Friday 30 October 2009

Not just listing what's wrong - but what we're going to do about it!

As ballot papers start to reach home addresses, NUT members across England and Wales will have a chance to compare the election addresses from the six different candidates for NUT Vice-President.

All candidates can list the problems facing teachers and education – but who has set out an effective strategy to defend education?

Only Martin Powell-Davies explains that we must:
• Urgently prepare the united action that can make governments think again
• Reach out to parents and other unions for support
• Challenge any party implementing cuts and privatisation, including supporting trade union backed candidates in local or national elections

Only Martin says:
• Don’t leave teachers struggling in isolation
• Demand legally binding limits on working hours and smaller classes
• Act together in a national campaign to defend – and improve – national conditions

Only Martin promises to:
• Visit schools to discuss what combination of public campaigning, working-to-rule and strike action can best defend education
• Ensure we turn words into action!

To elect a Vice-President who is ready to meet the challenges ahead,

Tuesday 27 October 2009

We're Voting for Martin

Murray Sackwild: I've been going to Conference for 5 years now and by far the best speaker - every year - is Martin. I know there's lots of maneouvring behind the scenes at the NUT with a range of factions - but Martin cuts through the crap and tells it how it is. He talks about the issues that really matter to working teachers. He has to be the outstanding choice for NUT Vice-President.

Derek McMillan: I'm voting Martin Powell-Davies for NUT VP. We need a union leadership to take on the pro-banker anti-public sector policies of the government - whichever party wins.

Dan Thompson: I am voting for Martin in the election as I see him to be the best person to take our union forward and face the challenges which are coming our way, whichever party takes government in the next election.

From the Facebook Group: Martin Powell-Davies For NUT Vice-President

"No Trust" campaign materials

Faced with growing opposition to Academies, some governing bodies and Local Authorities are trying to promote "Trusts" instead as a 'softer' alternative. However, both Academies and Trusts will lead to the break-up of elected Local Authorities and the employment of teaching staff by a series of different federations. When schools are faced with cuts, isolated groups of staff will be easier to pick off than staff employed over a whole Local Authority.

This is just one of the reasons why teaching and support staff unions are uniting to oppose the plan to set up a "Goldsmiths Trust" in Lewisham. We are also supported by the lecturers in the UCU in Goldsmiths itself.

I have just completed the latest "No Trust" campaign bulletin which can be downloaded from the homepage of the Lewisham NUT website Please do have a look on the website if this could help your local campaign too.


Saturday 24 October 2009

Campaign fliers reach schools

A number of schools reps have been getting in contact having received a mailing from the campaign asking NUT members to vote 'POWELL-DAVIES 1'.

One rep was particularly interested in the NUT lanyard I am wearing around my neck in my photo - one that I had kept from NUT Annual Conference - and wanted to know whether they can be purchased. I am pleased to report that the Marketing Department at NUT HQ has told me that there is a plan to add these to the 'NUT Shop' that Associations can use to purchase materials. With so many teachers now having to wear ID, NUT lanyards would certainly be a good way to advertise the Union in schools.

Another rep wanted to clarify how I had been able to afford to mail schools. The answer is that it was only possible thanks to the financial support agreed by a number of nominating Associations, together with a number of individual donations from campaign supporters.

The donations enabled me to meet the costs of printing leaflets and posting them to at least some selected addresses nationally. As the campaign funds would not stretch as far as the costs of using a commercial mailing house, the mailing also would not have been possible without the hours of help given by a number of Lewisham NUT members and other supporters who volunteered their time to help stuff the envelopes.

A huge effort has gone in to producing the mailing from teachers who want to make sure that we elect a leadership that is up to the challenges that will face us after the next General Election. I hope that I can help provide that leadership.

I hope that, having read the fliers, teachers will choose to vote ‘Powell-Davies 1’ on their ballot papers for NUT Vice-President


Friday 23 October 2009

Unity to Defend Jobs, Services and Pensions

This is a summary of a report of discussions by officers of the PCS, NUT, UCU and other trade unions in London to prepare joint action to defend public services:

Whatever the outcome of the forthcoming General Election, all the mainstream parties are committed to massive public expenditure cuts - including cutting services, pay freezes and attacks on pensions - in order to reduce the budget deficit.

