Tuesday 10 July 2007

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

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