Thursday 22 November 2007

Thanks for your support

Thank you to everyone who supported my campaign. Unfortunately, this time around, I did not succeed. Martin Reed from the NUT Executive and primary headteacher Gill Goodswen were elected as Vice-Presidents.

Results for first preferences were: Goodswen 6792, Reed 5603, Harrop 4084, King 3973, MPD 2427, Roberts 2167. Martin and Gill also won overall after transfers were worked through from this low turnout.

My vote certainly compared well in proportion to the number of nominations received. However, the main groups within the Union are, as was likely to be the case, able to turn a larger vote out overall than myself.

But those groups are organising a union which is unable to get more than 10% of members to vote. There is clearly a big gap between many teachers' frustrations and their thinking that the Union, and its elections, can change things for them.

It's worth putting this news in the context of the other news of the day - that the Union has decided to cancel the Special NUT Executive for tomorrow (as the Government has delayed and still not pronounced on teachers' pay) so that it is now highly unlikely that there will be a ballot before Xmas - indeed, some on the Executive are already saying that we shouldn't ballot at all. Of course, teachers voting in this VP election weren't to know who was serious about wanting to build national action, and who was not.

The pay campaign is unfortunately at risk of being demobilised by the Executive majority's strategy of waiting for the STRB report, rather than going for an earlier timetable - and alongside other unions when we had the opportunity to.

Others in the Union (including Gill Goodswen unfortunately) also voted down our suggestion at 2007 NUT Conference that we linked the ballot on pay to one on workload - which would have strengthened support for national action.

Of course, the NUT Executive member who did most to criticise the chosen course of action, Linda Taaffe, is now being deliberately blocked from standing again in Outer London by other "Lefts" who are organising to prevent her winning any nominations. This risks the loss of a determined socialist and campaigner from the Executive and quite possibly a further swing towards the Right overall on the NUT Executive.

Despite the low turnout, I know from the feedback that I received that many teachers who did engage with the election, and who were looking for change, related to the program we put forward. The need for a fighting leadership of the Union remains as strong as ever. Those of us who want to see the Union turn the tide for teachers will continue to fight for that program and campaign for it in staffrooms and NUT meetings.

But it is also clear that, to argue for such a way forward, organisation is needed. That is why I want to discuss with others about setting up a clear grouping of teachers who do agree that it is 'Time for Change' in our pay, workload, schools, and Union. It would seek to organise teachers who are not attracted to the existing groups organsing the Union, and who support the kind of program that I stood on in this election.

I would want such a group to build a fighting Union alongside others in the Left within the NUT, while making our differences clear when necessary. Unfortunately, I fear that this will increasingly be the case, just as it has been over both pay and workload just this year already. Above all, we would seek to attract new teachers into activity around the issues that matter most to staff in schools.

I will certainly hope to keep this blog running as a way of informing teachers who are interested in developing such a campaign.


Sunday 11 November 2007

Nasty One Cyril

Sir Cyril Taylor GBE, chair of the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust has advised the government that there are 17,000 bad teachers who ought to be sacked. It is surprising that Chris Woodhead isn’t suing him for identity theft as he made the self-same spurious claim ten years ago.

The figure is based on OFSTED assessments of teachers. This scientific evaluation is based on a ten minute glance at the work of a teacher who may have been teaching for ten or twenty years. Moreover OFSTED inspectors define lessons as “satisfactory” and by sleight of hand unelected individuals like Cyril translate that as “bad”. A few elementary lessons in the English language would not do him any harm.

I run a helpline for stressed teachers in West Sussex and half of the time the source of their difficulties is senior management who are themselves being bullied by “advisers” and politicians like Cyril demanding impossible targets.

His solution, to sack bad teachers and “go out and recruit fantastic teachers” shows what a fantasy world he lives in. Spend a couple of hundred thousand pounds on training a teacher and as soon as he or she has difficulties, instead of help and support you throw them on the scrap heap. Then you replace them with “fantastic” – ie fantasy, mythical – teachers…. from Hogwarts presumably.

I am supporting Martin Powell-Davies for vice president of the NUT because he will give fakes like Cyril a run for their money.

Derek McMillan

Monday 5 November 2007

Exposing the Academy ‘spin’

The Haberdashers’ Livery Company, who runs two Academies in my Authority of Lewisham, is becoming a favoured player in the corridors of the DCSF, as plans are made to break-up Local Authority schooling and put education further into the hands of unaccountable sponsors.

Haberdashers’ Aske’s have seized their opportunity to expand their educational empire with the Government’s financial backing. They were given control of Malory School in Downham, Lewisham, which became Haberdashers’ Aske’s Knights Academy. The National Audit Office’s report into Academies described it as “the most expensive academy so far” with a staggering final capital cost of £ 40.4 million for which ‘The Worshipful Company of Haberdashers’ had, in turn, to provide one of the smallest sponsors’ contributions to date, at just £295,500.

Haberdashers’ were encouraged to take part in the first ‘competition’ required under the new legislation for a new school being opened in Haringey. Fortunately, their bid was rejected. Undaunted, Aske’s are now one of the parties seeking to become sponsors of an Academy proposed to takeover Pimlico School in Westminster. They are also being backed by Lewisham Council in a bid to acquire nearby Monson Primary School in order to turn their Hatcham College into a 3-18 Academy.