Given the imminence of the General Election, there is an urgent need to build an alliance and, therefore, the PCS London & South-East Regional Committee have taken the decision to seek to expand the Trade Union Co-ordinating Group (TUCG) at regional level. The TUCG has been formed by a number of unions coming together at national level, including the the Bakers, Food & Allied Workers union (BFAWU); Fire Brigades Union (FBU); National Association of Probation Officers (NAPO); National Union of Journalists (NUJ); Prison Officers Association (POA); Public & Commercial Services (PCS); Rail, Maritime & Transport Workers (RMT); and the United Road Transport Union (URTU). In addition, PCS had formed closer working relationships with the National Union of Teachers (NUT) and the University & College Union (UCU) through joint activity - such as the demonstration at the Labour Party conference.

A number of proposals were put forward in terms of developing a programme of action and an alternative to the cuts agenda:

• to call for a conference of public sector reps in defence of public services which would develop a perspective - including an explanation of the causes of the crisis and its implications for the bargaining agenda - and an agreed joint programme of action. This has subsequently been endorsed by the SE Region TUC Executive Committee.

• the programme of action would include consideration of campaign materials, (including propaganda and publicity), and activities, (such as local demonstrations which would feed in to a regional event and highlighting the issue of youth unemployment).

• building a “solidarity network” to support workers in struggle - including setting out the case for solidarity and organising public meetings/speaking tours.

Support the Postal Workers

Any teacher who gets into conversation with a postal worker will soon realise how much we have in common: bullying management, impossible workload and Government policy encouraging privatisation. With the postal workers' union, the CWU, having been left with no choice but to call national action, it is in every teacher's interests to make sure they are not defeated.

Of course, the best place to get into a conversation - and to show your support - is on a picket line outside your local delivery office. At Forest Hill, South London, this morning, there was a good turnout of pickets and a determined mood to defend their conditions.

The rep explained how 64 'walks' that had been taken out of the Sydenham and Forest Hill offices had already been cut to 38. That's how, nationally, 60,000 jobs have been cut since 2003. But they were keen to point out that the Royal Mail's argument that this was forced on them by smaller mail volumes just wasn't true. Instead, individual posties are being bullied into taking out bigger and bigger rounds.

Managers who receive bonuses directly based on the 'savings' they can secure are taking an increasingly belligerent attitude to staff. Instead of returning with undelivered mail at the end of their hours, as they are entitled to, workers are often bullied into working unpaid overtime to get the job done. Meanwhile, profiteers are allowed to 'cherry pick' the best parts of the business, allowing big firms to charge 13p a letter - but expect Royal Mail to deliver it!

Of course, all of this will sound strangely familiar to teachers who are also being bullied by managers, league tables and OFSTED into taking on increasingly impossible workloads. The next Government, whoever is elected, will be using the threat of cuts and privatisation to try and make things even worse for teachers too.

That's why, however annoying it might be when a letter (or a voting paper!!) that you've been waiting for doesn't arrive on time, teachers and the NUT need to back the postal workers. A long dispute will put financial pressures on CWU members, so collections for their hardship fund will be important. Many areas, including my own in Lewisham, are setting up local support groups that NUT Associations should support. We also need to answer some of the deliberate distortions and lies being thrown at the postal workers in the press. After all, it might be teachers who need other trade unionists to offer us the same support in the months and years ahead.


Tuesday 20 October 2009

Overcrowding and excessive targets - say the Tories!!!

Shock news: Conservative shadow secretary Dominic Grieve admits today that: "Chronic overcrowding and excessive centralised targets have put immense strain on staff."

Apparently he was talking about prisons though, not schools ...


Monday 19 October 2009

A national action strategy to cut workload

Workload is a national issue - and it needs to be tackled as part of a national campaign.

Lewisham NUT members are discussing this draft motion to put to our meeting in November as a motion for next year's Annual Conference - perhaps your Local Association can do the same?


Conference recognises that excessive workload remains one of the key issues for teachers and the Union. Working weeks of 50 hours and more, and the stress and intensity of our working days, continue to drive too many talented teachers out of the profession.

The policies of successive governments are the root cause for the intolerable pressures facing teachers. League tables, OFSTED and SATS are used to bully teachers into taking on even greater workload in order to meet imposed targets. Inadequate funding, which will be made worse by threatened spending cuts, means that there are insufficient teaching and support staff to share out workload so that children’s needs can be met while still ensuring that teachers enjoy the ‘reasonable work-life balance’ that we are supposedly entitled to.

As even the Government’s own figures indicate, the attempts by other unions to improve workload through ‘social partnership’ have failed to produce any significant reduction in working hours. However, we also have to recognise that our own strategy has also failed to protect members from the burden of excessive workload.

