Monday 20 December 2010

Not a Merry Xmas - just more education cuts

The Con-Dems have confirmed that the number of places on degree courses in England will be cut by 10,000 by 2012.

They have also confirmed further cuts to the teaching grant to universities by 2012, leaving universities to balance the books through cuts, attacks on staff  pay and pensions and through increased tuition fees.

Meanwhile, the supposed ‘U-turn’ on school sports turns out to be, at best, a shoddy attempt to save face and pretend that they are backing the ‘Olympic Legacy’. As the NUT have said “The ‘further’ £65 million announced today will be spread over three financial years and falls far short of the £162 million annual ring-fenced funding needed to continue the School Sports Partnership at current levels”. Mind, the fact that even this extra funding was found is an indication that the Government feels under pressure from the growing anger against their education and public sector cuts.

Meanwhile, what are these cuts achieving? Inflation is up and growth down. It isn’t just the snow that is keeping people out of the shops as their living standards fall and jobs are lost.

Last week, the Institute for Fiscal Studies tore apart Coalition arguments for cutting the Educational Maintenance Allowance. Their research pointed out that the costs of providing EMA would be outweighed by the higher wages - and taxes - that its recipients would go to enjoy in future. Of course, as they aren't thinking about building a decent future for all but just short-term profits for their financial friends - then this isn't going to interest the Con-Dems. No, it's the language of strikes and struggle that will make them listen.

Let’s have a good rest over Christmas and get ready for a renewed struggle in the New Year: January 15 is planned for local days of action against the cuts in the SE Region - and then the National Shop Stewards Network Conference on January 22nd in London will be a great way to discuss how we build a national campaign to defeat cuts and defend jobs, services and pensions  in 2011!

Sunday 12 December 2010

Building student and trade union unity

After Thursday's vote on the tuition fees - and the police attacks on kettled protestors - I visited the Student Assembly in London to participate in the discussions as to the next steps for the campaign against both fees and cuts to the EMA.

There were a whole range of issues being debated - including the democratic structures for the movement and the tactics when faced with police intimidation on demonstrations.

A campaigner from the 1990/1 poll tax campaign explained how a 'Labour Movement Enquiry' was held into the police actions at the end of the Trafalgar Square demonstration which exposed the real events of the day - and suggested something similar might be organised to investigate police actions on the student demonstrations.

I spoke to point out that the police may have hoped that their tactics would dissuade campaigners from coming on future demonstrations - but that they would fail. I proposed that students approach trade unions to call on them to participate and steward  in future demonstrations and, in particular, call on teachers and parents to attend jointly with students and school students. If, as was being discussed, a Saturday demonstration is called in February, then trade unions and schools should be able to mobilise in large numbers.

There was some discussion about simply building for the March 26th TUC demonstration - but I hope that students will agree that their campaign must maintain momentum and build for a further mass education demonstration before then.

Speakers from the National Shop Stewards Network also encouraged students to attend the NSSN anti-cuts Conference on January 22nd to build links with trade unionists.

What's clear is that the best student activists are looking to build links with trade unions. With the UCU now looking to ballot for strike action in late January, a complete education shutdown through joint  UCU/NUT action in March is a real possibility. It's another reason why the January meeting of the NUT Executive needs to vote for an early ballot for action. A delay, leaving the UCU, and perhaps the PCS, to take action alone, would be a mistake for the pensions campaign - and also miss a real opportunity to show students and school students that unions were following their lead with joint action across the education sector.

Thursday 9 December 2010

PENSIONS - ballot timetable decisions deferred to January meeting of NUT Executive.

December’s meeting of the National Executive took another step towards the national action  that we will need to protect teachers' pensions.

The November NUT Executive had unanimously agreed that we should prepare a campaigning timetable building up to a ballot for strike action  in the spring term - with the aim of convincing the Government that they must think again about their plans to make us:
PAY MORE : We could be charged 3.5% more from our pay. That would be 10% of our monthly pay taken for pensions - on top of a 2-year pay freeze!
WORK LONGER: We might all be forced to work until 65 - or even older - to claim a full pension.
GET LESS: Changing the way pensions are index-linked for inflation and introducing ‘career-average’ schemes would both mean we get less in pensions.

