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

Monday 31 May 2010

State Education Under Threat

Anti Academies Alliance Public Meeting: 
Thursday 24th June, 6.30pm at
Methodist Central Hall, Westminster, London, SW1H.

The new Government has put the whole future of comprehensive state education under threat.

Education Secretary Michael Gove is rushing an Academies Bill through Parliament at such a rapid speed that hundreds more schools could become privatised Academies by September. But that could just be the start of a complete break-up of democratically-controlled Local Authority schooling.

Putting “rocket boosters” under the Academies Programme

New Labour introduced Academies as state-funded schools that are run outside Local Authority control. About 200 have been set up, handed over to a series of different religious and business sponsors who wanted to exert influence on education – and expand their commercial empires too.

Their supporters argued that creating a ‘market’ of competing schools would ‘raise standards’. There is no real evidence that Academies have improved education but clear signs that they have started to undermine comprehensive provision through being given control over their admissions and exclusions policies.

Gove wants to put “rocket boosters” under the Academies programme and drive through Labour’s original marketisation plans so that many more schools are rapidly taken out of local control. In addition, parents’ groups and education businesses will be encouraged to set up similar ‘free schools’ to compete with existing provision.

As a ‘Whitehall source’ told the Guardian soon after the coalition was formed, these plans are “about getting local authorities out of the picture”. They are intended to turn the creeping part-privatisation of education under Labour into a full-blown dismantling of a planned state education system. Education will be stolen from local control and handed to education profiteers to run as chains of privatised schools.

Working-class students will lose out

Despite all the attempts over the years to privatise and divide through Local Management of Schools, Academies and Trusts and so on, most areas still retain a locally co-ordinated system of community schools, accountable to an elected Council that can plan admissions and provide central support to try and meet the needs of all pupils.

Gove’s plans would create a chaotic system of competing schools. Of course that market would create ‘winners and losers’ – and it would be predominantly working-class and black pupils that are likely to lose out. It would become a privatised, selective system against a background of spending cuts. Academies would seek to select the students that can produce the highest results for the cheapest input – leaving cash-starved Local Authorities to support those with the greatest needs.

Gove’s decision to immediately invite all schools deemed ‘outstanding’ by OfSTED to take a fast-track to Academy status shows what the Government has in mind. They want to create a ‘two-tier’ system where Local Authorities are left with the ‘secondary moderns’ to teach the youth with little prospect beyond low pay and unemployment.

In case encouragement were needed, Gove has said that Academies’ budgets will be boosted by 10% or so compared to community schools. This will be money previously paid to local authorities to provide shared services. Of course, this is no real gain for an Academy if those services are still to be provided – although it might boost the profits of a privatised provider. It is certainly a loss to a Local Authority who will see their budgets – and the support they can provide to remaining schools - dwindling.

An attack on trade unions

These privatisation plans are designed to permanently remove the threat of the national trade union action that could seriously challenge a government intent on driving through massive cuts. By dividing schools into a series of different Academy employers, all able to set their own contracts, national pay and conditions arrangements will be torn apart.

Gove’s letter to ‘outstanding’ schools spells out that they stand to win the “ability to set your own pay and conditions for staff” and the “ability to change the length of terms and school days”. Gove hopes that an atomised teaching profession can be bullied into working even longer hours and cowed by even more discretionary performance pay arrangements.

A rapid attack needs a rapid response

Teacher unions have been shocked by the speed of Gove’s attack. There are 600 ‘outstanding’ secondary schools and 2,000 ‘outstanding’ primary schools. Even if only a proportion of these took up Gove’s invitation to become Academies by September, this would mark a huge increase by the start of the next academic year – with many more to follow.

The new legislation would even outlaw the sham ‘consultations’ set up by New Labour that at least allowed local campaigns some limited time to oppose Academy plans. The Academies Bill proposes that school governors can just take a simple vote without any consultation with parents, staff or the community. The Department for Education website sets down a timetable that would allow schools to move from ‘registering an interest’ to becoming an Academy in just three months!

Teaching unions have to move quickly to make clear that we aren't going to accept these attacks. It is welcome that the General Secretaries of the teaching unions NUT, NASUWT and ATL, together with UNISON, have written jointly to schools opposing Gove’s plans. Unions will also be contacting ‘outstanding’ schools urgently to encourage staff and governors to reject Gove’s invitation. But wider action drawing on the combined strength of all these unions is also vital.

The Anti Academies Alliance has called an emergency public rally on Thursday 24th June, 6.30pm at Methodist Central Hall, Westminster, London, SW1H. Similar initiatives should be organised in other towns and cities building for a national demonstration this term to defend state education and as a preparation for national strike action.

Wednesday 26 May 2010

Let's organise to answer Gove's Academies Plans

The government has announced a major attack on the future of Local Authority schooling - and teachers' national pay and conditions - by announcing that it will rush through an Academies Bill that will allow all schools to become academies - and just through a vote at a governing body meeting. Many schools could become academies before teachers and parents were even really aware of it!

The legislation is being rushed through so that supposedly ‘outstanding’ schools will be able to make the change by September.

