Sunday 23 September 2012

Wilshaw will be answered by teachers' action !

Michael Wilshaw's insulting comments about teachers not working hard enough - backing up Michael Gove's plans to cut the pay of supposedly 'underperforming' teachers - are yet another reason for NUT and NASUWT members to take action together [NUT action will now start on October 3].

From the evidence of the meetings that I have already attended, many teachers are already determined to put the joint action guidelines into practice.

30 NUT members stayed on late on Friday evening at one Lewisham secondary (not rushing out of the door at 3 o'clock Mr.Wilshaw!) for a packed NUT meeting.

I introduced the meeting, explaining the threats we faced and our suggested 'checklist for action' (posted on the Lewisham NUT website on ):

1. Get colleagues together and fix a date for a NUT members’ meeting. See if NASUWT members want to have a joint meeting too.
2. Discuss the action instructions. Decide on priorities in your school and agree to act together.
3.  See the Head to inform them that members will be starting action short of strike action.

4. Ask when consultation will be taking place on new appraisal and observation policies. 
5. See if you can get changes agreed on the priorities in your school.
6. Call a further meeting to discuss progress and to confirm action you will be taking and/or requests to be included in strike action.
7. Keep the NUT informed at all stages.

The priorities discussed at that Friday evening meeting would have answered any claims from Wilshaw that our dispute is nothing to do with education. In London, with rising pupil numbers putting pressure on school places, class sizes are becoming a serious issue for students, parents and staff alike. Some tutor groups in this school had risen to over thirty.  

Under pressure to introduce further initiatives and observations to keep Ofsted happy, Heads of Departments were also being expected to ask teachers to use their planning and preparation time for individual meetings and observations. But, as several teachers pointed out, it meant that teachers were short of time to carry out their main task of assessing work and preparing lessons. These, and other issues, are being raised with the Head before the Union group meets again to decide on the exact action steps they will be deciding upon, backed up by the nationally agreed 'action short of strike action' instructions.

Yesterday, at a regional meeting for Socialist Party Teachers from the West and Wales, there was a detailed discussion about different aspects of the guidelines, particularly about how to make sure that acceptable observation protocols were being agreed. Dangers to look out for included objecting to unannounced 'drop-ins' and making sure that any in-lesson 'book-looks' were not being used to also record comments about the teacher's lesson. Where unacceptable policies were being imposed, school group[s should follow Union advice and approach the Union for support in taking not just non-strike action but strike action itself - which can be done under the terms of our existing ballot

Welsh colleagues reported that they understood that the UCAC teaching union were also balloting to come on board with our action - although not in time to start alongside the NUT and NASUWT.

But the meeting agreed that 'action short of strike action' will not be sufficient alone to answer the relentless attacks from Gove, Wilshaw and co., and that many classroom teachers know that too. A teacher from Worcestershire reported that an NUT Executive member who had not supported national action in March had been angrily questioned at a Regional NUT meeting.

We agreed that a date for a further national strike must urgently be set - hopefully alongside other TUC unions, building on the policies agreed at the TUC in Brighton. However, with the NASUWT voting at the TUC against calls for generalised action, we can't allow the NASUWT leadership to veto further strike plans. After all, NUT National Conference policy clearly states that "while recognising the clear benefits of joint action by teacher unions ... we cannot make the willingness of the NASUWT to take part as a necessary requirement before proceeding to call further strike action"

However, after the experience of the last year, teachers know that neither will a token one-day teachers' strike be sufficient to defeat this Government. The meeting felt that the NUT had to be discussing a programme of strike dates, perhaps building to a 48-hour national strike. This discussion will continue at the Local Associations Network Steering Committee in Leeds next Saturday.

Finally, with none of the main political parties backing the demands the NUT are raising in our national dispute with Gove - on pay, pensions, academies, workload and so on - we agreed that we also have to continue to raise the need for the NUT to use its political fund to support candidates in elections that will stand up firmly for teachers and education.

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