Monday 28 June 2010

DFE releases lists of potential new Academy schools

GOVERNMENT EDUCATION minister Michael Gove is determined to push through the Tory agenda of putting ‘rocket-boosters’ under the academies programme. He has written to every school encouraging head teachers to go on the department for education (DFE) website to register interest in becoming an academy - schools that are publicly funded, but run independently of Local Authorities.

Under pressure from Freedom of Information requests, the DFE has been forced to publish the list of schools that have responded so far. While some of the 1500 or so schools listed are complaining that they simply visited the website to see what Gove had to say, many are definitely pursuing Academy status. Around 800 of the schools have been given an ‘outstanding’ grade by the schools’ inspectorate Ofsted. According to Gove, this entitles them to be fast-tracked out of their Local Authorities in a matter of just months.

Even if only a few hundred of these schools become Academies, this will already be a significant increase on the 200 or so previously set up under New Labour. Gove hopes that a ‘domino effect’ will see other schools jumping aboard to bring about a complete break-up of Local Authority schooling. It would create a privatised, selective system where cash-starved councils would be left to support the ‘sink schools’ left to support children with the greatest needs. It would also be used to rip apart national and local pay and conditions agreements that have been won by school staff.

It is an urgent task for local anti-academy campaigns to alert parents and staff at the wannabe academy schools - but also to warn all schools in every local authority of the disastrous implications of these changes.

It now seems unlikely that the government will get the Academies Bill through parliament before the summer holidays. However, that is no reason to sit back. Instead we must make the most out of any temporary delay and step up the campaign.
Some of the listed schools may not have strong trade union groups. Therefore campaigners opposed to academies need to be at school gates leafleting parents, students and staff. We have to explain that these plans are part of this Government’s agenda to privatise and cut public services and must be opposed.

Scandalously, the Academies Bill seeks to remove any element of public consultation and leaves the decision about becoming an Academy entirely in the hands of each school’s governing body. Staff and parents must demand, at the very least, that governors organise a proper consultation of the local community instead of rushing into a quick decision as Gove hopes. Campaigns must explain that schools belong to the community and governors have no right to give them away.

Each local campaign must be just part of a bold national campaign to defend comprehensive state education from the joint threats of cuts and privatisation. Public sector unions must urgently set a date for a joint national demonstration in the autumn as a preparation for united strike action to defend public services.

Monday 21 June 2010

Lewisham NUT calls for national action

Thanks to an invitation to make my views on the Budget known on the Jeremy Vine Show, I even had a chance to tell Radio 2 listeners that we would be meeting tonight in Lewisham to bring together trade unionists to discuss strike action against cuts and privatisation!
(Eight minutes in on the iplayer link:

Speakers from UCU, UNISON, GMB, PCS and the Trades Council came along to discuss joint action and their own individual disputes.

The meeting unanimously agreed fthe following motion on the Budget and Academies Bill:

This Association agrees that the Union, locally and nationally, must mount a determined campaign to defend pay, pensions and conditions and our schools and public services from this Government’s cuts and privatisation plans.

We are angered that the Budget is targeting public sector workers by proposing that teachers and other colleagues pay for a financial crisis that was none of our making. These cuts will only damage our living standards and damage the economy as well.

We oppose the Academies Bill and Gove’s plans for Free Schools. Both proposals are intended to dismantle Local Authority schooling so as to undermine planned local comprehensive provision and staff pay, conditions and trade union organisation.

We recognise that the severity of these attacks requires an urgent response from trade unions and local communities working together to defend public services.

• We urge all school reps to organise joint union school meetings to explain to staff about the attacks we face and to organise joint opposition to cuts and Academies.
• We ask every NUT member to feedback any news that they hear about schools seeking to become Academies so that we can target our campaigning activities.
• We invite NUT members to attend the NUT Officers’ Committee on Monday July 5th at the LLDC where we will be reviewing our local campaigning activity.
• We agree to liaise with other unions, the Trades Council and other local campaigns to set up a joint committee to oppose cuts and attacks on services, support each other’s campaigns and to organise further protests, meetings and public activities.

We call on the NUT Executive and the emergency SFC Committee to:
• Urgently liaise with other trade unions and the TUC to fix a date for a national trade union called demonstration to focus opposition to cuts and privatisation
• Announce that we will be balloting for national strike action against the Government attacks in the Autumn Term and to call on members and Local Associations to build for a successful ballot result.

Sunday 20 June 2010

Con-Dems prepare their Cuts Budget: Build Joint National Action

The National Executive met before the June 22 Budget but it was clear that the Government was planning to make public sector workers pay for the costs of a crisis that was none of our making. By the time you read this Report, you may already know exactly what cuts have been announced. Do they propose the same kind of attacks as Irish workers have faced where a 7% pensions levy and a 5% pay cut have added up to a 12% cut in incomes for some public sector workers?

Those cuts may have helped renew ‘confidence’ - i.e. bankers’ profits - but, as a TUC pamphlet given to the Executive points out, have done nothing to revive Ireland’s economy. The same will be true in Britain. We have to mount a joint struggle to defend our living standards - and to prevent cuts that will only further undermine the economy and cut jobs and vital services.

This Government threatens teachers and other workers with cuts and privatisation. We have to respond - and quickly. We must organise joint action linking together different unions - and build support in our communities.

Within the Executive - and the Union as a whole - there is a serious debate about what action to call, and when. My own view is that we have to send a clear signal to Government that we aren’t accepting these attacks - by saying that we will ballot for national strike action. We should set a date for a ballot next term and urgently start the work in schools to make sure that we win it.

No firm timetable was set at the June meeting but the Executive agreed unanimously to an amendment calling on a new emergency committee to be given the job of:
* Developing an action strategy, up to and including local and national strike action, as part of the Union’s campaign against academies, cuts, attacks on pay & pensions and other government actions.
* Co-ordinating action with other unions when possible
* As a first task, considering action to meet the immediate challenges of Academies and the Budget.

As the amendment states, local and national action can both play their part. We will certainly support ballots for action in schools facing cuts or where governors want them to become Academies. But it will be other schools in a Local Authority that will also be hit as Free Schools and Academies take away vital funding and undermine pupil admissions in neighbouring schools. That’s why I suggested that we might ballot members across the whole of an Authority - to defend the whole Authority. This strategy will now also be considered.

In preparation for joint national action, the NUT, PCS and other unions are urging the TUC to call a national demonstration. We hope that firm plans can be agreed soon. Locally as well, NUT branches should link-up with other unions to plan joint activities against cuts.

The National Executive meets again on July 14/15. Let me know your views on the action we should call for.

Organise against Academies and Free Schools

THE JUNE MEETING OF THE NUT NATIONAL EXECUTIVE met after just one month of the new Government. Yet with the Academies Bill already unleashed - and both the Budget and Gove’s announcement on ‘Free Schools’ following after - it was clear we have to urgently organise a bold campaign to defend teachers’ pay, conditions and pensions - and state comprehensive education.

In her General Secretary's report to the Executive, Christine Blower described the Academies Bill as potentially “the death-knell of Local Authorities”.

If a stampede of Academies and Free Schools is allowed to develop, elected local councils that can plan provision to meet needs right across a locality will be replaced by a chaotic system of competing schools accountable only to Whitehall and education businesses. They want to set up chains of schools to make a profit out of education - hoping to attract students that can produce the highest results for the cheapest input. Cash-starved Local Authorities and remaining community schools would be left to support pupils and communities with the greatest needs.

The main way for schools to reduce costs is to cut the staffing budget - by asking teachers to do more work for less pay. Gove's letter inviting 'outstanding' schools to become Academies says they would be given the "ability to set your own pay and conditions for staff" and the "ability to change the length of terms and school days". That’s why the NUT’s latest poster answering the ‘Academy Fairy Tales’ warns that “teachers face the threat of greater workload ... Saturday sessions and greater difficulties in pay progression”.

The NUT has moved fast to alert members to these threats, particularly in the ‘outstanding’ schools that Michael Gove wanted ‘fast-tracked’ into Academy status as early as September.

The Executive heard that, fortunately, it now seems doubtful that the Academies Bill will get through Parliament before the summer holidays. That’s one more reason for Heads and governors to hold off from rushing into the unknown and pursuing Academy status. However, that’s not a reason for us to sit back. We have to make the most of any delay to step up our campaign.

All school staff are at risk. That’s why the NUT has helped organise joint materials in the names of the three main teaching unions - ATL, NUT & NASUWT - as well as the three main support staff unions - GMB, UNITE and UNISON. These include materials for parents to explain why they should oppose Academy status.

Here are some of the things that teachers can do:
* Call a joint union meeting in your school Sign letters to governors against Academies. Ask for an indicative ballot for strike action.
* Contact parents who oppose Academies Do you know parents who will help campaign?
* Keep the NUT informed of news and rumours We need to find out where we need to target our campaigning - so keep the NUT informed.
* Organise local meetings and campaigns Wandsworth - faced with the added danger of ‘free schools’ - is one area that has already held a big local meeting to set up a campaign group. I am happy to speak in your area too.

Sunday 13 June 2010

Should the Executive call a national ballot?

The Academies Bill threatens both the future of comprehensive state education and teachers' national pay and conditions.

Activities in schools, Associations and nationally can all play a role in the campaign to defeat the bill - but the NUT National Executive must look at calling national action in particular at our meeting this week.

A lot of good work is going on trying to persuade individual schools not to take up Gove's invitation - with some successes as have been reported. However, as we have found in previous anti-Academy campaigns, we know that some governors will vote to proceed in any case. Similarly, some school groups will be ready to take action, others may not be. This strategy is therefore important, but can't be the only way forward.

Across Associations, we also have to involve members whose school is not immediately faced with becoming an Academy but who will face the consequences on their admissions/future of the Local Authority/pay and conditions. Local meetings and protests will be important but is an action route also possible? For example, could we make clear that, in the event of a school taking up Gove's offer, we would ballot members across the Local Authority ?

Last , but not least, we need national action to raise the sights of everyone and to send a clear signal to the Government. As I have said, I would support a call for a national ballot coming from the June Executive. Presuming we can avoid any legal barriers, there have been concerns raised about the timing for action this term - which would be tight - and about whether we can get the message out in that timescale quickly enough to win the ballot. However, if we do not start with some action at the end of term, then wouldn't this mean delaying any national ballot until mid-September once teachers have got back into the swing of things again? Any national action would not take place therefore until October. How many schools will have 'opted-out' by then - and will the Bill be well into law? Do people judge that this is quickly enough? If not, then we have to go for an early ballot and go all out to win it.

National/regional protests and demonstrations could be called as a build-up to a ballot - or to coincide with any day of action. I understand that there have been discussions about a possible TUC-called demonstration in September which could be linked to both cuts and privatisation - this can't be a determining factor for our timescale, however.

I'd be interested in other opinions before the Executive meets on Thursday.

Sunday 6 June 2010

Letter and meeting for reps in 'outstanding' schools

Below is a model letter - based on that drafted first by Bradford to send to NUT reps in 'outstanding' schools. Also encorage reps to attend:

London NUT Regional Office have called an emergency meeting for all school reps in “outstanding” schools to plan together how we can oppose an increasing numbers of academies and mechanisms to support all NUT members.
The meeting will be at 5pm on 16th June 2010 at Hamilton House, Mabledon Place, London WC1 H 9BD.

Dear NUT Representative

Michael Gove’s Academy invitation is one that must be refused

I am writing to you because we believe that your Headteacher has recently received a letter from Michael Gove, the new Secretary of State for Education, inviting your school to become an academy, possibly from this September. Nationally, some schools have apparently already registered an interest.

If, as we believe, your school has been rated as “outstanding” by OFSTED, then this change to Academy status can happen virtually automatically. All that is needed is for the Headteacher to complete an online registration form on the Department for Education website, and for the governing body to subsequently pass a motion confirming the request.

This would mean that you and your colleagues would very quickly change from your present employer (legally required to honour national pay scales and hours of work and local agreements such as maternity leave and sick pay) to one with new powers to change your pay and conditions. Indeed, the ability to make such changes is one reason Michael Gove gives to encourage schools to take this step.

For this reason, it is very important that you find out, and let me know as soon as possible, what your headteacher’s intentions are, and whether a Governing Body meeting is being arranged to discuss the issue.

The new Government is seeking to end local authority involvement in education. If they succeed in this new “opting-out” drive, schools will become totally fragmented, operating under regulations set in London, with less rather than more capacity to influence the context in which they work.

The effect of a significant number of schools in XXXXX becoming academies will be to threaten the capacity of the Local Authority to provide a wide range of services, from special needs to Occupational Health; from pensions to payroll services; from school transport to NQT induction; from governor support services to in-service training. The only extra money that Academies will get is the money that currently funds these services – but an Academy would still have to purchase these kinds of services.

School admissions arrangements will become increasingly chaotic, threatening comprehensive education in the Authority, and the mechanism for schools to work together will be broken.

The capacity of your Union to represent you will also be threatened, because people like myself who are freed from teaching to represent, advise and support you and your colleagues will find it virtually impossible to get that release time if there is no local authority to fund and arrange it.

Please take this situation very seriously and let us know what you can find out so that we can offer you any support necessary.

Thursday 3 June 2010

VICTORY: Goldsmiths Trust Defeated

Staff at Addey and Stanhope School have been officially informed that Goldsmiths University has withdrawn its support for the proposed “Goldsmiths Trust” of Addey and Stanhope, Deptford Green and Crossways schools.

This news - confirming rumours that have been circulating for the last week - represents a significant victory for the joint campaign of trade unions, students and parents that have opposed this damaging Trust.

Martin Powell-Davies, Lewisham NUT Secretary, said:
“This is tremendous news for everyone who supports comprehensive education. The Trust was always a half-baked idea. Its supporters were never able to show how a Trust would really benefit education. It would have taken staff out of Council employment and would have been a significant step towards the break-up of Local Authority schooling in the borough. We hope that we can now work together to strengthen genuine partnership between schools, not a divisive Trust”.

Des Freedman, UCU Secretary at Goldsmiths, said:
“We are delighted that the proposers of the Trust have finally seen sense. We hope that they will continue to demonstrate their support for comprehensive education and not be swayed by the false promises from the Conservatives for more Academies”.