Thursday, 17 June 2021

Unions should oppose flawed trials into Daily Contact Testing in schools

This morning, an important open letter signed by scientists and campaigners has been published by the British Medical Journal. It raises serious scientific and ethical concerns about the trials being conducted in some schools on the use of Daily Contact Testing as an alternative to isolation of contacts of cases. I share those concerns, and have signed the letter. 

As part of my campaign to be the first elected Deputy General Secretary of the NEU, I have made clear that I will speak up when I think a different perspective is needed. I would not expect this to be one of those occasions. However, to my surprise, the letter has not been signed officially by the NEU, nor other trade unions.

For all the reasons outlined in the letter, not least the greater transmissibility of the now dominant delta variant and the questionable accuracy of Lateral Flow Testing, I hope that education unions will make clear that they share the concerns raised today.

The health and safety of staff, students and their families will be at risk if the DfE presses ahead and uses these flawed trials as justification to adopt Daily Contact Testing as an alternative to isolation across schools and colleges as a whole. 

Educators and their trade unions should be insisting that, instead, the necessary mitigations needed to reduce transmission in schools, as well as the educational disruption that results from outbreaks, are in place. This should including supporting those who have to isolate - both financially and educationally - when that is needed to reduce further transmission within schools and their communities.


The full text of the letter can be found on the BMJ blog here:

A summary of the issues raised, as set out in the press release from the BMJ, is posted below:

"Daily contact testing trials in schools are unethical, and extending them to include the delta variant puts everyone at risk, warn experts in The BMJ today.
In an open letter to Gavin Williamson, UK Secretary of State for Education, a large group of healthcare professionals, scientists, educational bodies, parents, and caregivers call on the government to suspend these trials immediately, saying "the risks and potential consequences are very serious."
They welcome the principle of conducting research to reduce school absences associated with covid-19, and understand the appeal of a study evaluating the effectiveness of regular lateral flow testing in schools as an alternative to 10-day isolation for contacts of cases.
But they argue that these trials fail to meet several requirements in good clinical practice guidelines, such as sufficient information about how the trials are carried out, and what would happen should there be any significant safety concerns.

They outline several concerns including:
* risks due to missed infections by lateral flow tests in schools
* inadequate informed consent
* lack of consideration and communication of possible harms
* additional risks to children, staff and families posed by the spread of the delta variant
* lack of robust mitigations (masks, ventilation, smaller bubbles, outdoor learning) in schools

These concerns have become even greater in the light of the dominance of the delta variant and recall of the INNOVA lateral flow test following investigations by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), they explain.
"In light of the above, we ask the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) to suspend these trials immediately, pending adoption of comprehensive mitigations and to allow time to prepare and provide vital clarity to students, families, teachers, the wider public and the scientific community about the scientific justification and ethical considerations for these trials," they write.
"We would be very concerned about results from these trials being used as the basis for any public health policy, given the assessment of risk of increased transmission arising from these trials is inadequate."

They add: "It is deeply concerning that the daily contact testing trials are being presented as a solution for educational disruption when so little has been done in the way of basic and highly effective mitigations that would help reduce educational disruption, and investment in catch-up learning to address inequities created by this." 
"Keeping potentially infected and infectious children and staff in school may make attendance numbers look better for the short term, but the risks and potential consequences are very serious," they conclude.

Wednesday, 16 June 2021

Questions for a DGS candidate from members in Wales

As part of the ongoing nominations stage of the campaign to elect the NEU's first elected Deputy General Secretary, two all-Wales hustings have been organised for NEU Cymru members.

As I explained at the first of those hustings, hosted by Caerphilly NEU on 10 June, the devolution of powers to the Welsh Government presents a somewhat different context for educators in Wales - but also some different opportunities for collective organisation.

Up to now, Wales has managed to avoid the break-up of education into academy chains that has inflicted so much damage in England, and won curriculum changes that at least move closer to putting the needs of children and educational expertise first, rather than the narrowing of the curriculum enforced by SATs in England.

Of course, contradictions remain, and NEU Cymru members will know that for change to be implemented properly, it requires time for training and curriculum development and funding for sufficient staffing and resources.

Therefore, the issue of education funding remains a key one. The Westminster Government announcement of recovery expenditure of just £50 per pupil is clear evidence that they have no intention of investing in children’s futures. In Wales, as the block grant  has fallen, so has education spending fallen - by 6% in real-terms - and there is good reason to fear that Westminster will seek to cut further still.

Therefore, NEU Cymru, alongside the whole of the NEU, is going to need to organise to expose the cuts and the unmet needs of our learners and build a united community campaign to demand the funding that’s needed.

But the fact that education decisions are devolved gives the Union organising avenues that aren’t open in the same way in England. For example, the work done by the Union and its supply activists showed how pressure led to gains on an all-Wales basis with the New Framework Agreement for supply teachers. But, of course, those gains have been limited while agencies continue to ignore those pay rates – and the battle continues to win the direct employment of supply teachers paid according to the STPCD and as part of the TPS.

But, as well as that continued campaign for supply colleagues, I would want to discuss with NEU Cymru members whether a campaign could be fought to win a National Contract for Wales for all education staff. I have long argued that the NEU should bring together they key concerns around pay, working hours and education into one unified campaign for such a new National Contract for all. But, as was achieved in some Local Authorities through winning ‘workload charters’, while building such a campaign on a union-wide basis, we should also look to make gains through individual employers and, through putting pressure on the Welsh Government, across Wales.

