Sunday 28 February 2010

New Classroom Teacher out now for March - includes news on SATs boycott

The latest copy of 'Classroom Teacher' (a teacher newsletter that I edit) is now out - copies can be downloaded from the Classroom Teacher website (see link to your right). The Classroom Teacher blog also includes additional posts as well - have a look and send in your views and reports too!

March's Classroom Teacher includes articles on workload and cuts and the following article on the SATs boycott:

SATs boycott - only Heads, Deputies and Assistant Heads to be boycotted
The NUT Executive has confirmed that only Headteachers, Deputy and Assistant Heads will be included in the ballot on a boycott of the 2010 Key Stage 2 SATs. The NUT and NAHT will both be issuing ballot papers on 15 March, for return by 16 April.

As the February Classroom Teacher reported, this decision has apparently been made following concern that a wider ballot might be challenged in court - particularly in the wake of the injunction against strike action threatened by British Airways staff.

Legal advice suggests that only these post holders have a contractual responsibility for administering SATs. But where does this leave Year 6 teachers who want to boycott the grinding preparation for these tests?

The NUT promises that further advice will be issued for classroom teachers but, without a ballot, how many will feel confident to refuse when their Head instructs them to prepare their classes for the tests? Unfortunately, it is another example of the lack of a clear strategy. Strong guidance supporting Year 6 staff in resisting SATs preparation should have been issued at the start of September!

Nevertheless, it is vital that staff encourage those being balloted to support a boycott. SATs are a key part of the bullying regime that unfairly compares - and condemns - so many staff, children and schools. Heads need to stand up to the pressure put on them by Government and Councils and support a boycott.

Thursday 25 February 2010

Please send a message of support to Northbrook School

NUT members at Northbrook School in Lewisham have voted by 17 to 1 to support strike action to defend colleagues against pay losses and imposed additional workload as a result of TLR restructuring.

School management have accepted in negotiations that protecting staff from salary losses would only cost the school eight thousand pounds at most. This should be a price worth paying for protecting staff income and staff morale as a whole. However, it seems that they are determined to 'call our bluff' and to see whether teachers are prepared to take action. We fear that they want to show staff that they can ignore the union over TLRs and proceed to pile on the pressure on other issues such as workload and classroom observations as well.

Lewisham NUT are requesting a days' strike action in the first instance and the NUT rep and colleagues are working hard to build support for a solid response from NUT members. They need to know that they are not alone! Please send your messages of support to Derrick Fish, the school rep on

Sunday 21 February 2010

The axe-men are coming - soon or sooner

A fierce debate is raging in both the front pages and financial sections of the serious press about when to make spending cuts.

Some - backed by the Tories - argue for immediate action after the General Election to cut the deficit and placate the money-markets. Others - backing the Chancellor - rightly warn that the Tories' 'short,sharp shock' would risk plunging Britain's fragile economy further into recession.

But teachers - and other public sector workers - should not be fooled into thinking that there is any difference between the two camps over whether cuts will have to be made - sooner or just a little later. The 'open letters' from the economists backing Labour simply support the chancellor’s decision to "delay government spending cuts until 2011".

All the main political parties agree that the huge state debts built up by bailing out the private finance sector's toxic loans need to be repaid. Britain has rung up a budget deficit of around 12% of national income. That's not far short of Greece's ratio - a deficit that the bankers are demanding is immediately slashed. Those austerity plans have already led to big protests in Athens and elsewhere - with a 24-hour general strike across Greece set for February 24th.

Will we see the same level of cuts - and protests - here in London? The £75 million cuts just announced by the Tory-LibDem leaders of Birmingham City Council shows what may lie in store. As their Chief Executive announced, "the scale of cuts is likely to be of a magnitude that no one has seen". He's right. Even Thatcher did not attempt to implement the absolute cuts in public spending planned by both Labour and Tories. Nothing like this will have been since the 'Geddes Axe' in the 1920s - and that helped spark the General Strike of 1926!

