Monday 29 June 2009

Three good meetings

This morning's SE Region TUC Public Services Committee meeting in central London reflected a growing mood for action amongst public sector unions. PCS members spoke of the need to build unity to defend pensions and fight off public sector cuts, NUT members spoke about Academies and Trusts while UNITE members pointed to their victories at Lindsey, Visteon and Linamar. I was re-elected as Chair of the committee.

After debating with Council officers at their official 'drop-in' event about the plan to set up a Trust federation, I drove over to Greenwich NUT for their hustings. I appreciated their backing in nominating me for NUT Vice-President. As on the Isle of Wight last week, there was general agreement that national action was needed to win on workload - and to oppose privatisation - but useful discussion on what such a program of action might consist of - combining both strike and non-strike action.

It was then back over to Goldsmiths where, unlike the Council's thinly attended 'drop-in', over fifty parents, teachers, support staff, councillors, lecturers and students attended our own public meeting to oppose the Trust. All left with a renewed determination to oppose the Council's proposal by all means necessary - responding to the'consultation', lobbying governors, leafletting parents, protest meetings and strike action.


Saturday 27 June 2009

Shop Stewards Network - an inspiring conference

After spending a morning leafletting in Deptford Market against our local 'Trust' threat, I had thought twice about then going on to Camden to attend the National Shop Stewards Network Conference - but what an inpsiring event it proved to be!

Many trade unionists still lack confidence that struggles can be won - but here was a Conference full of contributions about struggles - and, more to the point, struggles that had won!

Speakers included:
* Joe Higgins, "The best fighter money can't buy", elected as a socialist Irish MEP;
* Keith Gibson from the Lindsey Oil Refinery Strike Committee who had just won a complete victory against Total's attempts to sack hundreds of workers;
* Visteon workers who had occupied their plants in Belfast, Enfield and Basildon;
* Rob Williams, UNITE convenor at Limamar Swansea, where his colleagues had responded to his sacking - a blatant victimisation of a trade unionist - with an all-out strike threat that had won him his job back.

Baljeet Ghale, NUT Ex-President, opened the workshop on "Education for What?" which helped build links between UCU lecturers, NUT teachers, UNISON support staff, students and parents - including Eleanor Davies from the Lewisham Bridge occupation. My calls for national action to oppose both cuts and privatisation were well received. I was particularly pleased to meet with young teachers from Wales and Bristol looking to build the NUT and NUT Young Teachers activities.

Rob Williams' warning that employers will use the recession to attack pensions, terms and conditions applies to teachers as much as any other public or private sector employee. As Rob summed up the conference - "If you fight, you may not win but if you don't fight you will always lose". Rob had won - so can we!


Martin discusses with Isle of Wight members

An invitation to speak at the Isle of Wight NUT Reps' Training Day gave me a welcome opportunity to visit the island for the first time.

The meeting was certainly held in a more scenic spot than Lewisham can offer! But the scenery won't be too much solace for local teachers who face an uncertain future under school reorganisation plans which could see the end of middle schools and all their high schools turned into Academies.

Discussion therefore centred on TUPE and possible legal remedies to defend staff. However, as I also pointed out in my contribution on workload, while we have to use the limited legal protections we can find, the only real defence is union organisation, campaigning and action.

Members agreed with the need for national action to win real limits on hours and the Union's longstanding policy for a minimum 20% non-contact time for all. As John, the Association Secretary put it, that doesn't mean we want a 4-day week as the papers claim, but it does mean we want to win back a 2-day weekend!

A useful discussion began on what a program of national action to win such a demand might look like - national strike action, rolling action with levies from other regions and 'work-to-rule' action short of strike action too. Unlike the one-day strike on pay - which was enthusiastically supported but gave members no idea of where we were going next - we need to discuss and agree on a strategy that can win our demands and get maximum support from members across all regions of the Union.


Wednesday 24 June 2009

Report from Lewisham Bridge School

Today a large number of parents and other supporters turned out to support the occupation of Lewisham Bridge School, that has now been going on for two months. The protestors occupied the school in protest at the Council's plans to demolish the existing primary school on the site currently, and re-build it as a through school for 3 to 16 year olds. There have been many concerns expressed about this by parents, including the loss of the school as 'community school', as well as concerns re the site being potentially contaminated and there being an inadequate water supply! The Commission for Architecture and the Build Environment and English Heritage have even opposed the build! Yet Arrogantly, Lewisham Council, with its directly elected Mayor has as per usual, proceeded with its un democratic decisions.

The occupiers were to be confronted and removed today by baliffs. The police attended with great numbers and had four police vans and even a helicopter circling the school protest site!

The parents, some of whom were on the roof, and community supporters probably totalling about 100 throughout the morning, stood their ground.

After a stand off the police and baliffs must have realised that this was not going to be won easily and decided at about 11.30 to leave.

The battle is not over yet however. As the possibility is still there of the baliffs returning and a harder policing line being used by the authorities.

Chris Flood

Tuesday 23 June 2009

My thanks to Lewes, Eastbourne and Wealden NUT

Tonight's meeting in Lewes heard from three Vice-Presidential candidates - myself, Simon Jones and Nina Franklin. After a discussion, where candidiates were asked to concentrate on workload issues, the meeting voted to nominate me and Simon Jones. The support is much appreciated.

Informal discussion after the meeting centred on the issue of competency procedures and how they are being used to break and intimidate our members. We agreed to keep in touch over drafting a motion for next year's Conference to strengthen Union policy on the issue.


Sunday 21 June 2009

Gordon needs some career advice!

Saturday's Guardian reported that Gordon Brown has been so hurt by personal attacks that he's thought about throwing in the towel and becoming ... a teacher!

I think his career adviser needs to warn him that the classroom might not be the right place for anyone with any sensitivity to personal remarks from students. The staffroom might not be too sympathetic either, given New Labour's record on privatisation and scapegoating of teachers & schools.

In fact, as there may be a few MPs facing an enforced career change soon, they had all better be warned that there's little room for outrageous expense claims either (unless you're an Academy Headteacher perhaps). In fact, it's more likely that you'll end up spending out of your own pockets for resources that your class needs.

Getting a few more classroom teachers and other trade unionists to take their place in Parliament - to argue for proper funding of education and all our public services - might be very welcome!

Friday 19 June 2009

Bromley discusses workload and nominates Martin

I'd like to thank members of the Bromley NUT Association for unanimously agreeing to nominate me for Vice-President at their General Meeting on Thursday.

I was invited to speak to the meeting on workload and was pleased at the support given to my call for the Union to put into place the national action that I argued for - and was voted for by delegates - at NUT Conference this Easter. But one Bromley officer wanted to know, "Why isn't workload the priority with the present Executive that it should be?". I answered that classroom teachers had to keep up the pressure on the Executive for action to take place but appealed for support in this election so that I could argue for action on workload from within the Executive, rather than from outside it.

There was a range of workload issues raised, particularly from the young teachers present. A number of colleagues talked about the pressures caused by APP. In order to win the SATS campaign, we have to make clear that in ditching SATS, we're not going to accept their replacement with a teacher assessment scheme that reproduces the same target-driven mentality - but with even greater workload for teachers.


Tuesday 16 June 2009

No Trust in Trusts

Lewisham NUT, with the support of the NASUWT, ATL, UNISON, GMB, UCU and local campaigns, including Hands Off Lewisham Bridge, are organising to defeat the proposed Goldsmiths-led Trust which threatens to take over three local schools.

Campaigning materials - which may be useful for other camapigns to adapt - can be found on the Lewisham NUT website:


Monday 15 June 2009

Young Teachers debate the way forward

There was plenty of debate and discussion at the Young Teachers Conference - not least on workload. Martin Powell-Davies' call for national action struck a chord with many of the young teachers attending.

After the Conference, a Young Teacher Rep sent in this message of support to Martin's campaign:

"There are many issues affecting us all as teachers. One of the most pressing is that of recruitment and retention. Many young teachers leave in the first three years. This is a travesty and must be stopped. The reasons commonly put forward for this are the vice like grip of poor pay on one side and the increase in workload on the other. We simply cannot be expected to work more hours for worse pay. We must look beyond the facade of the TDA advertisements with their spin to the truth of the day to day realities for many teachers. I believe that Martin is the man to do this in a position as vice president of our union".

Dan Thompson
Young Teachers Rep
Windsor and Maidenhead
(Personal Capacity)

Sunday 14 June 2009

Another broken promise

Figures revealed by the Liberal Democrats have exposed another broken promise from Gordon Brown's government.

In 2006, Gordon famously promised that he aimed to fund state school children at the same level as private school pupils. If met, that really would have been a reform that would have made Gordon popular, genuinely making sure that 'every child matters'.

The truth, however, is that the spending gap hasn't just remained, it has got even wider - increasing from a gap of around £3,400 per pupil in 2006 to over £4,400 now.

We can't rely on Governments to meet their pledges on funding - apart from those that are starting to pledge cuts of course. That's why I am campaigning for national action to win the funding needed to meet pupil needs - and to cut teacher workload.

Martin Powell-Davies

Phoney consultation replaces real debate

A few years ago, the public relations manager for Orange - in charge of convincing people that they could trust the safety of their mobile phone masts - decided to post his cynical definition of 'consultation' as "a formal system for ignoring public views while patronising them at the same time". Sound familiar?

Local Councils seem to have taken this definition to heart when 'consulting' over chnages to education. In Lewisham, the Council has consistently pushed ahead with reorganisation plans despite parental and staff opposition.

Their latest 'consultation' is about the plan for Goldsmiths College to set up a Trust with three local schools. The NUT, alongside other unions such as Goldsmiths UCU, are campaigning to stop this threat. But we know that we can't trust this to be any kind of genuine consultation.

The Council have helpfully provided a supposedly 'independent' organisation to evaluate responses to the Trust proposal, called "The Innovation Unit". A quick web serach reveals their 'independent ' board to include David Albury, Principal Adviser in the Prime Minister's Strategy Unit from 2002-2005, and Matthew Horne who advises the Cabinet Office Strategy Unit on 'public service improvement' amongst others !!

We certainly won't be relying on their independence! We will be relying on our organisation and arguments, leafletting, lobbying and, if necessary, organising strike action to oppose these threats to locally accountable comprehensive education.

Sunday 7 June 2009

Giving NUT members a choice in this election

A letter recently circulated by Bill Greenshields, the NUT ‘Ex-President’, stating his preferences for the upcoming union elections, has apparently caused a bit of a stir.

As it states boldly on our new Lewisham NUT banner, I agree that ‘unity is strength’ and so pulling trade unionists together to fight for our common interests is vital. That’s why I have been pleased that, putting aside our differences, both Bill and I have been supporters of the “No2EU, Yes to Democracy” initiative that started to provide a trade-union backed alternative to our sleazy privatising politicians in the June 2009 European elections.

I also agree with Bill that Local Associations and NUT members should have a chance to decide for themselves which candidates they want to support in union elections, rather than particular groupings believing that they have the right to impose on the Union who is allowed to stand – and who isn’t.

I’m used to the argument being made against me – for example at both the recent NUT nomination meetings in Lancaster and Bristol – that I’m not part of the ‘left slate’ of candidates chosen by the Socialist Teachers Alliance (STA) or Campaign for a Democratic and Fighting Union (CDFU). However, in both cases, the argument didn’t cut much ice with most teachers present – they were most interested in each candidate’s merits and demands – rather than which groups backed them. I’m glad to say that, on that basis, both meetings chose to give one of their nominations for Vice-President to me.

I know that the choice of this year’s VP and DGS candidates has proved controversial within the STA and CDFU. It has led to Simon Jones deciding to stand for VP separately to the CDFU’s official choice of Ken Cridland. Without agreement on a single candidate, Hazel Danson and Kevin Courtney are also now both seeking nomination for DGS. But what’s wrong with having that debate as part of the election? NUT members can hear the arguments and use their transferable vote to order their choice of preferred candidate.