Here is a shortened version of my contribution, posted to YouTube:


Since the hustings, I have been asked to respond to a couple of supplementary questions which there was not time to answer at the hustings. Here are my replies:

1) "What commitment will you be making to listening to Welsh educators and can you give practical examples of how you will do this? 

I want to restate the commitment that I made at the hustings last week that, "in electing me, you will have a DGS who listens and takes account of different points of view" and "who recognises the need to go out to engage many members not involved in the Union". 

This commitment, of course, applies to educators across the Union but certainly to educators in Wales who are working in a devolved system which differs in some important ways from England. In listening to the experiences of educators in Wales, the Union also needs to ensure that it exchanges those experiences with colleagues from the rest of the Union, and, indeed, vice versa. In that way, lessons that may be learned on, say, curriculum changes in Wales, or, for example, on SEN/ALN issues in England, can be shared to best effect. 

Fundamentally, of course, educators across the whole Union face the same pressures of funding cuts and excessive workload and these over-arching campaigns must be fought union-wide, bringing together educators from every nation. As DGS, I will strive to ensure that Union policy is written in a way that is applicable to educators across the Union to facilitate such united campaigning. I would also want to remind the various policy and campaigns teams at Head Office that the particular context of Wales is also always remembered in their work and proposals.

Practically, as a DGS committed to listening to the voices of members, it goes without saying that I will make myself available to speak to members in Wales both in person and through online conferencing. For example, I would be very happy to speak to, and discuss with, members at the Wales Council and NEU Cymru Conference. I would also hold regular "meet with Martin" calls where members could raise issues with me directly as DGS.

However, I believe that the key to making sure the voices of Welsh educators are heard, and, indeed, to ensure that the whole Union is  genuinely “a lay-led Union” in practice, is to have thriving Local Districts, workplace rep and member networks. As DGS, my commitment would be, firstly, to provide leadership that emphasised the importance of building those structures, rooted in the experiences and needs of NEU members in the workplace, and, secondly, to make sure the issues and concerns being raised were heard and acted upon by the Union.

District meetings need to be well advertised, regularly held, and built for, with discussion topics that will attract members. The agendas should make sure workplace reps are given a voice and, at the same time, a direction to address the issues they are facing. For example, I would be keen to discuss further whether the possibility of a campaign around a "National Contract for Wales", seeking negotiations with the Welsh Government on key demands around pay, workload and staffing, might be one that would build interest and support.

I know that supply members have already done important work in Wales. This provides an example of how networks can be built bringing together educators facing particular issues for the Union, for example, as well as supply educators, support staff, women and young educators. 

As DGS, I would commit to helping NEU Cymru in building in this way, and to discuss with Executive members and NEU Cymru what resources and staffing might be needed. Through such an approach, I hope NEU Cymru would grow and be strengthened and the voice of Welsh educators more clearly heard, not just by me as DGS, but within Local Districts, within the Union as a whole and, of course, by both the Welsh and Westminster governments!

2) "How would candidates ensure fairness in performance management procedures for ALN Teachers, as the current one size fits all approach by using mainstream standards is not always fair?

This is certainly a concern that is not restricted to Wales but is raised by SEN and ALN teachers across the Union, as well as by staff more generally. I have provided advice as a caseworker on the issue, as I explain below. However, fundamentally, performance management procedures will remain inherently unfair whilst linked to performance pay and a model of pupil progress which places too much emphasis on narrow learning outcomes. Therefore, while giving advice to support ALN teachers right now, we must also raise the wider need to win a new National Contract that, as I have called for in a motion tabled at the NEU Annual Conference 2021 agenda, includes the demand for guaranteed pay progression and an end to performance-related pay. It was a pity that this specific demand was removed in a "delete all and replace" amendment when debated at the NEU National Executive in May. I certainly hope that, with further discussion, this demand will be included in our campaign for a new 'National Contract for Education'.

The emphasis on 'pupil progress' is based on a false linear model that assumes all children progress at a prescribed rate. It has led in too many schools to a damaging emphasis on "RAG" rating of pupil progress, placing unhealthy pressure on both staff and students. This is, of course, even more the case with children with Additional Learning Needs. Education must be based on a more holistic viewpoint that emphasises progress in social and emotional terms too. Perhaps the 'four purposes' in the new curriculum in Wales - and specifically the aim to develop "healthy, confident individuals" - can be used as an argument to support ALN staff in resisting a narrow application of performance management targets. Instead, performance management targets should be based on this wider aim.

Specifically, in terms of casework advice, then I attach some guidance that I produce as Lewisham NUT Secretary in 2015. While this was general advice to all members based on policies specific to this London Local Authority at that time, I believe that there are points within it that can still be generalised in answer to the query about ALN staff performance management. In particular, it advises that, rather than accepting numerical targets which cannot possible be genuinely ‘SMART’, targets should be agreed that link to the work that the teacher is doing in a more general way. One example that I listed, which might have been appropriate for a London-based SEN/ALN teacher, was "work to develop distinctive teaching approaches to support those pupils with English as an additional language". 

I hope that's helpful but, as the questioner implies, the real solution is not, of course, via individual casework, but to change the basis of our existing performance management system and to break its link with narrow pupil progress and performance pay.

Thursday, 3 June 2021

'Recovery Commissioner' resigns - demand the funding our schools and colleges need

So, having commissioned Sir Kevan Collins to report on the investment needed to (in their words) "catch-up" after the pandemic, the Treasury have refused to foot the bill of £15bn, instead stumping up less than 10% of what was asked for. That's just £6,000 a year for an average primary school.

