Monday 10 October 2011

Can workload action help the pensions campaign?

The NASUWT's decision to ballot on both strike action and 'non-strike' workload action has spurred a debate within the NUT about how we should respond.

What seems clear is that united strike action is the key - with a mass strike planned for November 30. I hope that the NUT and other unions can then be in a position to announce further dates for joint-union strike action in the New Year.  If the Government remains intransigent, my personal preference would be to call a 48-hour strike that sharply and firmly increases the pressure on the Government.

However, the idea of 'non-strike' action is definitely worth exploring as an addition to the campaign. Indeed, this is exactly what 2011 NUT Conference Policy on Teacher Workload agreed that the Union should consider. Alternatively, and depending on how many different fronts we think we can fight on, it could also be part of a separate campaign to respond to the ever-increasing demands on teachers - workload which seems to have been ramped up even further this academic year. However, the nature of that action (beyond strike action) still needs to be worked out.

The NUT is very willing to sit down and discuss with the NASUWT about a joint campaign of action. Unfortunately, I fear that the NASUWT 'work to contract' action may be limited to issues like ensuring that PPA is in place, not covering except in emergencies, not invigilating for exams - and other parts of their 'Workload Agreement'. However (and we still need to clarify if this is what the NASUWT are really saying) this would fail to tackle most of the workload that is weighing down on staff.

The NUT is already sanctioning school-based ballots. For example, the NUT has issued an indicative ballot in a Lewisham school today for both non-strike action and strike action. The 'non-strike' action in this school is clear-cut - refusal to attend the after-school 'intervention' classes that are being timetabled outside directed hours which are at the heart of the dispute. The strike action would be in place if pay-docking or other disciplinary action took place and/or to ratchet up the dispute if necessary.

Another Lewisham NUT school group is meeting tomorrow and may well request a similar indicative ballot. There, it appears that the school is calling 'mini-ofsted' rounds of observations on any teacher who is 'satisfactory' (let alone inadequate!) and demanding endless detailed plans from staff. Here, the non-strike action will not be quite as clear-cut but staff are looking at what we might do to refuse to co-operate with these management demands - although it may just be that strike action is needed to force the removal of this draconian regime.

Of course, these separate ballots only scratch at the surface of a national problem. The NUT has issued good advice on directed hours, classroom observations and other workload issues. But too many schools are taking little heed of Union policy. Workload action is definitely needed in many schools - and should be part of a national workload campaign. However, if we did ballot for national workload action, I believe we would need to sanction much firmer action than perhaps the NASUWT are envisaging in order to really have an effect.  But, even then, strike action is the clearest and simplest form of action which will have to be central to both a pensions and/or workload campaign.

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