After hearing teachers at meetings in Lewisham, Hackney and Wandsworth all give firm support for strike action on pensions, I was disappointed that some NUT Executive members did not feel that   we could yet set a firm timetable for strike action. Instead, we agreed to postpone final decisions  until January, leaving time for further discussions on the Executive - and  with other trade unions.

As I said at the meeting, I am happy to wait if it helps convince others - within and outside of the NUT - that teachers need to take strike action on pensions.  However, we would not be forgiven if  we delayed action until it was too late. We need   to show our strength BEFORE the Government has finalised its plans - and make them think again!

We all agreed to make the most of the time until January’s meeting. NUT Divisions should start by carrying out a ‘clean-up’ of their membership records ready for the ballot. Surveys and meetings will be arranged to test the mood of members and to publicise the campaign. Further meetings will be held to seek co-ordinated action with other unions.

Above all, we agreed that different options for   ballot timetables - leading to action starting either before or after Easter - would be discussed in   January. The ballot would be for ‘discontinuous’ action - not just for a single day’s strike - so that we can prepare for an ongoing campaign of action.

Stealing the Future from our Students

While we met for the Executive in Lincolnshire, it seems that enough Liberal MPs were prepared to break their election pledges to vote through the  tuition fee rises. Other Con-Dem cuts to the EMA and to School Sports Partnerships are all part of a shameful attack on the pupils we teach. Teachers, pupils & parents must continue to campaign together to oppose these cuts - and to expose the politicians who are voting for them.

Learning the Lessons of the Poll Tax - Let's organise and win!

Tonight's 'One Show' on the BBC included a film comparing today's student protests with protests from the past - specifically those against the Vietnam War and the Poll Tax.

I was pleased to be given a chance to explain a little about the anti poll tax movement. Of course they only used a couple of quotes from the many shots they took of me in Trafalgar Square - but I hope it got the message across from this "veteran protestor" (!!) about how, by being organised in every town and city against the courts and the bailiffs, the campaign succeeded in defeating Thatcher and the hated poll tax.

The film did, at least, give me the last word - to point out that, with the same organisation, this Government can be defeated as well!

Have a look on iplayer - after about 17 minutes:

Tuesday 7 December 2010

Save School Sports from cuts !

Several hundred school students and their teachers were out in Whitehall today to protest about the proposed cuts to the Schools Sports Partnership.

The SSP funding - costing only £162 million in total - helps finance school and student participation in sports programmes. Yet, while the Government pretends to be interested in the 'Olympic legacy', this funding is up for the chop. This hypocrisy has helped protesters to gather half a million signatures on their petition opposing the cuts in just a few weeks.

I was one of the NUT stewards at the lobby - but fellow stewards included a non-union PE teacher and a school police officer. However, all of us were there because of the deep anger against the effect of these cuts on young people. It was further proof that, while some people may at first go along with the argument at first that cuts are 'necessary' in general, once they see what specific cuts mean to their own lives, they can soon be out on the streets in protest.

A PE teacher from Barcelona came up to take a photograph telling me, 'Olympics good but school sports better!'.  Things really started to liven up when London school students got all the youth chanting and then cheering as the delegation went in with the petition through the gates of Downing Street.

A few days ago, David Cameron seemed to be hinting that the Government might be considering a U-turn on the cut - but other reports suggest that these hopes will be dashed.

If the campaign succeeds, it will be a fillip to other anti-cuts campaigns. If it doesn't, the refusal will only fuel the growing anger against the Con-Dem's damaging cuts. Certainly, as with the protests against BSF cuts earlier in the year, today's example of teachers bringing their school students to a stewarded protest could set a useful precedent for the future.