This threatens a major acceleration of the privatisation of schools and dismantling of Local Authority services. It is also designed to be a major attack on teacher unions, dividing teachers into a whole series of different employers so that national pay and conditions can be broken up and cuts driven through more easily.

Teaching unions have to make clear that we aren't going to accept these attacks. An emergency national rally or demonstration in defence of education needs to be organised urgently. Gove and Cameron have to be shown that unions are ready to defend teachers and education.

SE Public Sector Unions Plan United Struggles

Tuesday's meeting of SERTUC's Public Services Commitee had to be moved to a larger room at Congress House - which reflected the wish of trade unionits to come together to respond to the attacks being thrown at us by the Con/Dem Coalition.

Kevin Courtney, NUT DGS, was the guest speaker, introducing a wide-ranging discussion on how trade unions could build joint action. Some of the action points agreed were that:
  • The TUC develops an alternative economic plan to counter the claimed economic necessity for cuts.
  • The TUC organises a national demonstration to oppose cuts to public services
  •  Delegates initiate, either through Trades Councils or individual trade union branches or regional structures as appropriate, joint committees and meetings to prepare opposition to cuts in their local areas.
  • We organise - provisionally in October - a further SERTUC Conference to build from the success of our 6 March Conference. It was proposed that this should take place in October.
  • As Chair, that I send a message of support to BASSA in support of their ongoing strike action.

Friday 21 May 2010

They're getting ready for battle - are we?

The FT today spells out exactly what the financiers and bankers expect from their new Government:

"The full terms of their coalition reveal that one set of voluntary organisations should be afraid. Before the election, the coalition parties aimed to avoid a direct confrontation with the unions. They now appear braced for a pitched battle.
The government must rein in a fiscal deficit of 11.1 per cent of output. Public jobs and pay must bear the brunt of spending cuts. In the state sector, 68 per cent of employees are bound by collective pay agreements.
The parties’ manifestos suggested plans to outflank the unions. They wanted to force through tight pay settlements while undermining the unions by contracting out an increased share of public services to private providers. The coalition agreement sets out a path to direct confrontation.
Employment terms for the police will be reviewed. A commission will investigate whether public sector pensions are affordable. These consultations are certain to recommend cuts. The coalition is using them to buy political cover to slash overtime hours, pay, perks and pensions.
More explosively, the new government intends to attack national pay bargaining. It wants to “reform the existing rigid national pay and conditions rules…” for schools. If anything, the coalition’s ambition should be greater. National pay bargaining is a problem well beyond education.
The coalition must prepare itself for the battle ahead. Organised labour has seen off British governments before. If this administration is to prevail, it must have a clear strategy to tackle the pay rigidities of state employees that damage both the public and private sectors".

The coalition is getting itself ready for a battle - so must we.

It goes without saying that we have to prepare for any action before issuing any ballot. However, we have to make clear straight away from the June NUT National Executive that a national ballot for strike action will be taken to answer a threat to remove protect national pay and conditions. When the Government makes a threat like that, we have to quickly and sharply make clear that we will firmly respond.

The exact details of the attacks to come will become clearer in the months ahead but we need to get on the front-foot and start to prepare the call for the action that will be needed now - and approaching other unions for support in advance.The National Union needs to start now by setting the tone, making clear that we are preparing for national action, organising local and regional meetings to explain the threats we face.

Local campaigns linking together unions in anti-cuts committees are important to develop, actions around budget day on June 22nd will help too. What can also really hit the headlines and mobilise members in the short-term  is a major national demonstration against the cuts and attacks - as we agreed to call for at Annual Conference.

Thursday 20 May 2010

Coalition announces attack on national pay and conditions

"We will reform the existing rigid national pay and conditions rules to give schools greater freedoms to pay good teachers more and deal with poor performance".

This statement from the Coalition's "Programme for Government" is a clear statement of intent to attack to break the national Schoolteachers' Pay and Conditions Document - at a time of cuts. This will lead to individualised attacks on pay and conditions unless we fight together to defend - and improve - national pay and conditions before it is too late.
This is such a significant attack that we need to respond immediately - and move to a national ballot for strike action at the next Executive. We should consider an emergency meeting of Div Secs to prepare for action. We should invite other teacher unions to take action with us too.
We cannot afford to hold back - and need to send a clear signal that we are ready to respond.

Sunday 16 May 2010

CON-DEM-ned to cuts ?… not if we organise joint union action

The May meeting of the NUT National Executive gathered only days after David Cameron had finally been confirmed as Prime Minister. Every teacher will be wondering what this Tory/Liberal coalition will mean for education, for our living standards and for the prospects for our students and their families.

The hard truth is that this will be a government of cuts, “savage cuts” in the words of ‘Deputy Clegg’. Even a Labour-led government would have been under pressure to make up for lost time and start the attacks on pay, pensions and public services that have already begun in countries like Greece, Spain and Ireland. Despite the serious risk of provoking a ‘double-dip recession’, a Cameron government will certainly push ahead with trying to slash the deficit – at our expense. The £6 billion worth of cuts that have already been declared will turn out to be just the tip of an enormous iceberg.