Of course, many people will believe that there is no option but to cut. But why should we pay for the crisis caused by the 'banksters' greed? Why are they still getting massive bonuses and with a top tax rate for the super-rich of just 50% (compared to 83% for most of the 1970s)? Once the actual effects of the cuts becomes clear - wrecking education and other public services - protests will begin. The vital factor will be the leadership of the trade unions.

If elected to the Executive, I will argue for the NUT to back a call for a massive national demonstration alongside other unions to demand 'No cuts - defend jobs and services' as a preparation for the national strike action that will be required. The SERTUC meeting on March 6th (see post below) will be an important start to widening this debate across the trade union movement in London and the South-East.

'Competition' = selection

Al the main political parties' plans to 'deregulate' Local Authority schooling through Academies, Trusts and (for the Tories) so-called 'free schools' are based on the neo-liberal idea that 'competition' raises standards.

The recession shows what free-market competition can do to the economy - and it is doing the same damage to education. Competition between schools is bound to mean choosing the pupils that can get the 'best' results for the least input - and excluding those that need more support.

Just as Labour's plans built on Thatcherism, now the Tories want to go further than Labour and introduce 'Free Schools' modelled on Sweden. Realising that the block on open profit-making in Academies has put-off sponsors, free schools can make profits.

But the Anti-Academies Alliance, quoting from Swedish educationalists, explains just what this competition means: "This competition between schools that was one of the reasons for introducing the new schools, has not led to better results. The students in the new schools they have in general better standards, but it has to do with their parents, their backgrounds. They come from well-educated families."

Competition means selection. Selection looks after the few at the expense of the many. Unfortunately, that seems to be what the main parties all stand for.

Friday 19 February 2010

More funds needed - but Government promises cuts

The pressure of expanding homes and pupil needs on London schools means that MORE funds are needed to meet the demands. Instead, all the main political parties threaten CUTS. This is a letter I have sent to the South London Press over the pressures in Lewisham:

While the political pressure in Lewisham over recent years has been about a shortage of secondary places, this report confirms that an even bigger 'ticking time-bomb' awaits whoever wins the Council elections - over primary and SEN places.

Teacher unions have been aware of both of these issues for some time. We questioned the Council's predictions for SEN places at the time of our joint campaigns with parents at the time of the Council's SEN Review. We challenged the Council over their decision to reduce Lewisham Bridge Primary school from 2 forms of entry (fe) to 1 form of entry before planning to demolish it - when officers already knew about the rising pressure on primary places.

This report finally sets out the extent of the problem. 255 extra reception places have already had to be created in 10 schools to meet the 2009-10 demand. Now the Council may need to find an extra 17fe (510 places) to meet even greater demand for 2010-11. On top of this, provision for hundreds more children with statements of SEN than originally predicted needs to be found. The report is unable to explain how these needs are going to be met.

However, Lewisham Council has been refused emergency 'safety valve' funding by the Government to pay for extra primary places. The DCSF claim that the existing 'spare' places higher up the primary age ranges meant that Lewisham did not need the money! But that means forcing schools to amalgamate 'mixed age' classes in order to free up space - despite the educational difficulties that this will cause.

Temporary classrooms will also have to be put up in school playgrounds. But this means reducing play space - particularly cutting into early years learning spaces vital for young children's development - at the same time as adding MORE children in a school. Yet already, as the report rightly states "Many Lewisham primary schools do not have outside space which meets minimum recommendations for inner-city schools".

The Council urgently needs to discuss openly with parents, schools and unions about how we can work together to minimise the educational damage from the rising demand on places. Temporary solutions will not be enough. What's clear is that more primary schools will need to be built - but just when a future government may be cutting back on education spending. Together, we need to demand that the Government funds Lewisham Council to meet the needs of its families and children.