Conference recognises that, while school-based disputes can be valuable in protecting members from excessive workload demands, they are, alone, an inadequate strategy. While the present inadequate provisions of the Pay and Conditions Document remain, particularly the continuing open-ended requirement on teachers’ overall working hours, teachers will continue to have inadequate legal protection against excessive workload. In order to give all teachers real protection against excessive workload, we have to win a new national contract setting down improved national conditions for all teachers.

That is why the last two Annual Conferences have supported motions calling for national action to improve teachers’ working conditions, thereby bringing all members together to tackle a national issue as part of a national campaign.

Conference reiterates its support for a campaign of national action to win a national teachers contract and demands that the Executive delay no longer in implementing the clear view of Conference in pursuing such a course of action.

Conference therefore instructs the Executive to:
a) Draw up a claim that sets out specific improvements to teachers’ working conditions, including binding limits on teachers’ overall working hours;
b) Prepare a publicity, campaigning and action strategy to win such a claim, emphasising to the public that improved working conditions for teachers means improved learning conditions for children;
c) Hold a national ballot to sanction a national program of strike and non-strike action that would commence in the autumn term 2010;
d) Seek support from other trade unions to join our campaign of national action.

Friday 16 October 2009

Primary review: a 'damning indictment' of Government policy

Ever since New Labour was elected, they have sought to dictate to schools what to teach and even how to teach it. Policed by the threatening machinery of OFSTED inspections and league tables of SATS and GCSE results, schools have been bullied into following each new instruction imposed by Ministers and Whitehall officials.

But these central directives have been set with little or no reference to the views of classroom teachers and their unions. The growing evidence of the distorting effect of SATS, forcing schools to ‘teach-to-the-test’ to boost their league table position, has been ignored by the Government. A generation of pupils has been brought up in schools where overworked teachers too often have to sacrifice the enjoyment of learning, and the careful building of real understanding and self-confidence in youngsters, in the drive to achieve the sole goal of reaching narrow exam targets.

These fears have been confirmed in a major independent enquiry into primary education led by Professor Robin Alexander and the Cambridge Review group. It provides a damning indictment of the damaging effect of Government directives on the primary curriculum.

The Review confirms that the main cause of educational underachievement is not school ‘failure’ but poverty. Schools work hard to meet the needs of their communities. Yet, the report concludes that schools’ successes are made despite government policy, not because of it.

It recommends extending play-based early years curriculum approaches until the age of six, in line with most other countries, to prevent the long-term damage to confidence and learning that can come from trying to enforce formal learning too soon. It calls for a widening of the curriculum with more room for teachers to develop their own initiatives. It concludes that league tables are so flawed that they give no valid information about schools and that SATS tests should be scrapped.

The review covers many other areas, including raising concerns about the inadequate support for children with special educational needs and the need to increase funding to allow for more specialised teaching in primary schools. While some of its recommendations (for example calling for a shorter summer holiday!) might cause debate in staffrooms, it is a review based on educational expertise and research, unlike so much imposed policy.

The Review complains about the political interference in education where “discussion has been blocked by derision, truth ... supplanted by myth and spin”. Yet, predictably, the Government response has been further derision!

As detailed argument and research is being ignored by Labour and Tories alike, it will take trade union action to defend education. The Review provide further good reasons for teachers to vote to support a boycott of SATs in the ballot being issued to all primary-based NUT members in early November.

There has been real frustration that plans to implement a SATs boycott agreed at Easter’s Annual Conference have been delayed and that the November ballot is only an ‘indicative’ preparation for a further ballot. Such a formal ballot would have to be held after many schools were already well into their preparations for the 2010 SATs. Nevertheless, it is essential that teachers vote for a boycott if we are going to start to repair the educational damage described in the Cambridge Review.

Thursday 15 October 2009

Added pressure - added need for a national response

The second day of the NUT Divisional Secretaries' Briefing gave further reasons for the Union to be preparing for national action to defend teachers and education.

A briefing on the latest OFSTED framework exposed how the blunt emphasis on raw results would further penalise schools in working-class communities. As I argued, we need to explain how this unaccountable institution will be unjustifiably condemning schools as 'failures' in order to prepare them for privatisation into Academies.

Optimistically, the session on fighting Academies gave good examples of how joint action and campaigning could succeed. A parent from Tamworth explained how their campaign, which included standing candidates in local elections, linked to strike action by teaching unions, had kept up the pressure on the Council. Peter Flack from Leicester explained their success in putting together an educational alternative to Academies for the city which had persuaded councillors to reject the Academy route.