I have written an article analysing the Aske’s academies’ admission arrangements and exam results. It questions how successful these Academies really are and asks whether the successes they have achieved have largely been at the expense of other schools.

I hope it can provide further evidence as to how Government support for Academies is helping to create a divided system where many pupils are unable to attend a good local school – and where staff are also divided across different individual employers.

Please get in touch using the contact details on my linked website if you would like me to send you a copy – or want to get in touch on any issue.

Martin Powell-Davies

Saturday 3 November 2007


‘Improve – or see your school closed down or taken over’

Last week, the same old demoralising nonsense that we have heard over the years from Chris Woodhead to Tony Blair was trotted out by Gordon Brown in his first major speech on education.

But these sound-bite ‘solutions’ have done nothing but divide and demoralise in the past – and Brown’s proposals will only do the same in the future.

The underlying message is clear – teachers and schools are to blame. Yet anyone with any understanding of education knows that research consistently shows that the key factor affecting exam performance is a school’s pupil intake. Schools serving deprived communities with high levels of need, despite the best efforts of staff, will never be able to ‘compete’ (as that is the market-driven language of the DSCF) with selective schools teaching middle class areas.

What schools need are additional staffing and resources to meet their pupil needs – not threats which only lead to demoralisation and staff resignations. What schools also need is an end to selection to prevent some schools boosting their results at the expense of others. Yet the PM’s plans to allow Academies to take over schools will only increase selection and divisions between schools.

My own school in Lewisham is suffering from the effect of a local Academy improving its intake at the expense of ours. Not surprisingly, our exam results have suffered as teachers struggle to meet the needs of a heavily skewed pupil intake. We’ve been warned OFSTED may soon pay a visit. What a way to dispirit committed staff instead of giving them the support they and our youngsters need.

Gordon Brown also talked of the need to recruit the “brightest and best” to teaching. Well Gordon, there are plenty of excellent but angry teachers in our schools – angry that they are paid so much less than a graduate should expect to earn (see £7 an hour posting below) and wondering whether the hard work is really worth it when we are treated so badly by Government. This is the same Gordon who insists on cutting our pay in real terms! How is that going to help recruit and retain staff?

The NUT needs to respond to these threats by pulling together the discontent of teachers to build bold campaigns and firm national action. I hope that I can be a President that can help organise the action we need and help expose failing Governments as those who should really be held accountable for undermining our young people’s life chances.

Martin Powell-Davies


The Primary Review Group has released yet more evidence to show that the SATs regime that is suffocating schools has got to go.

Teachers know too well how tests and league tables are distorting the curriculum as we are forced to spend too much time concentrating on improving SATs results. Too many of our youngsters are put under unreasonable stress and lose any love of learning.

It would be bad enough if the scores were reliable but, as many teachers have long suspected, this latest research questions whether the results from SATs tests accurately assess a child’s abilities. It suggests that perhaps a third of pupils are awarded the wrong level in tests at the end of Key Stage 2.

Yet these are the statistics that are crunched into computers to give teachers the targets that they are to meet to show they are worthy of passing along the pay spine, or used by OFSTED to judge whether a school is failing. It is statistical nonsense.

This whole testing house-of-cards needs to be knocked over. But Gordon Brown isn’t going to do that willingly. Successive Governments have built their whole damaging system of judging teachers and schools on this system of SATS and league tables.

The NUT needs to use its strength to demand that SATs are thrown out. Assessment should be used to support learning not as a tool to demoralise staff and distort education.

Along with an end to SATS, performance pay and OFSTED have to be ended too. Instead of nit-picking inspections and critical observations, teachers should be able to rely on supportive advisers, with a significant proportion of them being practising teachers on secondment from their substantive posts – passing on their experience and know-how to other colleagues. Teachers should be able to rely on regular progression up the pay spine based on experience, not by dubious judgements of their performance.

Martin Powell-Davies

Thursday 1 November 2007

£7 an hour – is that all we’re worth?

£7 an hour – is that all we’re worth?

A poster on the corridors of my daughter’s school caught my eye before the half-term break. “Is all this study worth it?” it asked. Below, a graph rightly trying to encourage pupils to get as many qualifications as they can, explained how an adult with GCSEs can expect to earn £9.02 an hour on average, a graduate £15.01 per hour. But, while we encourage our youngsters to get on, how many teachers wonder why they are losing out?

Official Review Body figures show that teachers are still working over 50 hours a week. Yet a beginner teacher on M1 working outside London earns only £20,133. That’s just £1678 for about 220 hours work a month. That’s £7.63 an hour in gross pay !

I asked a friend in his third year of teaching (in Sussex) what he was taking home a month after tax – it was just £1404. That’s still £7 an hour in take-home pay.

So while teachers persuade our pupils to work hard and get a good job with decent pay, the Government seems happy to leave us earning less per hour than the average earnings for an adult with only GCSEs to their name!! Even more experienced colleagues’ earnings still fall well under the graduate hourly earnings average.

Long hours and inadequate pay – it’s time for change.

It’s time for the Union to have a leadership prepared to give a lead and organise NUT members into taking the action needed to improve both our pay and workload.

As I’ve put on the poster sent to schools with my election leaflet, SEVEN pounds per hour for FIFTY hour weeks are numbers that we have to change. That’s why I hope NUT members will use their NUMBER ONE vote to vote for change: POWELL-DAVIES 1.

Martin Powell-Davies