London’s Labour Councils will be under pressure from voters who elected them to fight the cuts - not to carry out Westminster dictats.

It’s true that both the Conservatives and Lib Dems have talked about creating a ‘pupil premium’ to support disadvantaged pupils. But, instead of finding extra funding, new initiatives may be paid for by cutting elsewhere. The Department for Education has already announced that £55bn allocated to Building Schools for the Future rebuilding plans is under threat.

Instead of genuinely funding additional needs, savings may be directed towards the development of so-called ‘free schools’, one of new Education Secretary Michael Gove’s favourite ideas. They will be publicised as allowing parents and charities to set up new schools. In reality, as Sweden has shown, it will be big education businesses that will really profit by being allowed to set up new chains of schools.

As well as ‘free schools’, the Tories will also want to accelerate the Academies programme, further privatising education and undermining teachers’ national pay and conditions. “It’s about getting local authorities out of the picture” as a ‘Whitehall source’ told the Guardian (May 15).

Pensions could also soon be in the firing-line. The coalition parties’ ‘negotiations agreement’ included a commitment to “establishing an independent commission to review the long term affordability of public sector pensions”. We discussed on the Salaries Committee how David Laws, Liberal Democrat millionaire and now Chief Secretary to the Treasury, had already suggested reducing the contributions that teachers’ employers have to put into the scheme. Teachers would presumably either have to pay more or see their pension benefits cut.

This is a sombre list of threats. But they are not inevitable – as long as we get organised. This ‘government of losers’ has no solid support for its cuts programme – cuts that were never spelled out in all the superficial ‘presidential debates’ in any case. Many voters simply opted for what they saw as the ‘least bad’ choice on the ballot paper rather than voting with any enthusiasm. Certainly many teachers who voted Liberal Democrat in the hope of ‘change’ will already feel let down.

Where European Governments have already announced cuts, teaching and public sector unions have responded with demonstrations and strike action. The NUT General Secretary, Christine Blower, has sent our support through ETUCE (the European teachers’ unions) to Greek teachers taking ongoing action to protect their pay and pensions. Spanish public sector unions have responded immediately to the announcement of a ‘surprise’ cut of 5% in salaries with a joint national strike on June 2nd.

We mustn’t sit back and wait for the axe to fall. Instead, we have to start to prepare for the same kind of firm action. That’s why I spoke up at the National Executive to ask that the Union sends out a clear message to members that we will be opposing Government attacks. We need to be putting in place the policy agreed at 2010 Conference that called for:

• NUT associations to approach other union branches to build united campaigns to defend public services. Every Inner London Association should be building those links and planning for joint meetings

• Approaching the TUC to propose a national demonstration to warn the incoming Government of our determination to act to defend jobs, pay, pensions and services.

Christine Blower confirmed that the NUT will be attending the TUC’s Public Services Liaison Group on June 8th to plan with other unions. The Union is also preparing a joint conference in the autumn to discuss how unions and campaign groups can work together to defend education from cuts and privatisation.

Tuesday 11 May 2010

Discussing workload in Westminster

The election is over - now the battles begin! As I travelled to Westminster NUT's AGM, the City Editor of the Evening Standard was already demanding that a Clegg/Cameron Government imposed a five year freeze on pay, jobs and department spending.

The NUT can be proud that - before they have even sorted out who the Government will be - we have helped to severely dent the league tables through our joint SATs boycott with the NAHT.

But the issue of workload remains an even higher priority for most teachers. That was the topic that Westiminster NUT asked me to speak on at their AGM last night. It gave me the first opportunity since Annual Conference to carry out the policy that we agreed in Liverpool - to consult members over the strike and non-strike action that they would support in preparation for a national ballot for action over workload.

The debate confirmed that teachers know that we can't keep puttting up with the long hours that are driving teachers out of the profession. There was general support for an acction approach where the Union would declare a limit on activities that teachers would be prepared to carry out - either a range of specific tasks and/or an overall limit of weekly working hours. Teachers also pointed out that action on class sizes would gain support from parents.

Above all, there was a feeling that we had to go out and convince members to act - and then take firm national action together.

Tuesday 4 May 2010


Reports from around the country show that the boycott is gathering strength. Over 70% of primary schools are boycotting in Kirklees, over 60% in Birmingham and Tower Hamlets, over 50% in Bradford, Barnsley, Hammeersmith &Fulham, Greenwich, Liverpool, Wakefield, Southend ...

In my Lewisham Association, we are now nearly at 40% - and rising. Schools that the NUT and NAHT think are boycotting include: Rushey Green, Ashmead, Childeric, Holbeach, Baring, Tidemill, Deptford Park, Christ Church, St.James Hatcham, Horniman, St Mary Magdalene, Torridon Juniors, Edmund Waller, Myatt Gardens, Holy Cross, Sandhurst Juniors, Gordonbrock, Dalamin, Kelvin Grove, St.Saviours, Launcelot, John Ball, St.Michaels, Lee Manor...