Promoted by David Beale, 36 Pleasant View, Withnell, Chorley PR6 8SE on behalf of Martin Powell-Davies of TUSC.

Friday 13 July 2007

Defending "outdated" comprehensive education in 'New Labour' Lewisham

Lewisham voters may have hoped that they were electing their Council to run local schools and services. But it seems that Lewisham's "New Labour" councillors think their job is to give schools away to private bidders instead!

A long-running parental campaign finally convinced Lewisham Council that a new secondary school was needed to provide additional places in the north of the borough. But there was never any suggestion that the ‘New School’ would be anything but a Local Authority run community school. But of course the Education Act now means that Council is being told to hold a ‘competition’ to see who should run it. If the New School is given away to become a Trust, Academy or Foundation School, then employment of staff, ownership of the site and admissions arrangements will no longer be in the hands of the elected Council. But instead of fighting this threat, Lewisham's Mayor, Sir Steve Bullock, is accepting it.

The New School would become the fifth secondary school in Lewisham not to participate in the borough’s ‘area-banding’ system. Instead of a planned comprehensive system, admissions will start to splinter into the kind of “free-for-all” that already blights education in some other boroughs. The gap between the ‘best’ schools and the rest will widen further. But that means many families and children will lose out. It could also result in the scandalous situation in Lewisham that over £10 million will have to be found from Council resources to help fund the new school. But the school won’t be owned by Lewisham! How can the Mayor explain that to council tax payers?

I was granted five minutes to speak to the July 11th Mayor and Cabinet on behalf of the joint teacher unions. But Cllr.Massey, responsible for schools, responded by saying that I was defending an "outdated" idea from 40 years ago. What would previous generations of Labour campaigners for comprehensive education have said to that ? Instead of persuading Gordon Brown to change Government policy, Cllr.Massey wants to "celebrate it" !

But, unlike Lewisham, some Councils have at least shown the political will to fight to hold on to their schools. The London Borough of Haringey decided to put in its own ‘bid’ to run its new school as a community school. It successfully beat off other bidders, including Lewisham-based Academy sponsor Haberdashers’ Aske’s, so it can now run the school as a Local Authority comprehensive school.

Clad in bright yellow ‘Defend Education in Lewisham’ campaign t-shirts, parents and staff lobbied last night's meeting. We believe the Mayor should be fighting the whole damaging ‘competition’ legislation. But, if the Labour Council won’t challenge its own Government’s policies, we at least expect them to try and follow Haringey’s lead. Regrettably, the Mayor rejected that approach on July 11th. There will be a further debate at the Council meeting on July 18th where sympathetic socialist councillors are again proposing the Council seeks approval to submit its own bid.

If the Council isn’t prepared to defend Lewisham’s schools, then the Defend Education Campaign is !

Martin Powell-Davies

Tuesday 10 July 2007


Our Union correctly challenged Alan Johnson to
“honour” the commitment to review our 2006 and 2007
pay awards if inflation went over the 3.25% “trigger”.
He refused and then made clear we could expect 2% up
until 2011 to boot ! The Government had called the
NUT’s bluff and waited to see how we responded.
The Union promised a “robust response” but June’s NUT
Executive put off a decision on a national ballot
timetable until July. But now we have been told what
the General Secretary is proposing that timetable
should be - to wait until JANUARY 2008 before we take
action !
This delay will only confirm fears that the Union is
failing to grasp the nettle and call the national
action agreed unanimously back at the Easter
Conference. The supposed ‘unity’ at the June Executive
to commit to a ballot for action “in the Autumn Term”
can now be seen as a way to gloss over two very
different approaches to action.
Steve Sinnott’s proposal is to delay a ballot until
December, after the Review Body reports in early
November, and hope to then get the NASUWT aboard for
joint action in the New Year. But that delay risks
losing the momentum that is building up, frustrating
members who are ready to support action now and, most
of all, prevents us from linking up with unions that
are really serious about taking national action in the
Autumn like the PCS. Why wait for the Review Body to
confirm 2% or thereabouts?
The right approach, as I have been arguing for in my
campaign, is to hold a ballot in September, before the
Review Body reports. This is the only way to protest
against the failure to honour the “trigger” and to
apply real pressure to the Review Body to meet our
demands for a 10% pay rise and for the end of
performance pay.
An early ballot would also help us coordinate action
with other public sector unions and apply the same
kind of pressure that persuaded the Government to
retreat over pensions. It would also be the best way
of pushing the NASUWT into action. A united public
sector strike would be a huge confidence boost for
trade unionists and a blow to Gordon Brown’s prestige.
Of course, that could be the very reason why some
union leaders are holding back.
Unfortunately, some people have accused me of
exaggerating differences over the pay ballot timetable
simply for ‘electioneering’ purposes. But the
differences are very real - and too important for the
future of teachers’ salaries to simply wish away. As I
have said before on this blog, nothing would have
pleased me more than to be proved wrong and for the
Union to agree on an early ballot after all.
Unfortunately, members’ fears that the Union is
“dithering” will only be strengthened if the July 18th
Executive meeting votes to delay action until the New
A delayed ballot will be a setback. NUT Divisions will
have to find ways to maintain the campaign throughout
the Autumn Term such as organising joint rallies with
other public sector unions. A national demonstration
against the pay freeze, as the PCS are proposing to
the TUC in September, would help sustain the momentum.
But when Linda Taaffe suggested this at the June NUT
Executive she could hardly find any other support!
One thing is clear – that this Union needs a fighting
leadership. That’s why I am challenging to be
Vice-President. I hope my campaign can encourage
classroom teachers, reps and local officers to get
organised to build a Union locally and nationally that
is ready and willing to stand up firmly for teachers
and education.