Friday 3 December 2010


The NUT has issued two urgent circulars outlining how union members can help support the vital campaign to oppose the Government’s plans to cut EMA support (from £574million to perhaps as little as £75million) and to increase Tuition Fees to £9,000.

These attacks on the educational futures of our school students, particularly those from the poorest families, have angered youth, parents and school staff alike. They are, of course, also an attack on teachers’ jobs if school students decide that they cannot afford to remain in school post-16. The grass-roots campaign against these cuts has been an inspiration to older trade unionists. Now we have to do all we can to back these protests over the next few days.

Schools at this time of year are usually just looking forward wearily to the Christmas break – and the Con-Dems will be hoping that the wintry weather could also help dampen the mood to protest. We need to prove them wrong – but that means acting now to publicise the NUT support for these events.

In summary, the circulars confirm that (as well as other events that will be organised by students):
·    There will be a period of intense campaigning activity over the coming week in the run up to the tuition fees vote, including protests at universities across the country on 8 December 2010 (the day prior to the vote in Parliament); and a mass lobby of MPs on 9 December 2010 itself, followed by a rally in Westminster and candle-lit vigil.
·     There will be a joint day of action to ‘Save EMA’ on Monday, 13 December 2010.  The focus of this day will be on localised college/school activity at lunchtime. A joint website has been set up at . It  includes a petition which we should encourage members to sign.

As with previous action around tuition fees, the NUT is not calling for pupils to walk out and members should be advised that they should not encourage pupils to leave their classes, nor publically call for others to do so. However, it is hoped that retired members and part-time members not working on that day will be able to attend these activities.  It is also hoped that some members may be able to reach agreement with head teachers on the release from schools and sixth form colleges of teachers wishing to attend the protests, where lessons can be covered.

Please act now to help build the campaign in your area. For example:
·    Contact reps in schools with sixth forms and sixth form colleges to tell them about these events
·    Contact other trade unions and see what joint activities can be organised locally

Martin Powell-Davies, NUT Executive Member for Inner London

Wednesday 1 December 2010

The Twisted Logic of Gove's White Paper

The Government’s Education White Paper, ‘The Importance of Teaching’ is a poisonous amalgam of twisted logic and dangerous threats to teachers and the future of education.

Clegg and Cameron’s foreword sets the tone with its deceiving distortions. They quite rightly say that we have to learn from other countries like Finland – but their educational and economic policies are in total contradiction to the relative social equality that Finland’s success has been based upon.

The Con-Dem’s want more Academies and Free Schools. But more children succeed in Finland precisely because they have resisted privatisation and maintained a broadly comprehensive system.

Finland doesn’t have a witch-hunting Ofsted-style inspection regime nor does it publish the divisive school league tables that stigmatise schools in the most disadvantaged communities. But the Con-Dems want to force schools into becoming Academies if they don’t reach their heightened ‘floor targets’ of 35% A*-C GCSE’s (including English and Maths) or 60 % achieving Level 4 in Year 6.

The White Paper claims that it is reducing ‘prescription’ but, while promising a review of testing, states clearly in advance that the Con-Dems will maintain the national testing that forces fearful schools to adopt ‘teaching-to-the-test’. Far from granting freedom to primary teachers, the White Paper insists that ‘synthetic phonics’ is the best way to teach reading, when, in reality, it is just one of a range of techniques that children can benefit from.

Instead of abolishing league tables, the white paper proposes extending them, moving closer to the divisive strategy of producing not just school-by-school but teacher-by-teacher comparisons. This Government of millionaires wants to scapegoat teachers when their own failings to tackle poverty, poor housing and unemployment are really to blame.

Gove will abolish the ‘value-added’ league tables which, for all their faults, went some way to recognising that, however well a school tries to meet pupil needs, home background remains the main influence on exam outcomes. Gove simply declares that ‘we do not expect pupils eligible for free school meals to make less progress’. But his Government’s vicious attacks on jobs, services and benefits will only accentuate those very real factors that discriminate against working-class children.