In response, Collins has resigned, saying "I do not believe it is credible that a successful recovery can be achieved with a programme of support of this size".

On this, Collins is of course absolutely correct. But it isn't just the funding for 'recovery' that is woefully inadequate. As the NEU and the School Cuts campaign have been arguing for years, education as a whole needs permanent and ongoing investment to make sure the staffing is in place to make sure all needs are met and our large class sizes are reduced.

Expert analysis shows that schools and colleges have suffered from years of real-term spending cuts. Many schools have been announcing further job cuts for the end of this academic year, with support staff posts particularly vulnerable. The pandemic has also hit the Early Years sector particularly hard whilst the critical underfunding of SEND budgets has only got worse. 

Is an extended school day the best use of increased funds?

Given our long-standing campaign for increased education spending, it is laughable that Tory Minister Nadhim Zahawi  has tried to blame teaching unions for Collins' resignation! Zahawi complains that unions "resisted the idea of extending the school day in the first place". But there's no contradiction between questioning the extension of the school day and demanding proper investment in quality education.

Making tired children sit in class, or with tutors, for even longer days of "catch-up cramming" isn't what's needed. It could even do more harm than good by driving out any love of learning. 

And, in practice, the pressure to staff an extra half an hour or so on the day would be on existing teachers and support staff. But, (as discussed separately), we are already at breaking point with our existing workload. Proper investment in additional staffing is vitally needed, not cheap-rate tutoring schemes - and that would be best primarily spent on support within the existing school day, rather than in extending it.

First and foremost, class sizes need to be cut. The UK has some of the largest numbers in school classes globally, especially in primary schools:

Cutting class sizes would ensure pupils had more individual attention, and would also reduce teacher workload as well. 

Reducing class sizes and increasing in-class support also ensures that children receive support alongside their peers, rather than being withdrawn from them. This is significant because, rather than mistakenly emphasising so-called 'lost learning' against the demands of a fixed curriculum, the main need for "catch-up" for children who have suffered most in the pandemic is their social skills and general well-being. That's because they have had less opportunity to be able to play and interact with their peers.

So, while some additional high quality individual or small group tutoring might be needed, maximising learning within the whole-class setting has important advantages for learning in a wider sense. There's also a need for schools to be able to provide greater pastoral support, with additional mentors and counsellors as well, particularly to support mental health.

These are decisions that schools should be given the flexibility to decide as best meets their circumstances  but, above all, with the funding necessary to be able to meet those needs.

No to schools operating longer 'exam factory' shifts

If schools are going to offer extended sessions, then they should not be focussed on formal learning but instead offer after-school opportunities for children to interact and play with their peers in a different way. After-school sessions should concentrate on activities such as sport, drama, art and music that many families cannot afford to pay for their children to participate in. Staffing should be recruited additionally, rather than increasing existing staff workload further.

Sadly, Williamson and the Treasury's actions over the last 24 hours confirm that they aren't interested in genuinely investing in the future. Instead they are looking to get by on the cheap by trying to force overworked staff and stressed students to simply work for longer. Together, parents, staff and students must say no - and unions prepare action to oppose any attempt to impose a further worsening of conditions.

Indeed, we should go further and demand the additional investment our schools and colleges need and a new National Contract for all staff that includes trade-union negotiated class size and staffing policies that makes sure there is sufficient staffing in place to meet needs - as well as limiting workload.


Wednesday, 2 June 2021

Prepare action to oppose a damaging increase to the school day

On BBC news this morning, hapless Education Secretary Gavin Williamson confirmed what was already clear to most educators - that he is "enthusiastic" about a permanent extension to the school day. This is a threat that must be taken seriously by the NEU, with plans being made now to oppose it with action if the Tories press ahead with this damaging proposal.

Child-care before genuine education

The Government determination to open schools as fully as possible over the last year, despite their role in transmitting Covid, has already made clear that Ministers, and their big business backers, see schooling as a child-care service as much as an educational one.

Of course, even the education they force on young people and schools is a narrow, 'exam factory' education dominated by high-stakes testing and league tables used to grade students, staff and schools in their corporate vision of an education marketplace. What parents and educators must demand is an end to the exam factory schooling, not making the production-line run for an even longer shift every day!

Williamson's comments came during an interview about the announcement of an extra £1.4 billion for what has been described as 'catch-up' tutoring. Of course, what many children needed to 'catch-up' on above all was a chance to play and interact with peers again, with a focus on their broader well-being and mental health, rather than just additional lesson content. However, even to meet that narrower goal, £1.4 billion works out at about £50 per pupil per year - far less than required to provide sufficient additional staffing, one-to-one and small group support (see update below).

But, instead of proper investment in education, this austerity-minded Government thinks it can do better, for cheaper, by simply extending the school day. In their minds, that means getting more for less out of their workforce and more time to 'fill' children with facts. It is also a regime designed to instil the mentality that they - and their parents - need to spend more time at work, and less time together.

The school day in England is already longer than the global average

Educationally, extending the school day won't help students learn. They, just like the staff teaching them, are exhausted enough at the end of the existing school day, let alone an extended one. Concentration will not be maintained. 

I explained in March in a first post responding to Williamson's suggestion of longer schooling that pupils in England already spend longer in school than the global average. 

OECD (2014): How much time do students spend in the classroom?