Martin Powell-Davies

News from Lewisham

The summer holidays are drawing near to provide
welcome relief to weary teachers everywhere! However,
there has certainly not been a quiet end to the term
in Lewisham.

As colleagues in other Divisions and in Regional
Office are also telling me, the level of individual
casework is huge, reflecting the pressures weighing
down on teachers and schools. Top of the Lewisham list
of individual issues this year has been 'ill-health',
advising and supporting teachers that are signed off
work, more often than not with work-related stress.

We've also been trying to keep up the pressure on
schools to adopt as supportive a performance
management policy as possible. However, even with the
best policy in place, the new Regulations will still
be biting hard in September. Many staff will find
themselves facing "robust" targets that will
effectively mean "payment-by-results" for teachers on
the Upper Pay Spine. Instead of the Union taking up
the issue as a national fight against the Regulations,
as I argued for at the Easter NUT Conference, staff
will have to rely on the goodwill - or lack of it - of
their own school management. Even when we present a
good case, as two NUT primary colleagues who I
represented in a UPS pay appeal last week discovered
to their cost, governors can usually find a reason to
turn down pay progression if they want to. Staff are
left demoralised - and out of pocket.

The Union has to try and gather that individual anger
into a collective response. That was exactly what I
hope we can achieve at Merlin School, a primary in the
south of the borough. Like hundreds of teachers across
Lewisham, most of the teaching staff there have been
receiving an additional 'retention allowance' which we
won during the battles around staff shortages and
London Allowances some years ago. Now the Governors at
Merlin are trying to take them away. (This is also
happening in other boroughs such as Camden where NUT
members at Parliament Hill School are on strike this
week over the same issue). I met with the Head and
Chair of Governors to try and persuade them to
reconsider but without success. The angry response of
the NUT group was to vote unanimously for strike
action. An indicative ballot should go out this term
that we hope may help persuade governors to think

We had another success last week in persuading the
Council that another primary school would have to
close early for the summer because of the risk from
asbestos in its roof. However, this will be of little
consolation to staff that already fear they may have
been exposed to the fibres. An apparently botched
removal job by sub-contractors last February created a
real risk - and one that was only recognised in July.
Unions certainly won't be letting the matter go away
without some clear answers being provided. The Health
and Safety Executive will be making their own

I've also had to organise a protest at short notice
outside Lewisham's "Mayor and Cabinet" meeting on
Wednesday July 11th. Staff and parents will be
protesting about the threats to community
comprehensive schooling in the borough. That's because
under New Labour's Education Act, the new secondary
school, won by a long-running parental campaign, is
likely to be subject to 'competition' to see which
bidder wants to run the school. The Council may have
to fund a £10 million shortfall in the funding for the
New School, only to then have to hand over the
building to a Trust, Foundation or Academy !

The New School would then also have control of its own
admissions arrangements, further undermining
comprehensive education in the borough. The
polarisation between schools is already widening
within Lewisham. The pupil intake at my own school,
Catford High, has been badly skewed by the setting up
of the nearby Haberdashers' Knight's Academy. That's
why we're demanding that the Council makes its own bid
for a community school - following the successful
example of Haringey where the Council beat off
'competition' from external bidders including the
Lewisham-based Haberdashers' Aske's Hatcham Trust.

Fortunately, we have already built up a lively "Defend
Education in Lewisham Campaign" linking together
different campaigns against Academies, Trusts and
Special School closures. We organised a march of over
300 staff and parents to the Town Hall earlier this
term. I don't expect to get anything like that kind of
turnout at short notice tomorrow but we'll still be
able to make sure our protests are made clear enough
to the press and councillors alike.

Finally, I attended the National Shop Stewards Network
Conference in London on Saturday along with one of our
primary school reps. It was uplifting to discuss with
other reps from different unions and workplaces about
how they were organising against the threats they
faced. (Unfortunately, we had to also warn other
unions hoping to take joint strike action over pay
alongside the NUT that it now looked like we won’t be
taking action until January). Bob Crow, RMT General
Secretary, summed up the Conference by calling for
trade unionists to support a new party to challenge
Labour and the rest. If major trade union leaders like
him put their weight behind such a call, trade
unionists will be able to start to build a political
challenge to the establishment parties that can give
teachers a reason to go out and vote for candidates
that are really prepared to stand up for comprehensive
education at last.