43% of Finnish 20-29 year-olds have had a university education. But the Con-Dems’ plans to abolish EMA and charge £9,000 tuition fees will steal that opportunity away from so many young people.

In Finland, class sizes are below average, teachers have shorter teaching hours – meaning more time to prepare lessons. But in Britain, class sizes will rise and workload worsen as budgets are cut. The ‘Pupil Premium’ will not add new money to budgets. On the contrary, it has been estimated that 60% of primary students and 87% of secondary students will see their school’s real funding fall when allocations are finally calculated. The White Paper also proposes cuts to school sixth form funding.

Included in the White Paper’s various claims about reducing ‘bureaucracy’ are comments about loosening lesson planning requirements – along with other proposals such as speeding up the time it takes to investigate allegations against teachers -  that could sound attractive to staff. However, the regulations that Gove will be keenest to remove will be those protecting our pay and conditions.

Gove’s abolition of the School Support Staff Negotiating Body and his letter to the School Teachers Review Body calling on them “to reduce the rigidity of the existing pay and conditions framework” shows that he expects schools to balance their budgets at the expense of staff.  Those limited workload protections that survive in national legislation such as the right to time out of class for ‘PPA’ (planning, preparation and assessment), could soon be under attack.  Gove will be looking to give schools even greater powers to set teacher against teacher through performance-related pay.  Staff will be told to knuckle down and do as management tells them – or face a continual pay freeze.

What’s certain is that the White Paper will mark a further sharpening of the bullying management regime that has already taken grip of so many of our schools. For example, it proposes removing the existing annual limit of three hours of management observations of a teacher’s lessons as well as ‘shortening’ capability procedures to make it easier for teachers to be bullied out of their jobs.

The White Paper pretends to acknowledge how important it is to have high quality teaching. But it proposes handing over much of teacher training from universities to over-worked schools. Many new teachers will just be thrown in schools to ‘sink or swim’ without any chance for a broader study of pedagogy. The idea that a ‘Troops to Teachers’ programme can restore ‘authority in the classroom’ is Tory nonsense. ‘Hands up children’ could certainly take on a new meaning!

Some of the proposals may indeed be laughable, but the White Paper is a very serious attack on what remains of democratically accountable comprehensive Local Authority education.

Shamefully, New Labour promoted the marketisation of public services, following the mantra that ‘competition works’. In reality, the market creates both winners and losers, as each school looks after its own interest rather than the needs of every child in the community. Resources are stolen from local communities and handed over to education businesses. The Con-Dems are taking Labour’s Academy programme to its logical conclusion. The White Paper even quotes approvingly from Blair’s autobiography about how Academies are ‘freed from the ... interference from state’.

Having already encouraged ‘outstanding’ schools to jump ship from Local Authorities, Gove now wants to force supposedly ‘failing’ or even ‘satisfactory’ schools into Academies. His model of ‘collaboration through Academy chains and multi-school trusts’ is a clear plan to replace public Local Authorities with private conglomerates. The White Paper makes clear that the Con-Dems have already lined up their big business friends as sponsors “who are keen to extend their reach”.

Gove wants to go beyond Academies with his privatised Free Schools - based on the anti-union US Charter Schools being peddled in the film “Waiting for Superman”. Free Schools will be allowed to expand at the expense of community schools. The White Paper makes clear that “where there is a need for a new school, the first choice will be an Academy or Free School’. This is a major threat in areas like London where a rising school population will require an urgent expansion of school places.

Of course, another ‘bureaucracy’ that privatised schools will really want to have removed is any restriction on their ability to select the pupils they teach. Gove’s promise to consult on a “simplified and less prescriptive Admissions Code” could be a further step towards open selection.

Teaching and education is indeed of vital importance to our communities and our youth. But this White Paper is a blueprint for dismantling comprehensive education – along with the pay and conditions of school staff. Alongside defending pensions, school staff need to be ready to respond to any attack on our national pay and conditions with strike action. Together with our communities we must organise to defeat the Con-Dem’s drive to privatise and dismantle Local Authority schooling