Excessive hours are already driving out too many school staff

School staff, of course, already work far too long as well. As budgets tighten further and posts are cut, remaining support staff are being bullied into taking on roles outside their job description and working additional unpaid overtime.  As for teachers, even the Government's own figures show that they are already working over a 50 hour week. 


Send a clear warning - we'll take action if you press ahead 

The time at the end of the existing school day when ignorant Ministers like Williamson might think teachers are just heading home, is of course time when teachers are desperately trying to 'catch-up' on at least some of their planning and marking. If they now have to continue teaching for longer, that work will now take up even more of their evening and weekends than it does now.

Excessive workload is already the main reason why so many teachers leave the profession - a staggering third of new entrants within the first five years in the job. These plans will drive even more out of teaching - unless we organise to make sure the Tories' plans are dropped and, instead, action taken to reduce, not increase, workload.

Under current contracts with 1265 hours of 'directed time', school employers could not enforce a longer working day. However, the pressure on staff to do so, including the pressure from performance pay, will still be exerted in some schools. School groups will need to organise firmly to make sure workload isn't increased yet further through 'divide-and-rule' amongst staff. 

If Williamson and Johnson press further with trying to impose additional working hours, such an attack could not be fought school-by-school alone. That's why all teacher unions must make firmly clear that any attempt to impose changed contracts will be strongly fought together.

What I posted in March is even more the case today - "Unions need to boldly respond with a clear warning that, if the Government tries to enforce worse conditions, we will organise national action to defend staff and education".


Read more on martin4dgs.co.uk

UPDATE: 'Recovery Commissioner' resigns - also posted separately here

So, having commissioned Sir Kevan Collins to report on the investment needed to (in their words) "catch-up" after the pandemic, the Treasury have refused to foot the bill of £15bn, instead stumping up less than 10% of what was asked for. That's just £6,000 a year for an average primary school.

In response, Collins has resigned, saying "I do not believe it is credible that a successful recovery can be achieved with a programme of support of this size".

On this, Collins is of course absolutely correct. But it isn't just the funding for 'recovery' that is woefully inadequate. As the NEU and the School Cuts campaign have been arguing for years, education as a whole needs permanent and ongoing investment to make sure the staffing is in place to make sure all needs are met and our large class sizes are reduced.

Expert analysis shows that schools and colleges have suffered from years of real-term spending cuts. Many schools have been announcing further job cuts for the end of this academic year, with support staff posts particularly vulnerable. The pandemic has also hit the Early Years sector particularly hard whilst the critical underfunding of SEND budgets has only got worse. 

Is an extended school day the best use of increased funds?

Given our long-standing campaign for increased education spending, it is laughable that Tory Minister Nadhim Zahawi has tried to blame teaching unions for Collins' resignation! Zahawi complains that unions "resisted the idea of extending the school day in the first place". But there's no contradiction between questioning the extension of the school day and demanding proper investment in quality education.

Making tired children sit in class, or with tutors, for even longer days of "catch-up cramming" isn't what's needed. It could even do more harm than good by driving out any love of learning. 

And, in practice, the pressure to staff an extra half an hour or so on the day would be on existing teachers and support staff. But, (as discussed above), we are already at breaking point with our existing workload. Proper investment in additional staffing is vitally needed, not cheap-rate tutoring schemes - and that would be best primarily spent on support within the existing school day, rather than in extending it.

First and foremost, class sizes need to be cut. The UK has some of the largest numbers in school classes globally, especially in primary schools:

Cutting class sizes would ensure pupils had more individual attention, and would also reduce teacher workload as well. 

Reducing class sizes and increasing in-class support also ensures that children receive support alongside their peers, rather than being withdrawn from them. This is significant because, rather than mistakenly emphasising so-called 'lost learning' against the demands of a fixed curriculum, the main need for "catch-up" for children who have suffered most in the pandemic is their social skills and general well-being. That's because they have had less opportunity to be able to play and interact with their peers.

So, while some additional high quality individual or small group tutoring might also be needed, maximising learning within the whole-class setting has important advantages for learning in a wider sense. There's also a need for schools to be able to provide greater pastoral support, with additional mentors and counsellors as well, particularly to support mental health.

These are decisions that schools should be given the flexibility to decide as best meets their circumstances  but, above all, with the funding necessary to be able to meet those needs.

No to schools operating longer 'exam factory' shifts

If schools are going to offer extended sessions, then they should not be focussed on formal learning but instead offer after-school opportunities for children to interact and play with their peers in a different way. After-school sessions should concentrate on activities such as sport, drama, art and music that many families cannot afford to pay for their children to participate in. Staffing should be recruited additionally, rather than increasing existing staff workload further.

Sadly, Williamson and the Treasury's actions over the last 24 hours confirm that they aren't interested in genuinely investing in the future. Instead they are looking to get by on the cheap by trying to force overworked staff and stressed students to simply work for longer. Together, parents, staff and students must say no - and unions prepare action to oppose any attempt to impose a further worsening of conditions.

Indeed, we should go further and demand the additional investment our schools and colleges need and a new National Contract for all staff that includes trade-union negotiated class size and staffing policies that makes sure there is sufficient staffing in place to meet needs - as well as limiting workload.

Tuesday, 18 May 2021

Organise to oppose Williamson’s academisation plans

In April, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson announced that he wants all schools to become academies. While educators have rightly learned to treat Williamson’s ill-considered pronouncements with disdain, it was nevertheless a warning that this Government still plans to push further towards doing away entirely with any kind of democratic local control over education through elected Local Authorities.