Thursday 18 February 2010

Come to the SERTUC Public Services Conference on 6 March

I have been involved in organising this free one-day Conference on "Campaigning to Speak up for Public Services". If you want to be there, register with

Saturday 6 March 2010 10am – 4pm
Congress House, Great Russell Street, London WC1B 3LS

The conference will look at the causes of the current economic crisis; the response of the mainstream political parties – particularly with reference to their public expenditure plans – and the trade union movement to it. The Trade Union alternative; exploring the potential for joint campaigning activity within the region in defence of services and jobs, living standards; and the scope for building solidarity at local and regional level when union members are compelled to take industrial action to defend services and jobs.


9.30 – 10.00 Coffee and Registration

10.00 – 10.10 Welcome and Introduction Martin Gould SERTUC President

10.10 – 11.00 The economic crisis and the public sector Graham Turner Economist and author of No way to run an economy and The Credit Crunch

11.00 – 12.15 The Trade Union response:

 The Public Sector Context “Speaking up for Public Services”
Megan Dobney SERTUC Regional Secretary
 Civil Service Compensation Chris Baugh PCS AGS TBC
 Higher Education Under Threat Cliff Snaith UCU Regional Secretary TBC

12.20 – 12.30 Introduction to Workshops John Ball SERTUC
12.30 – 13.15 Lunch
13.15 – 14.45 Cross Public Sector Workshops
The aim of the workshops is to update across sectors on the key issues and develop campaigning and organising strategies. For example pay and pensions, what are the key issues in Health, Education, Local Government, Civil Service, Prisons, Fire and Rescue Services, Government Industrials.
 Pay and Pensions Chair: Martin Powell-Davies NUT
 Job and Services Chair: Gloria Hanson Unison
 Equality Chair: Teresa Mackay Unite
 Campaigning and Solidarity Chair: GMB Lead speaker: Tom Taylor
14.45 – 15.30 Workshops Plenary Session

15.30 – 16.00 Closing Session TUC Spokesperson

Tuesday 16 February 2010

Election leaflet to download

Copies of my election leaflet can now be downloaded from the Lewisham NUT website


Sunday 14 February 2010

My record of building the Union

" I have been teaching in London - and building the NUT- for over twenty years. Through consistent leadership, Lewisham NUT's membership has doubled since I became its Secretary. In that time, I have been involved in every major struggle of London teachers, from London Allowances to Sats, Performance Pay to Academies, combating the BNP to fighting job cuts. Right now, I am building action against pay cuts and on workload, organising against Academies, helping to hold off a 'Goldsmiths Trust' of local schools.

After Kevin Courtney's excellent victory in the Deputy General Secretary election, I am standing to fill his place on the NUT Executive and to use my skills and experience to help support teachers across Inner London.

I don't belong to any of the main groups on the NUT Executive. I can - and will - speak out when the NUT fails to act decisively to defend teachers. Our national campaigns on Pay & Sats have lacked a clear winning strategy. Above all, we have failed to protect teachers from intolerable workload.

Existing workload strategy relies on isolated school-by-school disputes. But the last two NUT Annual Conferences have agreed with me that we need to bring all members together to tackle a national issue through national action. We should be organising a national ballot to demand a National Contract that guarantees binding limits on our overall working and teaching hours. The present Executive has failed to act - I will insist that we delay no longer !

After the General Election, the new Executive may quickly need to respond to the challenge of severe cutbacks. Pay, pensions and jobs could be under attack. Academies and Trusts could spread further across London, even to primary schools. Poverty could divide youth and deepen pupil disaffection. Why should education be sacrificed to pay for the 'banksters' greed? We must organise with parents and other unions to oppose cuts and privatisation.

As Chair of the SE Region TUC Public Services Committee, I am already working with other unions to prepare for joint action to defend our services. I would visit London schools to discuss how best to develop public campaigns, work-to-rule and strike ballots - then ensure we turn words into action! "

Thursday 11 February 2010

Will we win a ballot for national action on workload?

In the run-up to NUT Anual Conference at Easter, Local Associations are discussing amendments that will be vital in making sure we have a clear strategy for the union after the general election - not least on workload.

The last two Annual Conferences have supported our calls for national action on workload - but no such ballot has been taken. I don't want that mistake to be repeated again.

