increase of 3.5 per cent across the board showed that it understood the need for a whole-market signal on pay to address teacher supply problems. The Government’s unprecedented decision to refuse to implement this recommendation was not based on any refutation of the STRB’s case, but on funding grounds. The Government’s damaging policy on education funding was therefore used to justify further damage to teacher pay and teacher supply”.

The submission goes on to argue “that the STRB should not feel constrained by questions of affordability in its recommendations but should focus on the actions it believes are needed to restore the appropriate value of teacher pay and address the recruitment and retention crisis. It is then the Government’s responsibility to address the resource implications”.

As it goes on to explain, “Government found additional money for teachers’ pay last year after stating that no additional resources would be available. The Government can choose to find additional resources again – this is a political choice which rests with the Government”.

The submission points out that, nationally, “teacher starting pay, when expressed as an hourly rate based on the average 54.4 hours worked by teachers according to the latest DfE Workload Survey, is just 13 per cent above the National Minimum Wage (NMW). This gap has narrowed significantly”.

Interestingly, a similar analysis carried out by the NFER (Worth, J., Lynch, S., Hillary, J., Rennie, C. and Andrade, J. (2018). Teacher Workforce Dynamics in England. Slough: NFER) is referred to in the Government’s own STRB submission. Although this uses median earnings, so arrives at higher hourly rates, in analysing a not unreasonable scenario that assumes that teachers also work three weeks in their holidays, it concludes that this “would mean teachers work the most hours per year of the three professions [comparing to police officers and nurses] and have the lowest real average hourly pay”. Their analysis also concludes that “teachers’ average gross annualised pay per hour has fallen over time, due to falling real-terms pay and longer weekly working hours”.

In conclusion, the NEU submission calls on the STRB to recommend:
• an immediate fully-funded pay increase for all teacher pay points and allowances of 5 per cent in September 2019;
• further pay increases for teachers as soon as possible, to restore the cut in teacher pay against inflation since 2010; and
• a further urgent review of teacher pay levels, to establish appropriate pay levels for the long term that will support recruitment and retention by ensuring that teacher pay levels are competitive with those of other graduate professions.

The NEU submission at this stage has not provided a specific demand for an increase in pay for teachers on the London scales. It warns that “real-terms pay cuts and restrictions on pay progression affect teachers across England. Just as teacher supply problems are systemic and require a holistic response, regional pay would provide no solutions and would create new problems” but makes clear that “we do, however, have concerns about the current operation of the long-established London pay area arrangements. The STRB noted concerns on this area in its 28th Report (STRB, paragraph 5.9); and we will discuss these issues in more detail in the context of the forthcoming remit on the pay framework”.

3) The Government’s own evidence points to the need for improved pay for teachers in London

To what degree a campaign on London teachers’ salaries should relate to a national pay and funding campaign is a strategic question. However, what is clear from the evidence already provided by the Government is that there is a clear case for increased salaries for teachers covered by London pay arrangements.

a) The STRB’s 28th Report (as eventually released in July 2018)

In its 28th Report referred to above, the STRB stated in paragraph 5.9 cited above that “Some consultees raised concerns about the impact that the current geographical bandings have on teacher recruitment and retention for some schools, particularly those near the borders of the Inner London, Outer London and Fringe areas. There are also some distinctive features of the teacher labour market in London that may mean that the differentials between these bandings need to be reviewed”.

The Report showed evidence that the relative position of classroom teachers’ median earnings in all regions has continued to deteriorate but that the comparison is worse in the South-East and London, but with Outer London teachers suffering a significant relative decline over the last five years:

b) Government Evidence to the STRB (January 2019)

In its latest evidence to the STRB, Government evidence illustrates specific concerns about London teacher pay, recruitment and retention. It points out, based on NFER analysis (see below) “that system-level retention is more challenging in certain subjects, particularly science and modern foreign languages, and in certain areas, particularly London. This analysis, in common with the department’s, found that retention is most challenging in the first five years of a teacher’s career. The STRB will want to consider these retention trends in deciding how to best target its recommendations to tackle retention challenges”.