A push for further academisation by Ministers risks more Governing Bodies wondering if they should ‘jump before they are pushed’ into joining a Multi Academy Trust, particularly if the Labour Party’s previously firmer opposition to academisation weakens under its new leadership. 

Meanwhile, the legislation that forces unwanted academisation onto schools deemed to have been ‘failed’ by Ofsted will continue to do its damage.  But the tenacious struggle by staff and parents at Moulsecoomb Primary in Brighton to defend their community status shows how firm opposition can  – and must – be built and given our full support.

Instead of allowing further academisation, educators, parents and unions need to step up our calls for an end to academisation and for the return of schools to genuine democratic local control where they can work together in meaningful partnership, funded to fully meet needs, and with all staff employed under national agreed pay and conditions.

Hands Off Moulsecoomb Primary School

5 reasons to oppose an academy transfer:

1. Becoming an academy doesn’t improve educational attainment 

The academisation of schools has been just one aspect of a global drive to break-up state education and impose an education market of competing chains of schools. In England, Ofsted, SATs and exam league tables have been the weapons used to unfairly grade and compare both schools and school students, creating a culture of ‘failure’, instead of genuine school improvement. 

Aside from the right-wing ideologues that believe in the magical powers of the ‘market’, it will come as no surprise to most people that the research evidence has consistently shown that academisation does NOT result in improved educational attainment. 

The results of a four-year evaluation published by researchers at the UCL Institute of Education in 2018 concluded that “there is no positive impact on the attainment and progress scores of pupils in MATs when compared to equivalent non-MAT schools”. It also noted that “pupils in larger MATs did worse, particularly in secondary schools”.

The research also pointed out the damaging effect of the marketisation of schools on education as a whole: “Schools are facing pressure to get good exam results and Ofsted grades, or face being taken over by a MAT. Many schools have felt the need to narrow their curriculum and focus relentlessly on test outcomes in response”.

Research from the Education Policy Institute has found similar findings. Their comparison of school performance across every trust and local authority in England in 2017 found “little difference in the performance of schools in academy chains and local authorities” overall.  

The Education Policy Institute’s analysis of primary school results also noted that while “Local authorities make up 15 of the top 20 school groups at Key Stage 2 … academy chains are over-represented in the lowest performing groups”. 

This mirrors the findings of the House of Commons Education Committee that “We have been unable to locate any evidence ... of a relationship between primary academy status and raised attainment”.

2. Academisation and the ‘market’ in education have increased inequality

Instead of encouraging genuine school improvement, through sharing of good practice, reduced workload, better training and support, and funding to meet needs, the marketisation of schools has done the opposite. 

The pressure of league tables and Ofsted gradings has encouraged schools to ‘game the system’, changing their intake to improve results at the expense of their ‘competitors’, rather than genuinely improving education for all. Research has shown that Multi-Academy Trusts have particularly failed to meet the needs of disadvantaged pupils.  

Fragmentation, and the undermining of national pay and conditions and facility time arrangements through academisation, has also increased inequality for staff as well.

The marketisation of education has to be reversed, including reversing academisation.

The authors of the 2018 UCL Institute of Education research spelt out what is happening: 

“The system is hard-wired to encourage selfish behaviour, because the consequences for schools of a drop in exam scores or Ofsted grade can be so catastrophic. At present we see a chaotic system of winners and losers, with increasing incoherence and a loss of equity as a result” 

"Lower-status schools frequently face a concentration of challenges including under-subscription, movement of pupils throughout the school year and disproportionate numbers of disadvantaged and hard to place children. These schools were also most likely to report a negative impact as a result of austerity cuts to wider local services for the most vulnerable children, previously provided by local authorities."

Research from the Sutton Trust concludes that “Two-thirds of academy chains perform below the national average for all state schools on key measures of attainment for disadvantaged young people.  Improving their educational achievement was [supposedly - MPD!] the original reason why academies were set up.  In this regard they have not succeeded”.

The British Journal of Sociology also found that academies are more likely than other schools to employ teachers who are unqualified. “The greatest increases are among those structured more like businesses — academies run by government-approved sponsors or belonging to a chain of schools”.

Pay inequality for staff working in academies is also consistently shown in the Government’s school workforce data. The latest Government report confirms that “Average salaries for classroom and other leadership teachers are higher on average in LA maintained schools than academies”. However, pay inequality is also greater within academies too. The school workforce report also notes that: “The average salary for headteachers is however, higher in academies than in LA maintained schools”. 

Of course, MATs have not just been spending their budgets on increasing Headteacher pay. Schools Week have dubbed the extortionate top salaries in some MATs as an “emerging ‘super league’ of academy trust CEO pay”. Here is their “top ten”:

Figures from Schools Week

3. Becoming an academy will not protect your school from budget cuts

Just as in the NHS, imposing a market on schools was supposedly meant to improve ‘efficiency’. The lack of accountability that comes with privatisation instead risks spending being diverted to cronyism and pay rises for those at the top.

But, overall, the break-up of state education has been a mechanism to cheapen the cost of education, both by making it easier to cut the Local Authority services that schools used to be able to rely on, and by driving down staffing costs. That’s because the fragmentation of education into so many different employers has helped to weaken trade union organisation and to undermine nationally agreed pay and conditions.

