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

Tuesday 23 October 2007

Shop Stewards Network Builds Unity

On Sunday October 21st, I attended the first South-East Regional Conference of the newly-founded National Shop Stewards Network, backed by the RMT and other national unions. The aim of the body is to link together union reps from across different unions and to help strengthen workplace organisation.

It was a good opportunity to meet up with other public sector trade unionists including reps from UNISON local government, CWU postal workers, and PCS civil servants.

The closing speech by Brian Caton, General Secretary of the POA (Prison Officers’ Association) was inspiring. Commenting on contributions that other speakers had made about union leaders needing to keep in touch with the workplace, Brian joked about how, if the Government carried out their threats, he might be spending a few months with his members locked up for supposed breach of anti-union laws! This was after prison officers took strike action in August. This justified and well-supported action could be deemed “illegal” because Tony Blair had broken his promise to remove the ban on industrial action by prison officers introduced by Margaret Thatcher.

Brian finished by saying that as a son of a Yorkshire miner, he had seen the Government wreck the fishing industry, the steel industry and the mines and the mining communities. He appealed to the meeting for trade unionists to stand together, saying “We mustn’t let them wreck out public services too”.

For further information on the network, visit:

PFI Profits First Initiative

PFI: Profits First Initiative

Last week, an article in the Financial Times complained about Private Finance Initiative- funded schools being built as “unimpressive brick boxes with tiny windows and mean corridors”. The same day, I was called by a Lewisham NUT school rep to visit their new PFI school.

The school (which I’ll keep anonymous for now) is due to move into its new building in January. However, the school has tried to timetable lessons for next term – and found that there simply aren’t enough rooms in the new building. Negotiations are continuing with the contractor and Local Authority, but there’s even the prospect of having to put portakabins in the playground of the school’s brand new building!

Unfortunately, these tales are nothing new. Contractors are reaping in huge profits while pursuing every loophole in the inadequate building regulations to cut corners and provide the minimum space they can get away with. CABE (the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment) reported last year that half of new schools they surveyed were ‘poor’ or ‘mediocre’. Nine of the ten worst schools were built using PFI money – and of course Local Authorities will be paying for this dubious privilege through payments to the contractor for decades to come.

The fact is, while the headline figures for additional capital expenditure on new school buildings make good headlines for Government spin-doctors, the money isn’t enough to deliver the high-quality provision all our children deserve.

As Seamus Milne, writing in the Guardian last week about PFI in the NHS asked: “Given the evidence on cost and inefficiency, and its unpopularity among staff and voters, the government’s determination to press on with privatisation and marketisation might seem baffling”. Unfortunately, as he concluded, it can be explained by “market dogma and business lobbying”. Trade unions and the NUT have a responsibility to expose how our schools, staff and school students are being sold short once again.

Tuesday 16 October 2007

Monday 15 October 2007

Do you feel well-off?

Do you feel well-off?
Divisional Secretaries meeting discusses NUT action strategy

NUT General Secretary Steve Sinnott addressed the annual meeting of NUT Divisional Secretaries at Stoke Rochford last week saying that the Union had to choose the “time we can best mobilise the teaching profession”.

Why balloting members on December 10th for action on pay at the end of January is the right time was not explained. If this timetable, the one being considered by the National Executive, is chosen, then NUT members will have to go all out to get the strongest Yes vote possible. However, surely balloting for action alongside UNISON support staff colleagues would have been a better time than to start a ballot than amid the Xmas activities at the end of term?

Steve Sinnott’s caution is based on his analysis that “many teachers feel better off than they have for many years – that’s the simple truth”. But the responses posted by angry members on the National Union’s own website show that this just isn’t true. Many angrily compare their pay with their long hours and calculate a miserly hourly rate for teachers.

I was able to challenge Steve to justify his analysis. Yes, I suggested, some teachers feel better off but many others are struggling to pay bills and rising housing costs. The latest figures show 30,000 fewer teachers are being paid TLRs than received Management Allowances. Only a half of teachers on M6 are progressing over the ‘threshold’ to UPS1.

A fighting leadership should be confident that it can inspire teachers to vote for action to oppose the pay freeze – especially if we link it to the need to take action on workload and the other attacks we face as well.

There were other important discussions during the three-day meeting, with several NUT secretaries joining me in taking up the theme that we need to be taking national action on workload rather than fighting school-by-school. There was also an inspiring address by Michael Lees, husband of an NUT member who died of mesothelioma, about the need to remove asbestos from all schools.

My election materials were taken away by many NUT Secretaries who gladly agreed to distribute them in their schools.

Martin Powell-Davies

Sunday 7 October 2007



National Union of Teachers posters rightly proclaimed the refusal by Government to reconsider the schoolteachers pay award of 2.5% for this September as a “matter of honour”. Fortunately, you might think, as we still have negotiating rights when it comes to the pay of teachers in sixth-form colleges, we could insist on a better deal for them?

But when the same below-inflation 2.5% award was proposed by sixth form employers for their teaching staff, the NUT’s negotiators, including Martin Reed, agreed to it!

At a time when the National Union is meant to be gearing up for national strike action to reject pay cuts, how can we agree that sixth-form college staff put up with 2.5%? Like other teachers, their debts and bills, mortgages and rents are also rising at well above 2.5% a year. So this would mean, in effect, agreeing to a pay cut. It must be rejected.

An acceptance of 2.5% would also undermine our national campaign for all teachers. How serious would we appear to Government if they knew that we had already recommended 2.5% to sixth-form staff ?

Fortunately, NUT members in some sixth form colleges quickly picked up on the news and sent in their protests to the National Executive members. The original advice to recommend acceptance of the 2.5% deal was changed at Thursday’s National NUT Executive into not putting out any recommendation, for or against the deal, in the ballot that is now being issued to sixth form college members. (Unfortunately a proposal to actually recommend a NO vote was also defeated however).

I believe that teachers should be encouraging their sixth form college colleagues to vote to reject the offer. I am attending an NUT meeting at the Sixth Form College in Lewisham on Tuesday to put this case to my members. Every NUT Association with a sixth form college should try to do the same.

Staff in schools and sixth form colleges should be taking united national action to demand the 10% rise agreed as NUT Conference policy and to win the Government funding needed to pay for it as well. We should be uniting with other colleagues taking action like postal workers and civil servants too. After all, when billions are needed to bale out the banks, money can quickly be found. Aren’t teachers and other public sector workers a priority too?



The NUT National Executive meeting on Thursday October 4th again decided to put off the national ballot on pay that we have been waiting for. A majority voted to wait until after the Review Body has reported, rejecting a timetable for an earlier ballot that had also been suggested.

Their lack of urgency exposes a lack of belief that teachers are prepared to take action. Yet the hundreds of postings on pay listed on the National Union’s own website confirm the widespread anger against continued below-inflation increases and the difficulties colleagues already face in paying their bills. A determined leadership should certainly be able to translate this discontent into a positive ballot result.

What this delay also means is that they have thrown away the chance for NUT members to take united action on pay alongside UNISON support staff. UNISON are presently balloting for action on pay for action this November. In rejecting this golden opportunity for unity, the NUT leadership is letting down both teachers and our support staff colleagues. Instead of joint action, we face the prospect of NUT members being told to cross UNISON picket lines.

What a confidence boost it would have been to UNISON members in schools if they knew that teachers were also looking to take national action on the same day as them! There would then have been no doubt that schools would have closed across the country, making sure the pay cuts hitting all school staff were firmly in the headlines. It would have helped make sure that UNISON got a positive result in their ballot, in spite of the poor materials being circulated by the national UNISON leadership.

The Union will be preparing more materials for schools to explain our case for national action on pay. But why hasn’t more been done already? Of course, every NUT member must carry on explaining to colleagues why we can’t afford to sit back and allow five years of below-inflation pay increases to be imposed on us - and why we need to vote for national action on pay. But members will want to know when the ballot is happening!

The ballot timetable discussed at the Executive apparently proposes a ballot starting on December 10th to allow action in January 2008. I am sure I am not the only teacher that will think straight away that balloting in the crazy last weeks before Christmas might not be ideal.

Of course, we will have to make the most of what opportunity we are given by the Executive majority to take action to defend our pay. But their mistaken decisions again point out why we need a change in our national leadership. That’s why I am standing to be Vice-President in the National Officers elections.

Martin Powell-Davies



Another lively lobby of parents and staff gathered outside Lewisham Town Hall on Wednesday October 3rd to protest against the Council’s proposals for the future of special needs in the borough.

After waiting five months for the results of supposedly ‘independent’ consultation, the Mayor and Cabinet were meeting to push through plans which parents and professionals have consistently warned could damage education for all pupils.

Campaigners from Brent Knoll, Pendragon and Meadowgate special schools are angry at the plans to relocate and reconfigure their provision without any detailed plans being provided which would show that the new sites will allow for sufficient specialist provision. Parent Debbie Lester, who has been working alongside us in building the ‘Defend Education in Lewisham Campaign’, explained her fears on a phone-in on Radio Five Live the following morning.

The programme also included opinions from several protestors, including my own. I explained why mainstream teachers feared such reorganisation plans were too often a mockery of inclusion. Children ended up being placed in mainstream classes without the staffing and support to meet their needs. As the NUT’s national research on the ‘Costs of Inclusion’ points out, ‘The presence of even one child with complex needs without relevant support and resourcing could be enough to upset the balance and flow of teaching for all’.

Martin Powell-Davies

Tuesday 2 October 2007



There must be a General Election on the way - the politicians are trying to sell us their latest gimmicks ! In this case, it's the Tories, trying to convince voters that they can solve behaviour problems in schools - by making pupils wear blazers ! If only it were that simple...

On Monday night, I was invited to join the panel on BBC Radio 5's Anita Anard show to discuss the issue. I'm always pleased to take such an opportunity to put a case on behalf of teachers to their listeners.

I have been invited on to several similar shows over the years. Presumably, the producers recognise me as somebody who can put over a clear but good-humoured argument. However, this was the easiest argument I've ever had to win !

Of course, anybody who understands education (unfortunately that often doesn't include education ministers and shadow ministers) knows that whether a pupil is wearing a blazer or not is so far down any list of key factors that it isn't really worth spending time debating. However, given the chance, I hope that I was able to raise some of the real issues - like having an enjoyable curriculum, enthused teachers with the time to build a relationship with individual pupils, class sizes, selection and child poverty.

All the calls and e-mails in to the studio joined me in ridiculing the Tory proposal. Even a Conservative councillor who rang in rejected it as nonsense ! It was good fun to have a chance to have a laugh at the expense of the Tories in the week of their Party Conference.

Of course, few teachers will have any more confidence in the other main parties either. That's why I will continue to argue for the NUT to set up a political fund, not just to combat the BNP, but also to be able to support trade union-backed candidates defending education against the privatising policies of all the main parties. After all, if the election is called, many colleagues will be wondering who there is that's worth voting for. That's why I also support the Campaign for a New Workers' Party calling for the trade unions to put their authority behind a new party that can offer a real challenge to the main parties that most voters have presently got to choose between.

The show was also further evidence that, if we explain our case clearly, parents and the public will support our campaigns for a good education for every child.

Martin Powell-Davies