There is much common ground on the 'Left' of the Union on the general issues - the worsening workload, the management culture driving it, the need for a National Contract that can offer teachers real protection against the incessant demands being put on them. The question is, what action are we going to take to change that?

I don't want Conference just to pass another worthy motion that lists the problems and our aims - but puts off really doing anything about them. I am confident that, if the Union agreed a ballot for national action in the autumn term - and then went out and built for it - then the ballot would be won.

That's why I hope we can agree a Conference amendment on workload that makes clear to a new Government of our intention to ballot in the autumn term, and to take that action unless there have been serious moves towards implementing our demands.

We need to build and prepare for that camapign throughout the summer term, consulting over the forms of strike and non-strike action that members would most find useful in limiting workload and effective in winning our demands. A series of local and regional rallies and meetings should be held to prepare for action. This is the kind of approach that we should have adopted after the SATs decision last Easter - we should do it now over workload.

Of course, other issues such as pensions and cuts may also become key priorities after the election. The discussion with members over workload action may also need to include action on these issues too. However, I don't see that one means ditching the other. Workload is an immediate and pressing issue for so many members that it will help encourage members to take action on other issues as well.

Sunday 7 February 2010

UCU and NUT discuss joint strategy

I attended a joint NUT/UCU meeting on Thursday to discuss a joint approach to the forthcoming changes in 16-19 funding.

The return of funding from the Learning and Skills Council to Local Authorities was welcomed by unions. However, the transition to the new arangements, against a background of spending cuts, could be fraught with difficulties.

The demise of the LSC points out an obvious contradiction in Government policy. Labour and Tory politicians alike want to dismanatle Local Authorities through Academies and Trusts. However, they have had to recognise that Local Authorities are required to plan 16-19 prvision in a locality. Of course, they only see the LAs as "commissioners" rather than providers of education.

Already, Higher Education is facing swingeing cuts, choking the opportunities for the young people that we teach to get to university. Leeds University UCU members have just voted in favour of strike action to ,oppose announced cust of £35 million, the equivalent of 700 jobs being lost.

February edition of Classroom Teacher

The February edition of Classroom Teacher is now on the Classroom Teacher website

The article on SATs by Louise Cuffaro, a Newham primary teacher, is definitely worth a read:
At the end of January, I attended an informative London Reps’ training. Only a day or two previously, a joint NUT/NAHT press statement had been issued stating that both unions will be balloting for action "to frustrate the administration of SATs". However, it appears that only NUT leadership group members (together with NAHT members) will in fact be balloted, due to the legality about who is responsible for administering the SATs. Reps held a meeting to discuss our concerns about this.
NUT Conference voted to support a boycott of the 2010 SATs. Most Reps and our members expected strong guidance and support to be issued and publicised in time to enable them to resist all SATs preparation from September. But no such guidance came from the NUT Executive.
Inevitably, Heads have pressurised Year 6 teachers to carry out mock SATs tests, to hold booster classes, to give up P.E., Art, trips... Heads have used Ofsted, League Tables and the lack of any concrete details of the NUT campaign to ensure that the grinding preparation for SATs (which constrains the curriculum and means stress and workload for pupils and teachers alike) has carried on.
The legal difficulties may well be real. But the lack of attempt to guide NUT members to strongly resist the preparation process means reps felt unsure that this ballot will be won. It's not usually the manager members of any union that boldly carry out industrial action! However, it is possible for NUT Headteachers, together with their NAHT colleagues, to be persuaded to vote and take decisive action so long as a serious and public strategy is embarked on urgently and publicised to staff,parents and governors. For example:
1) issue urgent guidance and support to Year 6 staff to help them resist the preparation process.
2) all members should be asked to vote that they will be prepared to take action to support anyone who is victimised.
3) all members receive FAQs on how to resist if a Head tries to pressure them to administer the SATs.
54 reps at the meeting signed a letter to Christine Blower with our concerns. Teachers should make their views known to the NUT Executive before they meet on Thursday 25 February.