While, in the initial drive to encourage academy transfers under Tony Blair, financial incentives were provided to encourage schools to convert, academisation is certainly no longer a way for governors to protect themselves from budget cuts. In fact, without the support of a Local Authority, an academy leaves itself more exposed. The most recent National Audit Office report into schools’ financial sustainability – last compiled in 2016 – confirmed that a greater proportion of academies were running annual deficits than local authority maintained schools:

Criticism over the extent of “related-party transactions” being carried out by academies - payments to individuals or organisations with which senior staff have relationships – led to a tightening of Government regulations. But, without genuine democratic oversight, the issue is not going to go away. 

For example, the TES reported on one expanding Multi Academy Trust based in Wakefield spending nearly £40,000 on related-party transactions in 2018/19 alone.

4. Being an academy doesn’t increase educational ‘freedom’

Academisation was sold to schools as a way of giving them ‘freedom’ from the ‘bureaucracy’ of a Local Authority. Certainly, when schools are returned to   local democratic control, it must also be done in a way that ensures there is a genuine voice for schools, staff, parents, unions and the wider community. For example, the recent proposals from the Socialist Education Association call for an elected education committee or board.

In reality, academisation has provided no genuine ‘freedom’ at all. Instead it has allowed greater Government centralisation and the growth of unaccountable Multi Academy Trusts where parent, staff and student voices are rarely heard.

Once converted, schools become a commodity that can be transferred from one MAT business to another without their say.

Supporters of academisation continue to argue that MATs can just takeover the roles that Local Authorities used to provide, including the educational partnerships and collaboration needed for genuine school improvement.

But, as the 2020 UCL research quoted above puts it: “MATs are commonly referred to as a form of partnership, but we argue that this is inappropriate … We argue MATs are best understood in terms of ‘mergers and acquisitions’, with prescribed models of governance and leadership largely derived from the private and, to a lesser extent, voluntary sectors”.

Those models of governance leave key decisions in the hands of a small Trust Board. Individual school governing bodies within a Trust have little power, if, indeed, they are allowed to exist at all by the MAT.  

As a 2019 House of Commons Public Accounts Committee report explained “Parents and local people have to fight to obtain even basic information about their children’s schools, and academy trusts do not do enough to communicate and explain decisions that affect the schools they are responsible for and how they are spending public money.”

But if parents and Governors want to change their mind and return to Local Authority maintained status, it’s too late. The current legislation means that a decision to become an academy is irreversible. What’s more, once that transfer has happened, the Government is entitled to then transfer a school to a new Trust, without any further say by staff, parents and Governors. Over a thousand academies have been ‘re-brokered’ to new trusts in the last five years.

And, of course, the tendency is towards ‘monopoly’ – with smaller MATs being taken over by a few larger corporate MATs who would then dominate public education without any real democratic oversight.

5. Schools will do far better in partnerships without becoming academies

The real solution to ending the chaotic and damaging fragmentation of state education in England is to return all schools to democratic local control. But, until then, remaining maintained schools need to resist the pressure to convert and develop their own school partnerships instead.

While educational research continues to show that the academisation is failing education, it also shows that what really works is genuine partnership between local schools within a Local Authority.

For example, the successful school improvement initiatives around the London Challenge from 2003-2011 were based on local support for teaching and learning, not academisation. 

Some groups of schools are working well in partnerships as local authority schools. 

For example, in response to Gavin Williamson’s announcement in April, Harry Kutty, Chair of the Aspire Community Trust, a group of maintained schools in Southampton, tweeted “It’s not all about MATs. It’s about collaboration, culture and a pursuit of the very best experience and outcomes for all. Suggesting that only MATs can create systems around these principles is simply not true”.

Of course, if Local Authority services and education budgets continue to be cut, then the resources needed to meet all students’ needs, and to develop genuine partnership and school improvement, will be even harder to find. That’s why, in opposing academisation, we also have to fight for education funding and oppose cuts to local authority services.

We must make clear that academisation doesn’t provide any way forward. In fact, it is part of a deliberate strategy to help governments drive down the costs of education. Instead, we have to organise to defend all schools fighting academisation and demand a return of all schools to democratic local control, funded to meet the needs of all.

You can download this post as a 4-page A4 leaflet here.


And visit my Martin4DGS campaign website for further information here.


Tuesday, 27 April 2021

We need a different strategy to really tackle workload

Download this post as a Martin4DGS leaflet from here: https://bit.ly/3sZjTZs

Excessive workload has long been the greatest concern for most NEU members. It’s the main reason why so many teachers leave the profession altogether every year, unable to put up any longer with 50+ hour weeks, lost weekends and evenings and the constant pressure from unreasonable demands and targets.

To make a difference to members’ lives, and to education overall, workload must therefore be central to the Union’s organising and negotiating strategy. A co-ordinated emphasis this term on working hours is a good place to start. However, a focus on teachers’ ‘Directed Time’ will only make quite limited gains. If we really want to tackle workload, a much wider strategy is needed. 

A Directed Time campaign alone can only make limited gains

The Union is calling for all reps this term to bargain in their workplace to ensure a 1265 hours Directed Time calendar is in place for next year. To be precise, what’s really needed is a 1265-hour time budget plus a calendar which shows how directed meetings and events are set out over the year ahead. That way reps can also argue for the policy that used to be enforced by the legacy NUT ‘action short of strike action’ of “meetings outside session times should be held on average no more than once a week”.