Secretaries also discussed how to build support for the indicative ballot of primary NUT members for a boycott of SATs. A newspaper-style campaign sheet for staff and parents is being circulated across the country.

The final question-and-answer session with the NUT General Secretary, Christine Blower, covered many issues. I was disappointed that my question, about what had happened to NUT Conference policy calling for national action on workload, was not clearly answered. I hope that my campaign in this election can keep up the pressure to ensure that this vital policy is implemented.

"Rarely Cover" isn't reducing workload

One of the main subjects for discussion at the National NUT Divisional Secretaries' meeting at Stoke Rochford Hall, is, not surprisingly, workload.

NUT Secretaries' own workload is a real issue in itself. Chatting with colleagues it is clear that the range and volume of individual cases that we are having to support is becoming unsustainable. We cannot successfully function simply as a casework organisation - vital though that is to supporting members - we have to look at the underlying isues and seek to turn those individual problems into collective action.

Teacher workload is, of course, a key issue underlying so many of the individual pressures that teachers face. As I have long argued, we need to take this up as a national dispute aimed at achieving a Pay and Conditions Document that really guarantees limits on workload - including maximum overall hours and guarantees on non-contact time.

The session at the Secretaries' Briefing on the "rarely cover" regulations again illustrated the weaknesses of the present wording of the Pay and Conditions Document. Unfortunately, the wording agreed by other unions on cover arrangements that was meant to reduce workload is proving, in practice, too easy for 'creative' school managements to get around. Instead of reducing workload, it is too often just being redistributed into other work.

For example, in order to get round the cover regulations, discussions revealed heads trying to limit time-off for appointments and compassionate leave; heads that are 'retimetabling' staff to cover absences, exam weeks etc; schools where the timetable loadings are being increased so that staf are covering less but teaching more.

In each case, we have to try and resist these attacks on a school and local basis where we can. In Lewisham we have one school in dispute over timetable loadings and will make the whole issue of 'cover' a priority at next month's reps training.

However, once again, the underlying problem is the weakness of the national conditions document. We need to address that through a national dispute that brings all schools together in united action.


Monday 12 October 2009

Is the 'big crunch' inevitable?

I had to dash from debating "The Big Bang" with my Year 10s this morning to get to a meeting in Congress House to discuss the "Big Crunch" facing public sector budgets.

I Chair the SE Region TUC Public Services Commitee and hope that it can be a body that can help co-ordinate the united trade union action that will be needed to defend services, jobs and conditions.

Myself and the PCS delegates present, in particular, spoke about the need to combat the tone being set by the media and all the main parties that cuts were inevitable and needed to rescue the economy. But why should we have to pay for the mistakes made by the politicians and financiers?

We agreed that SERTUC should look at producing model leaflets to circulate to afiliated unions and hosting a reps conference in the New Year to start to bring together union reps to discuss how to fight the onslaught that is likely to follow the next General Election.


Sunday 11 October 2009

Campaign Meeting success

A suuccessful campaign meeting was held in London yesterday.

Teachers came from the London area and beyond - including from the South-West, South-East and Eaastern regions - to discuss how to respond to the threats facing teachers after the General Election - and how to get a Vice-President elected that can help provide the strong leadership needed for the Union to be ready to meet the challenge!

Helped with some fantastic sandwiches provided by the pub, we also stuffed 5000 envelopes to post campaign leaflets around the country. With supporting Associations also helping to distribute materials in their own areas, our print-run of 60,000 leaflets is nearly exhausted already. However, do get in touch with the campaign if you would like copies - or download a copy from the Lewisham NUT website:

We had apologies from Young Teachers attending the South East Young Teachers Network meeting but Dan Thompson, the SE Network Chair, sent in this message for a local endorsement letter we are circulating in his area:

“ With Martin as Vice‐President of our Union, we will be in a strong position to fight against the threats to our profession from those who would freeze our pay whilst adding to an ever increasing workload”

Wednesday 7 October 2009

Lonoon Association Secretaries endorse Martin

Every teacher hearing the Tories' threats to attack pensions and freeze our pay must be worried about their plans to take on teachers and education if they win the General Election. Teachers in London schools may worry even more after Michael Gove's comments that teachers in 'failing' schools needed to be sacked - especially in London.

We need a leadership ready to meet the challenges that we will face. I believe that I can help provide that lead. That's why I am pleased that four London NUT Divisional Secretaries are writing to members in London schools encouraging members to make 'Powell-Davies' their first choice on the ballot paper for NUT Vice-President.

John Gourlay from Merton, Jill Saunder from Bexley, Tim Woodcock from Greenwich and Betty Calderbank from Bromley are writing (in personal capacities) to call on teachers to vote 'Powell-Davies 1'.