Like Bill, I have my own preferences. I will not be supporting his choice of Martin Reed for DGS but will be backing Kevin Courtney. While Kevin and I have differed, e.g. over ‘cover supervisors’ at the 2009 Conference, I believe that, of the three DGS candidates, he is most willing to build the united action that we need to take to defend teachers and education. For me, Martin Reed is too much part of the ‘old guard’ that has held back such action for too long - while teachers’ working lives have got worse and worse.

I also can’t agree with Bill when he argues that, because of the undoubtedly serious threats to education, ‘factions’ in the Union should just put their arguments aside and all agree to ‘unite’. The logic of this approach is that there should be no elections at all, just leaving the leadership to decide who takes what post amongst themselves (Of course, leaving out those individuals, like myself, who aren’t part of any of the various groupings presently in the Union leadership!!).

Of course, there’s no room for petty squabbles because unity is indeed strength – but unity around what action strategy? When you face a serious threat, you also need a serious debate about how best the Union can respond to it. That’s what these elections are all about – to decide who can provide the best leadership with the correct strategy to answer the attacks on our conditions and on comprehensive education.

I am standing because I believe that I can help provide that leadership - as do others who are backing me, particularly many supporters of ‘Classroom Teacher’. I think anyone who knows me, or who reads my election materials, will be clear what I stand for.

Above all, I am campaigning for schools to be funded to meet the real needs of staff and students. Schools need more teachers, not less, so as to cut teacher workload. We also need staff to provide appropriately qualified cover and support to meet the needs of all our school students. But how can we win that? - by implementing the Union policy that I have argued for and won at successive Annual Conferences, calling for national strike action to be built for and organised to win our demands.

If you agree with my policies and if, in Bill’s words, you want the Union leadership to be “responsive to the whole membership and the diversity of view within it”, then please make sure that my views are indeed represented within that leadership by electing me as NUT Vice-President.

Martin Powell-Davies

Look at the comments below for a quick reply from Bill

Thursday 4 June 2009

A national union unites all schools and all teachers

I have been grateful for the emails and calls that have followed my recent mailing to all NUT Associations (and many thanks to the Lewisham NUT Committee for agreeing to fund the mailing).

One NUT Officer responded with a question about the funding pressures in more rural Authorities like her own. Although not said directly, I appreciate that the question might reflect, in part, an understandable concern that the Union needs to recognise the pressures in all areas - and must guard against just reflecting the outlook of NUT officers working in the larger metroplitan areas and Associations. However, far from suggesting we hold back from action, I think it is why national action is vital.

The whole funding issue is critical in every area, but with rural Authorities often being particularly badly hit. Whoever becomes the next Government, spending is likely to become even tighter if we do not act. This is why the policy of 'funding according to need' rather than a fixed and faulty national Government and/or local LMS formula is so important. Each school should be able to rely on at least the minimum funding to have a class size of 30 or less, sufficient additional teachers for PPA, Cover and Leadership time, and additional teaching and support staff to support individual children, to release staff from admin tasks - as a minimum.

My secondary school in Catford is also in the middle of a funding crisis - department Heads have had their budgets slashed and management are seeking to increase timetable loadings to solve the 'rarely cover' funding pressure. We may well need to take action at the school to defend teachers and education.

However, London is very different to many other areas in terms of roll trends. My Authority is desperately searching for extra reception classes to open in September because of a lack of places, while many Authorities nationally face the opposite problem. Nevertheless, that has still meant linking up with parents (some of whom have been occupying a school roof since Easter!) to oppose school closures (yes, even when the Authority are short of places!!). Linking up with parents in this way is a very important tactic - and with students too, as the recent pupil walkout in Barrow demonstrates.

I believe that we have to take up funding and workload (which are so closely linked) as a national campaign, backed with national action so that all areas of the union, from the strongest organised to the weakest, can have the confidence to support the action - and to appeal to parents for support for our campaign for funding that meets the needs of every child.

Martin Powell-Davies