As the Directed Time budget examples in the Union’s materials show, insisting on a maximum of 1265 directed hours can help ensure that staff meetings are limited to one a week, parents’ evenings limited in duration, and pupil supervision limited to the start and end of sessions, not over lunch break. It could also protect against the minority of schools trying to operate extended school days. But, while all organising gains are welcome, a focus on Directed Hours will not tackle the main workload burden. To do that, we must set the bar much higher.

Teachers’ existing contracts are too weak to enforce a limit on overall workload

Reps are being asked to use paragraphs 51 and 52 of most teachers’ national conditions - the School Teachers’ Pay and Conditions Document – as a bargaining tool. However, any rep, or any employer, reading those contractual conditions will soon come across the sting in the tail, paragraph 51.7:

51.7 “In addition to [directed hours] a teacher must work such reasonable additional hours as may be necessary to enable the effective discharge of the teacher’s professional duties, including in particular planning and preparing courses and lessons; and assessing, monitoring, recording and reporting on the learning needs, progress and achievements of assigned pupils”.

In other words, beyond the word ‘reasonable’, limited PPA rights, and a reference in 52.4 to the need for a ‘satisfactory’ work/life balance, the STPCD sets no enforceable limit on the kind of work that mainly keeps teachers in school until late - and eats up their evenings and weekends too. Planning, preparation, assessment, grading, marking, recording, and reporting all lie outside ‘directed time’. 

In short, the STPCD teachers’ contractual conditions are just too weak to be used as an effective bargaining tool. We will not solve the burden of teacher workload unless we mount a bargaining and negotiating strategy which seeks to puts a limit on overall working hours, not just directed time.

2021 Conference and Workload Charters

2021 NEU Annual Conference policy noted the disgraceful facts that: 

Teachers continue to work more hours per week than the Working Time Regulations maximum of 48 hours, with one study finding that 1 in 4 teachers works more than 60 hours a week;

Higher class sizes and job losses, driven by school budget cuts, have further worsened workload for all staff. 

Support staff workload is also deteriorating with a “job creep” of additional demands being imposed on them on top of their existing duties.

The government’s workplace reviews of planning, marking and data policies have made little, if any, significant impact;

Excessive workload is the key contributor to significant rates of mental health issues among teachers and support staff, as well as the crisis in teacher recruitment and retention where one third of newly qualified teachers leave the profession within five years.

So, what needs to be done beyond bargaining for Directed Time? Conference agreed that the Union must “re-launch workload as a priority campaign for the Union” and also that the Union should “disseminate Workload charters currently in use and carry out an analysis into their effectiveness at reducing workload”. 

Workload Charters, such as those negotiated with Local Authorities in Nottingham and Coventry, seek to put in place stronger workload limits than exist in the STPCD. For example, the Coventry charter calls for a review of planning, marking and data policies that then ensure that “for teachers, the workload requirements of all policies should be reasonably deliverable within an additional ten hours per week”. On top of directed hours, this could cut overall working time to closer to 40 hours.

Yes, the effectiveness of existing Charters, including how workplace organisation has helped ensure working hours have been limited in practice, needs to be reviewed. But this Conference policy, looking at an overall limit on working time, not just Directed Time, needs to be put into practice.

Win a new National Contract for all educators

There was one more key motion tabled on the Conference agenda that was sadly not reached. A motion that I had drafted, and I was due to propose before debating time ran out, set out a strategy to win a new National Contract for all staff. 

I believe that a campaign for such a National Contract is the best way to win on workload – as well as on pay and conditions generally. Such a contract must also include agreed common national pay scales and an end to performance-related pay. But ending PRP is also a workload demand too. The threat of withholding pay progression, often based on imposed test and exam targets, is too often used to bully staff into working excessive hours.

Winning a new National Contract for all would mean that we no longer have to rely on the weak provisions in the STPCD for teachers. It would also overcome the fragmentation in national conditions for all staff brought about by academisation and increasing school-by-school discretion.

To end excessive teacher workload, I propose that our National Contract demands should include:

A minimum 20% planning, preparation, and assessment time for all within the timetabled week.

A minimum additional 10% release time for staff with additional duties e.g. subject leadership.

A maximum limit on working hours over 195 working days.

Trade-union negotiated policies that ensure teachers can complete their planning, preparation and assessment and other responsibilities within this limit.

But to make this possible, and to prevent workload just being transferred to other colleagues instead, we must also demand sufficient staffing to meet needs. By implication, we also need an end to the high stakes testing and accountability regime that lies behind so many of the demands on schools. We would also need a trade-union negotiated class size and staffing policy and negotiating structures between elected reps and management to be set up with every school and employer, backed up by strong NEU organisation, to ensure that the Contract is being fully complied with.

Don’t delay – implement a strategy to win

I believe that such a strategy could lift the sights of every educator, every NEU rep and Local Officer. It could bring the whole Union together around a campaign that would really make a difference to every NEU member. It would also allow us to explain to parents and the public our different vision to the current ‘exam factory’ curriculum – properly funded and without constant staff turnover.

Yes, as my proposed Conference Motion also stated, such a unified national campaign would also need unified national action to win it, including preparation for a national ballot for strike action. Ballots could also be counted by employer so that, alongside national negotiations, the Union can also pursue ‘disaggregated’ action to make gains on an employer-by-employer basis too.

Yes, any ballot also needs careful prior preparation - taking the campaign out to every member, using what we have learned from using online methods like Zoom, as well as the physical meetings and rallies. It also requires the ‘technical’ preparations of making sure we are ‘ballot ready’ to meet the legally imposed thresholds, with correct home addresses and mechanisms in place for reps to check members are returning their formal votes postally in as high a turnout as possible.