Martin Powell-Davies

Sunday 8 July 2007

St. Helens and Bolton associations both nominated Martin

Martin was nominated by two more associations in the North West this
week. St. Helens and Bolton associations both nominated Martin.

Alongside Wigan association who were the first association to
moninate Martin, this means Martin has a geographically contingous
belt of support stretching across industrial Lancashire; not bad for a
South London boy who reportedly gets a nosebleed when he ventures
North of Watford!

Members were attracted to Martin's call for national action on workload
and performance management alongside the national campaign on pay.

At the recent Divisional Secretary's meeting in London, Lancashire
Divisional Secretary, Ken Cridland, asked the question, 'Is the
Workload Campaign working?' It was one of those questions where to
ask it is to answer it.

The fact is that our members are struggling with unprecedented
workload pressures, but feel isolated when asked to take action in
their own schools. National action on workload would give members
the confidence to say ' enough is enough!' and would support our
efforts to build for national action on pay.

Those association secretaries who are genuinely trying to build school
by school campaigns on workload can see the limitations of a policy
based on isolated pockets of resistance. By nominating Martin, they
are sending a clear message to the National Executive that more
needs to be done.



Saturday 7 July 2007

From the TES website

From the TES website Alison Long wrote:

Can we move beyond the well-worn "Martin is a leftie" and consider some of his other attributes? For those of you who do not know me, I am deputy secretary and H&S adviser for Lewisham NUT and am not a member of any political party. The Martin I know is clever, courteous and caring. He is a highly effective negotiator, mostly because he listens carefully and understands the arguments and standpoints of all sides.
Martin works tirelessly to get the best deal for all teachers. He spoke at National Conference of the need for national action not only on pay but on workload and performance management regulations. This is not revolutionary politics, it is plain common-sense trade unionism. We only have to look at the TLR debacle to see that local action was only effective in those divisions with high membership and strong leadership. Action became a bit of a "post-code lottery" - if your local branch was well-organised and well resourced you had a better chance of effective action than if you were part of a small NUT group in your school and/or had local officers who were either over-cautious or who simply did not have the time and resources to help mount school-by-school campaigns.
We are a national trade union. We need to look to other public sector trade unions to help mount a joint campaign against below-inflation pay deals, the burden of unnecessary paperwork and bullying performance reviews.
This is not extreme left-wing politics - this is getting back to our trade-union roots. Ir baffles me that the STA continually passes over the chance to put Martin on the national stage. He is a very effective communicator, extremely knowledgeable about both education issues and trade-unionism, has energy and drive but is, at the same time, on of the most patient and good-humoured people I have ever met.
At our local meetings, it is the SWP who oppose Martin's nomination for national office, as I believe they also do within the STA. Isn't it about time that we ignored inter-factional far-left wrangles and got on with choosing the most competent people for the job? Nominate Martin for Vice President, and then go on to win the campaign to get him elected.

Remember there is a debate on the TES website and anyone can join in.
Click here

National Education Conference

The National Education Conference of the NUT was held on the weekend of 30 June to 1 July. In many ways it underscores the need for a fighting leadership for the NUT.

Sue Palmer in a keynote introduction to the conference drew attention to the way in which the unrestrained "market forces" on the one hand and the highly circumscribed public education system in the UK is damaging children in what she terms a "toxic childhood". On the one hand an unfettered commercial culture will use any means necessary to maximise its profits: this includes encouraging children to pressurise parents into buying the latest "must have" toy or to buy foods which have long-term adverse effects on their health and short-term adverse effects on their ability to learn. On the other hand children are increasingly alienated by the culture of testing in schools which militates against any feeling that knowledge is inseparable from "people who know".

In the debate on secondary education Martin Powell-Davies drew attention to the tension between trying to elevate the role of practical subjects and the perceived intention of using practical subjects to keep the working class pupils in their place while reserving academic subjects to the elite.

In summing up the conference John Bangs came dangerously close to endorsing the Brown premiership by hinting that Brown will put a stop to the academy program. It is true that cooler heads at the DCSF were concerned that the academies programme was doomed and would only generate failure and potential scandal. A tactical retreat by Brown would not signal an end to the New Labour "project" and is certainly no reason for the NUT to scale down its campaigning against academies.

P F***ing I (as the final speaker at the conference, Mavis Grant, called it) will be very much a part of Brown's agenda and he has displayed no tendency to backtrack on that issue.

Derek McMillan


Martin Powell-Davies has received two more nominations from NUT Associations meeting this week - Bolton and St.Helens.

Further reports follow.