Its own School Workforce census figures, released as the “Teacher Analysis Compendium 4” in September 2018, it had already confirmed the worse rate of retention in the London Region: 



 

In this latest evidence it provides further relevant regional data.

This table confirms the higher ‘wastage rates’ of teachers leaving the profession in London:

This graph indicates that, while median salaries in general may be higher in Inner London, this is not the case for academies. This must presumably be due to either to having a younger workforce – suggesting higher turnover -and/or greater use of performance pay measures to prevent pay progression.


c) NFER Paper - Teacher Workforce Dynamics in England (October 2018)

Further, in the NFER paper Teacher Workforce Dynamics in England referred to in its evidence, the NFER researchers sought to develop the clear evidence from the Department for Education’s own 2016 local analysis of the teacher workforce where, as they state “London stands out from the analysis as being different to the other regions, having higher than average rates of teachers leaving the profession, proportions of unqualified teachers and proportion of schools with vacancies or temporary staff”.

To make sure that this wasn’t just a general urban effect, the NFER researchers analysed the data in comparison to other large cities and concluded that “there is something unique about London that makes the teacher supply challenge particularly acute”. It went on to produce data showing that:

  • “London has a higher rate of teachers leaving the profession than other areas ... Overall, London loses 0.5 per cent of its workforce each year from teachers moving to other schools, after accounting for teachers moving to a school in London from a school outside London. Again, this is not the case in other large cities”. 
  • “Teachers aged in their 30s and 40s tend to move out of London” putting particular pressures on recruitment into middle and senior leadership. “While these opportunities for quick progression can initially attract teachers to London, it may leave teachers feeling underqualified and therefore overwhelmed by their extra responsibilities”.
  •  “London has seen the fastest growth in pupil numbers ... The high rates of London teachers leaving the profession and moving to schools in other areas are despite London having seen the largest increase in teacher demand in recent years”. 

    The Report concludes that “Our analysis suggests there is something unique about London that makes the teacher supply challenge particularly acute. London has considerably more teachers leaving the profession compared to other areas, including other large cities. It also suffers from greater churn of teachers moving to schools outside of London, particularly experienced teachers aged in their 30s and 40s. Small and medium-sized areas, rather than other cities, are the biggest destinations for teachers who move out of London. The high cost of living is the main barrier to longer-term retention of teachers in London”
    .

    d) Teacher Supply, Retention and Mobility in London (Worth et al, 2018) 

    The NFER paper also refers to further evidence produced by Worth et al in another NFER report produced with the GLA on behalf of Teach London in May 2018. This similarly concludes that “the findings demonstrate that London’s teacher labour market faces a particularly acute challenge over the coming decade and that this challenge is specific to London rather than a general pattern across other large English cities”.

The report concludes that “the most important factor driving low teacher retention in London is higher housing costs” and produces an analysis comparing rents with leaving rates for younger staff:

It also gives data to show that:

  • London has a higher rate of teachers leaving the profession [i.e. the state sector]. “Between 2010 and 2015 an average of 10.5% of non-retiring teachers left teaching each year in London (around 4,000 teachers per year). This compares to the national average of 7.5%”. 
  • More London schools have vacancies and temporarily-filled posts than in other areas.  
  • London’s primary and secondary middle leaders are leaving the profession at a higher rate than in other areas (Figure 13 shows an average for the period from 2010-2015).
 





The Report concludes by proposing two possible solutions.
(1) “housing policy interventions ... to retain more teachers in London”
(2) “to increase the pay of teachers in London”

4) What is the effective ‘London Allowance” after the September 2018 Pay Award?

Following the Government’s failure to implement the STRB’s recommendation of a 3.5% rise across the board in September 2018, the lower 2% increase on the UPS now means that a M6 teacher in Inner London is paid more than a UPS1 teacher in a school covered by the Outer London pay area.

The table below shows the effective ‘London Allowances’ on different scale points based on a comparison with the England and Wales scale: 





These figures need to be compared with recent research from Donald Hirsch at Loughborough estimating the additional costs of living and working in Inner London as being around £8,000 a year more than national costs, in Outer London around £6,500 a year.