But it is not enough to simply call for a ‘National Contract’ as a slogan – then put off building for it to some unknown time in the future. That will leave more exhausted members quitting the job. It means continuing to expect individual reps to try and make the most of an unacceptably weak set of conditions, when what we need is for the Union to give a national lead and start organising across the whole Union for a National Contract for all. 

The newly elected National Executive should start giving that lead by agreeing the Motion that was never reached at NEU Conference, and start work without delay on preparing to win a new National Contract for all staff. 

That’s what I would be calling for, and organising for, as new Deputy General Secretary of the NEU.

Friday, 9 April 2021

Why we need a National Contract for Education

NEU Conference 2021 has had to take place via Zoom, with delegates sitting at their own homes. Such a Conference has obviously not been without its glitches and idiosyncrasies but, in the end, managed to debate and agree a wide range of policy.

Disappointingly, one of the few motions that was never reached was a motion that I had hoped to propose on a “National Contract for Education”. Conference voted to close the debate before it was heard, even though there would have been time to debate it, and still leave time for another important unfinished motion on Pride in Our Union.

However, while the debate was not had at Annual Conference, it’s certainly a proposal that I want to continue to raise for discussion during the campaign for Deputy General Secretary. 

As usual, our Annual Conference has agreed many good demands but the question for delegates as we draw Conference to a close is always the same – now, how do we achieve them? How can we defend pay, jobs and conditions? How can we get rid of SATs, Ofsted and League Tables for good - and build a curriculum based on equality and the real needs of children and our communities? 

The last year of the pandemic has shown that lobbying alone will not succeed, especially now that the Labour Party front bench can no longer be relied on to support NEU policy as under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. The successful use of Section 44 showed in January how we can win - by giving a clear national lead, calling on members to act together union-wide.

The Motion on the National Contract would have come at the end of a series of motions around pay, workload and conditions – but it was the motion that could have brought those together in one national strategy.

Because, while we can – and will – continue to win some gains at a school level, issues that affect every educator will need to be tackled by acting across employers – and across the whole Union. How do we do that?

We all know the organising watchwords we use when we train our reps – that our demands need to be “deeply felt and widely felt” if we are going to be able to act collectively. Now for some educators, their key grievance will be workload, for others pay, for others job losses and the lack of support for students. A campaign for a new ‘National Contract’ for all can bring together those key grievances into one unified campaign – and form the basis for such a unified national campaign of action. 

The motion suggests a series of demands:

Firstly, to “Pay school staff properly” – linking the demands we agreed elsewhere in Conference, for significant pay awards for both teaching and support staff and for guaranteed pay progression, not PRP. The Contract must also include trade-union negotiated common pay scales – together with additional London and Fringe allowances – to replace the increasingly fractured pay scales across different employers.

Secondly “An end to excessive teacher workload” – to stop the burden of 50 hour working weeks and unpaid overtime driving staff out of the job through overwork. The Contract should add the long-standing demand for a minimum 20% PPA – plus additional time for those with additional responsibilities – so staff have time to prepare in the school day, not in their evenings, weekends and holidays. The contract must set a real limit to working hours. That doesn’t just mean limiting teachers’ “directed time” but an end to the open-ended wording in the STPCD that also asks for the “additional hours as may be necessary to enable the effective discharge of the teacher’s professional duties”.  

Thirdly “Sufficient Staff to meet needs” - a limit on hours will only be feasible if it is combined with expectations of work that can be achieved within that limit – for teachers and support staff. That means a Contract that also sets out a requirement for trade union negotiated policies, not least on assessment and planning. It also means making sure employers have class size limits and staffing structures that provide the support needed for students, rather than just having to fit to an inadequate school budget.

Fourthly, “Collective Bargaining and Accountability”- having used our workplace strength together to win national demands, then, in turn, we need to use that national strength to insist that every workplace, and every employer, has its own negotiating structures to resolve how our national contractual rights are applied locally, and to negotiate the individual issues that can arise in a particular sector or school.

Where we have national recognition, we should use the opportunity given to us already via the Review Body process to call for these demands as part of an overhaul of the STPCD – while also seeking direct negotiations and collective bargaining for all our members.

Of course, those overtures will be rejected by this hard-nosed Government – unless they are backed up by the threat of national action that would be required to win a national contract. 

As the Motion proposed, however, ballots could also be counted by employer so that, alongside national negotiations, the Union can also pursue disaggregated action to make gains on an employer-by-employer basis.

Clearly, union-wide action needs careful preparation. That includes the ‘technical’ preparations of making sure we are ‘ballot ready’ to meet the legally imposed thresholds, with correct home addresses and setting up mechanisms for reps to check we are getting the vote back postally in as high a turnout as possible.

It needs the campaign preparation - taking the campaign out to every member, using what we have learned from using online methods like Zoom, as well as the physical meetings and rallies.

It also need taking out more widely to parents – to explain why a National Contract for staff is also a National Contract for Education – to stop the constant staff turnover, to limit class sizes and insist on sufficient staffing to improve the learning conditions for young people

But above all, pursuing this approach means we move from lowering members’ confidence by emphasising the barriers in our way – and instead start to raise members’ confidence by emphasising what needs to be done  – and then works out soberly but with determination, how we’re going to do it.


The full wording of Motion 14 - including amendment 14.1 which, as proposer, I was accepting - can be found here.