Thursday 13 October 2011

Action neeeded to stop the 'Bullies' Charter'

Back in July, Tory Minister Oliver Letwin made a speech saying that ‘fear’ of losing our jobs was the way to motivate public sector workers. It seems that many schools are already taking that advice to heart through the unjust use of capability procedures.

On Monday, Lewisham NUT alone will be representing four different teachers at capability meetings. Yet too often these meetings have little to do with the abilities of staff but much more to do with managers trying to scapegoat individuals for the pressures facing schools from cuts and the threat of privatisation. This includes the latest threats to force primary schools that don’t meet imposed ‘floor’ targets into becoming Academies.

In a session on ‘capability’ at the National NUT Divisional Secretaries meeting that I am attending this week, colleague after colleague spoke out about the abuse of such procedures: resentment at being labelled inadequate by observers that have long since forgotten how to teach themselves, unrelenting criticism but a complete lack of genuine support, the destruction of confidence and discrimination against older staff in particular, the deliberate undermining of staff by moving them into classes outside their area of expertise, the lack of any chance to appeal against unjust targets and judgements – leading staff to resign rather than risk the chance of dismissal … the list went on.

But we ain’t seen nothing yet. By next September, the Government plans to have ripped-up the current Capability and Performance Management legislation and introduced new guidelines which the NUT has accurately described as a ‘bullies charter’.

The proposals get rid of the initial ‘informal’ capability period, so immediately raising the stakes for teachers facing these procedures. Performance will be matched strictly against ‘professional standards’ – in practice threatening ‘post-threshold’ staff with the sack if their observations are only ‘satisfactory’ instead of being ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’. The annual ‘three-hour rule’ limiting classroom observations  will be abolished allowing a never-ending cycle of destructive scrutiny and monitoring of staff.

A further dangerous proposal is that schools could introduce ‘probationary periods’ for all new appointments,  not just newly qualified staff. This would allow ruthless employers to rule through a climate of fear constantly threatening new staff with the loss of their job – just as Letwin suggests.

Capability threats are often also made against staff who are ill. Perhaps unsurprisingly in the present economic climate, we were presented with evidence from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development finding that 28% of employers report an increase in the number of people coming to work ill in the last 12 months. Some Mental Health experts are pointing to the dangers of ‘presenteeism’ rather than ‘absenteeism’ where staff are forcing themselves into work instead of taking sickness absence.

These attacks are already threatening the health and well-being of many teachers. Under the new regulations, things could get much worse. Yet, unlike Letwin’s claims, they won’t improve education, they will destroy it. Demoralised and stressed staff do not make good teachers. High staff turnover with schools driving out experienced teachers will destabilise education even further.

They also threaten union organisation. Their aim is to bully and intimidate staff so that we are too frightened to come together and stand up for ourselves – and for education.

These attacks have to be fought collectively. We discussed unions drawing up a model policy that protects teachers against these new proposals. However, it will take action to make sure such a policy is implemented. That action needs to be national action if we are to successfully oppose this latest threat facing teachers.

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