Betty writes that “ Martin understands the pressures facing teachers. His election would strengthen our leadership.”

Jill says that “ Martin is a powerful, charismatic and passionate speaker. As President, he would be a tremendous advocate for the teaching profession in whatever setting he found himself”

My thanks to all those recommending support for my candidature - in London and elsewhere.


United against the 'Goldsmiths Trust'

Last night, a packed meeting hosted by Goldsmiths Students' Union gave renewed confidence to the parents, staff and governors attending that we can successfully defeat the plan to set up a three-school Trust Federation controlled by Goldsmiths University.

Poet and writer Michael Rosen and Francis Beckett, author of The Great Academy Fraud, provided humour and analysis from outside Lewisham. Michael started with a poem about the "car school" which, as Francis went on to explain, wasn't actually so far from the truth of the business-dominated curriculum found in some Academies.

Maggie Pitfield from the UCU explained that lecturers valued the partnership nurtured over years between the Goldsmiths Education Department and local schools - but didn't want that relationship destroyed by the proposed Trust federation.

I spoke on behalf of staff and unions to explain why we had to stop the Trust damaging education and removing local accountability. It is a plan motivated by the belief in the power of privatisation rather than any evidence that Trusts benefit education. The Trust is also part of a wider attempt to break-up comprehensive community education in the borough. It threatened teachers' jobs and conditions as Ed Balls' recent speech about using federations to make savings had made very clear.

There are no convincing arguments to support the Trust. Small wonder that 89% of those responding to the first 'consultation' had opposed it. The consultants had to admit that the response showed the "lack of enthusiasm" for the proposal.

Of course, those behind privatisation proposals don't worry about the fact that the public don't support them! That's why the meeting agreed to step up the campaign, including possible strike action in the schools concerned. Parents would also be key and we needed to go out and increase their involvement to stop the Council trying to pretend that it was only staff with 'vested interests' that opposed the proposal. Parents who attended the meeting have already got in touch to offer their support in building parents' opposition.

Together, we CAN defeat the Trust!

Saturday 3 October 2009

Tories threaten mass teacher sackings

Shadow Schools Secretary Michael Gove tonight gave a stark warning that teachers - and the NUT - are high on the list of a future Tory Government's targets.

Building on stories already circulating last week (see my 26 Sept. blog entry), Gove spoke on Channel 4 news about a 'cull' of teachers in supposedly poorly-performing schools. The news item even specifically talked of teachers in London, Liverpool and the North-East being on their hitlist!

Of course, a Conservative Government would only be only picking up where Labour would have left off. It was their idea that schools could be handed over to private sponsors. Now Gove proposes to accelerate the Academy programme and let Academy Heads carry out mass sackings of up to a third of staff for the crime of supposedly 'failing' children.

But, of course, it is the politicians who are failing children, not teachers. Teachers working in the most challenging schools should be rewarded for their hard work, not bullied out of their jobs. Instead of privatisation (which, as research consistently shows, does NOT improve education), governments should be providing schools with the resources required to meet the growing needs of our students and communities. Instead, they promise cuts and unemployment for over 1 million youth.

Gove also reiterated his plan to abolish national pay rates for teachers, hoping to divide staff and drive down the overall pay bill in the face of school budget cuts.

Once again, we have been warned of the onslaught that is facing teachers after the General Election. We need to alert teachers to the threats we face and urgently consult over a national action strategy to defend teachers and education.

In this month's NUT National Officers' election, it is vital that we elect a leadership that is ready to meet the challenges that lie ahead. Please vote "Powell-Davies" as your first choice on the ballot paper.

Friday 2 October 2009

Download my new election leaflet

The 2010-14 National Officers will be elected at a time when teachers and education are facing very serious challenges. Whoever wins the next election, schools can expect significant spending cuts. Teachers’ jobs, pay and pensions will be under threat. A Tory Government threatens primary Academies and the break-up of national pay and conditions.

The newly-elected officers will have a vital role to play in giving confidence to NUT officers, reps and classroom teachers to stand together to defend education. I am standing in this election because I believe that I can help provide that strong leadership that we will need in the battles ahead. I am calling for unity to oppose cuts and privatisation and for NUT Conference policy calling for national action on workload to be implemented.

If you support my campaign, please help circulate my leaflets to NUT members. Get in touch if you want coloured leaflets sent to you or download a leaflet from the Lewisham NUT website and forward it to your colleagues.

Download leaflets from: