Sunday 26 September 2010

Greenwich ‘Free School’ Plan – a Trojan Horse to help privatise schools

With Lewisham NUT’s energies focussed on persuading governors at Tidemill School in Deptford not to become an Academy, it was a shock to find out this weekend that a Lewisham NUT member has been in discussions with the DfE about setting up a free school just along the river in Greenwich.

Gladys Delphin, until recently a teacher at my own children’s comprehensive school, co-hosted a parents’ meeting yesterday to build support for her proposal for an International Baccalaureate (IB) School to develop bilingual education for 5-18 year olds. However, the meeting quickly exposed both the dangers and the contradictions in the ‘Nouvelles Racines’ project.

This group of French-speaking teachers have, I understand, been running Saturday Schools in the area for a few years. Frustrated by what they see as limitations on languages teaching in secondary schools, they have wanted to develop a plan for a bilingual school teaching IB programmes.

The Government’s ‘free school’ plans have suddenly presented them with a way to set one up with state funding – and of course help their careers too. Unfortunately, while they may think that they are ‘using the Government’, a number of concerned voices at the meeting, including myself, pointed out that it was the Government that were using them as a ‘Trojan Horse’ to privatise education.

Gladys’ presentation soon revealed how the Government were seizing on this chance to spread their dangerous ‘free school’ agenda. Nouvelles Racines were having weekly meetings with a DfE adviser, supported from the (pro-privatisation) ‘New Schools Network’ who had put them in touch with Nord Anglia. This particular edu-business ‘vulture’, circling to grab state-funding for their private interests, has, as was pointed out by another teacher at the meeting, a questionable record on equal opportunities.

The presentation also revealed that, as has been rumoured, that the DfE were promising to quickly change school premises regulations so that they would be able to set up the school in some kind of renovated premises, aiming to open it as early as September 2011.

The discussion soon exposed two major contradictions between the naive wishes of Nouvelles Racines’ founders and the political and economic reality under this Con-Dem Government:
• Selection. Gladys, Frida and the other proposers say they want their school to cater for disadvantaged bilingual communities. However, there was little sign of the local Ivorian or other French-speaking communities at the meeting. Instead, residents of the new homes along the river between Deptford and Greenwich, and white European parents from elsewhere in London, seemed more in evidence. Discussion was dominated by white middle-class parents demanding to know whether their particular bilingualism would be supported – French? German? Russian? ... When Gladys explained that the school would be non-selective, they started to complain – “but we can’t support the school unless we can be sure that our children will get in” ...
• Funding. The parents were promised class sizes of 20, expert teaching in a range of languages and fully IB trained staff. As another teacher in the audience pointed out, the figures just won’t add up in reality. Of course, even if the Government helps fund some of their activities and building plans, those funds will be stolen from other schools that will be having their budgets cut. They will be taking a Government bribe to help the Tories allow their big business friends - like Nord Anglia - take over education.

A free school is not the way to address the needs of bilingual communities. Far from helping reduce disadvantage, the plan will help the Government introduce a plan which the Liberal Democrat Conference rightly agreed will ‘increase social divisiveness and inequity’.

Other teachers in Lewisham and Greenwich may not be so willing to give the Nouvelles Racines teachers’ the ‘benefit of the doubt’. Because, while Gladys and her colleagues may see a ‘free school’ as a way to help their own careers, they are embracing a Government agenda that is designed to tear up all teaching colleagues’ national pay and conditions.

At least one of my points seemed to hit home – when I warned these black French-speaking teachers that this was the ‘politics of Sarkozy’. Let’s hope that Gladys and Semi start to realise how they are being used by a vicious Government whose policies are all about increasing inequality and helping big business, not disadvantaged communities.

That’s why I made clear that, while we wanted to keep up a dialogue with Nouvelles Racines, the NUT and others had a duty to organise opposition to their proposal – and we will.

Wednesday 22 September 2010

Learn the lessons of Ireland - cuts ruin economies

As the Con-Dems try to Con us that cuts are needed to save the economy, the report below from Cork's Irish Socialist Party Councillor, Mick Barry, spells out the reality - cuts don't only ruin lives, they also ruin economies.

In Ireland, the Irish TUC failed to stand firm and the cuts went through. Let's learn the lessons in Britain - and mount a united sruggle to defend jobs and services!

Bankruptcy - Is Ireland going bust?

UCD economist, Morgan Kelly, was pilloried by the establishment back in May when he said it was no longer a case of whether Ireland would go bankrupt but when.

Councillor Mick Barry, Socialist Party (CWI Ireland)

Four months on, more and more establishment voices are beginning to entertain the notion that he may have been correct.

Despite the massive cuts programme being implemented by the government, the price of borrowing by the Irish state continues to rise. The “markets” demand a heavier price despite the government’s “market-friendly” policies.

This was seen in August when Irish ten-year government bonds reached a spread of 352 basis points over similar German bonds - the highest seen at any time since 1991.

The state now pays 5.58% on these bonds, more than Greece pays for her debt in the wake of the EU/IMF bailout.

The Standard and Poor’s debt rating downgrade simply reflects the view that there is an increased risk that Ireland will not be able to meet its liabilities.

Alan McQuaid of Bloxham Stockbrokers said last month: “You wonder if Ireland is going down the same route as Greece. The country is haemorrhaging money at an alarming rate.”

Matt Cooper wrote in the Sunday Times: “We seem to have got something of a raw deal: public spending has been slashed, the cost of borrowing is going up, and so too is unemployment. The cost will be met by this and future generations. The width of the chasm in the public finances remains so enormous it is difficult to see how cutting current spending and increasing taxes further will do anything other than send the economy into another tail spin.”

Kelly’s analysis back in May predicted a sovereign debt of 140% of GNP by late 2012 based on the state guarantee to the banks costing the taxpayer €33 billion for written off property development loans (out of a total €100 billion), €7 billion for written off business loans (out of a total of €35 billion) and €7 billion for written off mortgage arrears (out of a total of €140 billion). Quoting the writer Ernest Hemingway that bankruptcy happens “slowly, then all at once”, Kelly predicted that this would result in bank bailouts ten times greater than the bank bailouts in the USA per head of population.

Since then, NAMA’s writedowns for property development loans and the surging cost of the Anglo bailout, now estimated by some observers at potentially €40 billion+, point to the situation being even more serious than that.

It is probably too soon to say that bankruptcy for the Irish state is an inevitability but equally a Greek-style debt crisis here even before Christmas can by no means be ruled out. Socialists need to be very watchful of these developments and fully appreciate all the potential implications.

The lessons for the working class movement from recent developments are clear. The massive cuts and tax increases are not being ploughed into an economic recovery. They are being ploughed into a black hole to feed the banks and the insatiable greed of the “markets”. The movement must reject all cuts and tax increases and deals such as the Croke Park agreement which facilitate them. A struggle must be launched against the economic policy of the ruling class and a campaign to replace the “market economy” with a democratic, socialist system must be launched and vigorously pursued.

Sunday 19 September 2010

‘Neither necessary nor inevitable’ – Organise to fight the cuts !

The Government are wielding their spending axe to chop our pensions, jobs and public services. Con-Dem ministers – along with many local council leaders – argue that they have no choice but to cut. It’s just not true.

These cuts will destroy livelihoods and the life of local communities. They will make the economy worse, not better. That’s why unions, staff and the public must say: ‘There IS a choice’ and demand ‘NO CUTS – DEFEND PUBLIC SERVICES’.

Making the deficit worse
“The government [wants to] cut expenditure. If the rest of the economy reacts by ‘tightening belts’, not shopping, cutting investment, laying off staff, then we wave goodbye to ‘balancing the budget’. Tax revenues fall and benefits rise. And the deficit will worsen.” (Economist Ann Pettifor in the NUT’s ‘The Teacher’ )

The Lessons of Ireland
You only have to look to Ireland – where the Irish TUC failed to stand firm against cuts – to see these harsh economic truths. “The massive cuts in spending and pay have increased unemployment and sapped demand, causing the economy to shrink further. Ireland is now considered more at risk of default than before it started making cuts”.(From the PCS pamphlet – ‘There is an Alternative’)

Create jobs – don’t destroy them
The Government’s own ‘Office for Budget Responsibility’ has predicted that their budget cuts will lead to 1.3 million job losses, including 700,000 private sector jobs that are directly or indirectly dependent on the public sector. That means more misery, less tax revenue and more having to be spent on benefits. Instead, we should invest in what society needs – like decent housing, smaller class sizes and tackling climate change.

Paying the bankers’ gambling debts
This crisis hasn’t been caused by excessive public spending. Far from it. Britain’s public expenditure has been much lower than in many other major European countries like Germany and France –and it often shows! But in 2008/9 Treasury spending shot up to £109 billion – to bail out the banks of course. Why should we have to pay the banksters’ debts?

We’re all in this Together?
“If we’re all in the same boat, then it’s like the Titanic – only the first-class passengers will make it to the lifeboats”. (Speaker at the NSSN Lobby of the TUC). While our pay and pensions are attacked, bankers are still earning huge bonuses. The rate of corporation tax on profits is only about half of what it was in the 1970’s. It was this transfer of wealth from our pockets to the super-rich that slashed the market and caused the crisis in the first place.

Close the £120 billion tax gap
We should be taxing the wealthy to help fund our services. But billions could be saved just by collecting the tax that is already due! “£25 billion is lost annually in tax avoidance and a further £70billion in tax evasion by large companies and wealthy individuals. An additional £26 billion is going uncollected. The total annual tax gap [is therefore estimated] at over £120 billion (more than three-quarters of the annual deficit!)” (PCS ‘There is an Alternative’)

Let’s Remind Nick Clegg about Trident
The 2010 Liberal Democrat manifesto pledged opposition to the “like-for-like replacement of the Trident nuclear weapons system, which could cost £100 billion”. I agree with Nick.

An Excuse to privatise Public Services
25% cuts will devastate vital services like education, health and social services. But the Government are also using the crisis to turn over schools, hospitals and the Post Office to the profiteers that created this mess in this first place. That has nothing to do with solving economic crisis but everything to do with an ideological attack on our public services.

If they won’t invest – take the banks off their hands

The short-sighted profiteering of the world’s financiers was to blame for this crisis. But now, instead of investing for recovery, they’re hanging on to their cash. Why – because their profit margins might not be big enough. Why should they be allowed to ruin the economy again? The wealth of the banks and big corporations should be used for society’s benefit.

Thursday 16 September 2010

Cuts Cost Lives - Support London's Firefighters

In an impressive show of strength, thousands of uniformed fire-fighters marched through the streets of London today to protest at the London Fire Brigade’s attempt to bully them into accepting new contracts that impose new shift patterns.

Of course, this dispute isn’t just about shift changes – it’s about trying to force through cuts that will also mean station closures and cuts to the fire service, endangering both firefighters’ jobs and conditions as well as Londoners’ safety.

London Fire Brigades Union members were joined by delegations and their banners from across the country. Amid chants and boos for the Fire Authority members, speakers from the FBU and other unions bringing solidarity - like the RMT, NUT and PCS – were warmly applauded.

Speaking as a member of the NUT National Executive for Inner London, I asked why we should see our services cut to pay off the bankers’ gambling debts?. Unions had to take a simple message to our members – “Cuts Cost Lives”.

For example, I had just been told that morning that Lewisham wanted to slash posts in our Health and Safety Team so that not a single school-specific adviser would be left. That will mean risks not assessed, accidents taking place, leading to injuries and even deaths. But when schools call the fire service for help, stations may have been closed and fire-fighters unable to respond in time if the cuts go through.

The Fire Brigade’s shabby ultimatum to accept new contracts had been given the answer it deserved by the fantastic turnout at the lobby. But if they don’t back down – and the FBU are forced to take action – then they must not fight alone.

Teachers and other public sector workers face our own attacks on jobs, pensions and the services we provide to our communities. We have to link our battles together in a co-ordinated struggle. Right away, NUT school groups and Local Associations should be sending in messages of support and organising for FBU members to visit them to explain their dispute.

The proposed march in London on Saturday October 23rd also gives a great opportunity for teachers to show their support for workers already in dispute like firefighters and tubeworkers – and to show this ‘demolition’ Government that we’re not going to sit back and accept their cuts.

As I concluded at the lobby, we have to say “No Cuts, No Mass Sackings, Solidarity with the FBU!”

Tuesday 14 September 2010

Help build the London anti-cuts demonstration on October 23rd

Tonight's meeting of the London Transport Regional Council of the RMT agreed to call a London anti-cuts demonstration on Saturday October 23rd.

This demonstration - provisionally assembling outside the RMT offices in Chalton Street near Euston at 11am - will help provide a clear focus in the capital to the Regional Week of Action being built around the date of the Government's Spending Review announcement. The demonstration is planned to march to Congress House where the SE Region TUC are holding an indoor rally from midday.

I was pleased to be able to speak to the meeting, as an NUT Executive member, in support of the proposal for a joint demonstration. We would be 'taking to the streets' to oppose cuts - just as the TUC Congress in Manchester has been urging us to do. A well-built London demonstration - bringing together trade union branches and the many anti-cuts campaigns springing up across different boroughs - will raise the confidence of trade unionists to struggle and get the message across to Londoners that we don't have to accept the Con-Dem cuts.

Last night, Lewisham NUT agreed - in anticipation of the RMT decision - to back the march. It could coincide with strike action from firefighters and we hope that the FBU will soon be adding their backing to the event.

Now the call has gone out from the RMT, other union branches should give their support and - most of all - go out and build for a solid turnout on the day.

Confirmed assembly and route details will be announced as soon as we have arrangements finalised - but don't delay - start spreading the news!

Ofsted blame teachers again

I was pleased to get an opportunity on Radio 2's Jeremy Vine Show to respond to Ofsted's claims - rightly described as 'insulting' by the NUT - that pupils are being wrongly needed as having 'special needs' when what they really need is 'better teaching'.

Backing up points that had been made earlier to the BBC by Kevin Courtney, I pointed out that the real problem was the lack of resources in schools to meet the individual needs of every student. SENCOs were battling to get specialist support and advice, teachers struggling to meet each student's individual needs in a class of 30 or more.

Of course, with the Comprehensive Spending Review threatening 10% cuts in school budgets, it will be precisely those TAs and specialist teachers that provide some measure of additional support that may be jettisoned.

Monday 13 September 2010

TUC - we need action not just words

A lively demonstration and packed rallies organised by the National Shop Stewards Network to lobby the TUC Congress in Manchester yesterday helped take the message to the TUC tops that they have a duty to lead national action against the cuts. If even a little of the spirit of struggle that came from trade unionists who had come to the NSSN event from all over England and Wales is shown in the Congress debates, then the Government should start to worry that the slumbering giant of the TUC is starting to stir.

Speaking to the rally outside the Convention Centre, I pointed out that Brendan Barber was now fond of pointing to the poll tax campaign as a model of how to fight. Well those of us who actually helped organise that battle (I was then Secretary of the Bromley Anti Poll Tax Federation) would agree that it showed how to unite local communities in anti poll tax unions, linked together in regional and national federations. But it won because it was based on action - in that case mass non-payment. For our anti-cuts struggle to win we need similar determination and organisation - but we also need national action - demonstrations and co-ordinated strikes.

What we don't need is a leadership that drags its feet. The sorry lesson of Ireland is, that where unions retreat, our pay, pensions and services are cut. The TUC's decision not to call a national demonstration until March 2011 - despite calls from the NUT and others for a demo this term - shows a lack of the firm leadership needed. We have to make sure that the March demo is built - but we can't wait to organise action until then either. By then, many of the cuts will already have been made.

All the speakers from the platform – from national leaders of the PCS, RMT, CWU and others - and from the floor - were clear that we have to go out and unite public and private sector unions, build local anti-cuts alliances of unions and community campaigns and build for national action. All the various events being called - like the Lobbies of the Liberal and Tory Conferences, the TUC Lobby of Parliament and the Regional week of action in October - must all be built firmly.

The NUT and PCS in Bristol have shown the way by calling their own Regional demonstration on Saturday October 23rd. I was pleased to be able to discuss with London organisers of the RMT and FBU at the NSSN Lobby. These unions - mounting their own struggles in London against cuts to their jobs and conditions - are considering calling just such a march in London too and hope for the backing of other unions like the PCS, CWU - and, of course, the NUT.

Look out for news of a London demo - and let's build united action !

Saturday 11 September 2010

Now they're coming for our Pensions

THIS CON-DEM GOVERNMENT has teachers’ pensions in its sights.

The press is putting out twisted statistics to argue that our pensions are ‘unaffordable.’ It’s just not true.

In the ‘good times’ (when the banks were gambling their way to crisis), the Government didn’t quibble when they took in more from our pension contributions than the scheme had to pay out. Now they are baulking at honouring the commitments that teachers have every right to expect after years of work in education.

The fact is that public sector pensions were reviewed as recently as 2005. After the threat of joint strike action forced the previous Government to negotiate, changes were agreed that protected the retirement age for existing teachers but increased our contribution rates too. No more changes should be forced on us now.

But the Government want an excuse to find even more cuts. They have already announced that pensions will be linked to the lower-rate Consumer Price Index instead of the Retail Price Index. That underhand change alone could cost teachers tens of thousands of pounds over their retirement.

Worse is to come soon. They have put ex-Labour Minister John Hutton in charge of a Commission that is due to publish its first report in October. Reports suggest it may recommend:
• Raising the retirement age to 65 for ALL teachers - or even higher?
• Taking higher contributions from our salary - i.e. cutting our pay ?
• Changing the scheme so we get less pension when we retire?

We have to get ready immediately to respond to this attack. Why should we suffer poverty in our old age - or share the misery of private sector workers who have had their pensions slashed? Together, we have to fight.

The last Government had to retreat when public sector unions prepared joint action. In France, millions have been on strike to defend pensions this month. We have to build that level of action too. Why not start with a national demonstration this term?

Martin Powell-Davies

Wednesday 8 September 2010

The Academy 'train' is still only crawling along - let's apply the brakes!

One Headteacher in the latest TES talks about needing to jump on the Academy 'train' before it is too late - but the reality is that Gove's train is only crawling down the track. A firm campaign can help stop his divisive plan gaining any more momentum.

Far fewer schools have applied to become Academies than the Government had hoped for. Now the DfE is rushing around trying to convince more schools to jump on board and help the Government's plans to divide and privatise education.

This morning, at Tidemill Primary School, DfE officials were sent to speak to a parents' meeting to extol the virtues of Academies. Again, their argument was that all schools will be going this way - so why shouldn't Tidemill jump first? It is an argument that reveals their true agenda to dismantle Local Authorities - and one that left many parents unconvinced.

This followed a public meeting organised by Tidemill Parents Against Academies on Monday evening where I spoke on behalf of the NUT alongside Alasdair Smith from the Anti-Academies Alliance. Over 50 parents, local councillors, governors, trade unionists and other campaigners attended. It was, at times, a sharp discussion - one that will have made clear to governors that this was a highly controversial proposal that they were considering. It was also made clear that this wasn't just an issue for Tidemill governors but for the whole local community whose education could be put at risk.

The campaign achieved a first small victory when it was confirmed that governors would be agreeing to extend the consultation timetable after all. Now we want to make sure that a full and genuine debate is held where all sides of the argument can be heard and without decisions being rushed through to suit those - like Michael Gove - who want to drive this dangerous policy forward.

Thursday 2 September 2010


I would like to thank you for your letter formally notifying the NUT that the Governing Body of Tidemill Primary School is consulting on conversion to Academy status.

I am replying in the hope that, rather than simply going through procedural niceties, Governors are willing to ensure that there is a proper dialogue and full discussion about the advantages and disadvantages of pursuing such a significant, and inevitably controversial, proposal. The NUT would certainly hope that you will conclude NOT to become an Academy.

Governors should acknowledge that the vast majority of outstanding schools have not taken up Michael Gove’s invitation to pursue Academy status. I believe that these schools have recognised, as I hope you will, that their ability to continue with high quality teaching and learning will not be enhanced by becoming an Academy. Indeed, the research on existing Academies presents a very mixed picture of their educational performance. Neither do schools need to become Academies to innovate within the National Curriculum.

However, while there is little advantage to Tidemill School in becoming an Academy, the damage to other schools and on the future of education within the borough - and beyond -would be significant. By taking this step, Tidemill Governors would be boosting a Government policy which, as part of a broader agenda to privatise and cut public services, is designed to undermine and divide Local Authority schooling. Any financial advantage that you might make from the move would come at the expense of the central Local Authority budget, reducing their ability to support other schools and families in the borough.

While I am sure that it would not be your intention, the result of a decision to become an Academy would help to reintroduce a two-tier system where the schools deemed most successful would become independent from their Local Authority, given an unfair advantage over pupil admissions, and leaving under-resourced LAs to support the schools and students that need most help. The most disadvantaged families and their children will be the losers.

Governors would, in effect, be accepting a bribe from the Government to accelerate an educational agenda which, I would have thought, would be the very opposite of what Governors of a community school such as Tidemill would wish to pursue.
Instead, I hope that governors would reach the same conclusion as the Headteacher of an outstanding school writing in the July 23rd issue of the Times Educational Supplement: “At the point at which those in the strongest position should be ensuring the most vulnerable passengers are protected, we are being invited to abandon our superior cabins, grab the best crew and provisions and take to the lifeboats. That is something that, as a head and as a school, that is in such direct opposition to our core principles that we could not do it”.

I should also add that your assurance that “terms and conditions of employment would be no less favourable than those currently enjoyed” similarly fails to recognise why, if schools opt to become Academies, staff terms and conditions are at risk. The Government has made it crystal clear that they wish to remove national pay and conditions arrangements from teachers. Allowing individual Academies to set their own arrangements is intended to be one of the mechanisms to achieve this aim. With Local Authority employers withering on the vine, trade union facility arrangements would also be under threat, leaving staff without local trade union representatives released to support them when they required help. Again, even if not your intention, a decision to become an Academy will help to undermine pay and conditions.

These points are just an outline of some of the important considerations that Governors need to make before reaching a decision. As the legislation stands, a mistaken decision to become an Academy could not easily be reversed. This is even more reason to ensure that a full and through consultation takes place. However, the decision to consult over the summer holidays has done little to suggest that Governors are conducting a genuine consultation exercise.

The National Governors Association has set out detailed advice about the Academies Bill, including advice on how to consult with parents, staff and others in the community. It should include the issuing of full information, public meetings and the consideration of a ballot of parents to determine whether to go ahead. Meetings should invite speakers both for and against the proposal so that all views are heard. I understand this is the case with the meeting that I have been invited to speak at by Tidemill Parents Against Academies on Monday. I hope that will also be the case with any meetings organised directly by the Tidemill Governors.

I do not believe that the ‘consultation’ held so far could be seen to be genuinely ‘meaningful’ and hope that Governors would agree not to make any decision as early as this month. I would certainly be very pleased to meet with Governors to discuss my concerns more fully.

I would also wish to have an opportunity to hold a meeting of NUT members within the school. In all of these meetings, I hope that Governors will make clear to staff that they are all free to express their views and concerns, so that those staff who oppose the Academy can speak without fear, as part of a genuine and open discussion.

Martin Powell-Davies, Secretary, Lewisham NUT.