Tuesday 27 August 2013

Strike together to stop the Tories' attacks

I might be a physics teacher but it doesn't take rocket science to work out why the trade union movement needs to start taking united strike action.

The Coalition is pushing ahead with vicious cuts, privatisation of services and attacks on our pay, pensions, rights and conditions. It's high time that they were stopped.

There is a force that can do this - trade unions taking united strike action, backed up with support from the communities whose jobs and services we are struggling to defend.

Trade unions are strongest when we act together. It's about time that we did so. That's the message that the lobby of the Trades Union Congress being organised by the NSSN, the National Shop Stewards Network, will be taking to TUC delegates in Bournemouth on Sunday, 8 September.

The NSSN Lobby of the TUC is becoming a part of the annual trade union calendar – and for good reason. In previous years, NSSN Lobbies have helped to apply pressure on the TUC to organise first a national demonstration against cuts and then to support the co-ordinated strike action that took place in 2011. Last year, the NSSN lobbied to help make sure that the POA’s motion calling on the TUC to consider the ‘practicalities of a general strike’ was carried. This year, we urgently need the TUC to move from just talking about co-ordinating action – to helping to organise it.
A number of trade unions are already battling in important local or national disputes. FBU members have been balloting on industrial action to defend firefighters' pensions. The CWU have agreed to hold a national ballot of Royal Mail workers against privatisation. UCU members in higher education are considering action over pay. PCS is consulting members across the civil service on the next stage of its campaign of industrial action.

Teachers will be leading the way this autumn. A solid strike of both NUT and NASUWT members closed schools right across the North-West region in June. Now members of both unions in the rest of England and Wales will take part in one of two further days of regional strikes in September and October. That will be followed by a day's joint national strike action in November.  

Teachers have no choice but to take action. From September, the government is imposing divisive performance-pay arrangements that will allow school management to pick and choose who gets a pay-rise - and who doesn't. It's a scheme designed to cut the pay bill and to force teachers to work even longer hours. In the New Year, they're planning to announce more attacks on working conditions.  

There are other important events for trade unionists to support in September - not least to build a mass demonstration in Manchester outside the Tory party conference on 29 September to call a halt to the destruction of the NHS by this government in the interests of their big business backers.

However, demonstrations alone will not be enough. We need to call on the TUC to organise strike action coordinated right across our movement, a 24-hour general strike.

Some trade union leaders will continue to prevaricate but that makes it even more important that those who are up for the fight make plans for coordinated strike action. The NUT and NASUWT have already pencilled in a date for national action in November. Let's make it a day of coordinated national strike action that can start to push this government back at last.
NSSN rally at the TUC Congress at Bournemouth on September 8th:12.30pm-2.30pm Hardy Suite, Hermitage Hotel, Exeter Rd, followed by a lobby of Congress outside Bournemouth International Centre.

Confirmed speakers: Bob Crow, Mark Serwotka, Steve Gillan, Ronnie Draper and Ian Lawrence (RMT, PCS, POA, BFAWU and NAPO general secretaries respectively) Alec McFadden (North West representative on TUCJCC for trades councils and also President Merseyside County TUC), Teresa MacKay TUCJCC & Ipswich Trades Council and Linda Taaffe (NSSN).

Thursday 22 August 2013

GCSE Results - Gove pulls up the ladder once again

Protesting against GCSE grade robbery last summer
After last year's angry response to unexpected changes in GCSE grade boundaries, this year Ofqual and the Examining Boards made sure they had issued plenty of advance warning about another cut in GCSE grades. However, that advance notice will be of little comfort to those students who are disappointed by the exam results that they receive today.

Results released by the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) confirm small drops in the proportion of students receiving A* to C grades for English and Maths. In science subjects, where syllabuses have been changed for this year’s exams, the fall was from 60.7% A* to C grades last year right down to 53.1%.

This further tightening up of GCSE grades will inevitably penalise students, schools and teachers whose success is judged on these A* to C results. While, in pursuit of privatisation, Government insists that schools reach ever-higher GCSE results, the new policy of effectively maintaining fixed pass rates makes these targets almost impossible to achieve.

The numbers of 'early entries' - where Year 10 pupils are entered for GCSEs alongside Year 11s, together with increases in numbers taking humanities and foreign languages, are all a consequence of schools reacting to meet the latest Government demands. While an increase in entries in these subjects is welcome, it doesn't stem from a proper debate about the importance of a balanced curriculum, just schools 'playing the game' of meeting the latest changes in targets. So, for example, at the same time I know of several schools cutting back on teaching less -favoured subjects like technology.

The debate that will now open up again around the technicalities of grade boundaries and pass rates must not be allowed to hide the fundamental truth - that the Government no longer wants so many of our youngsters to succeed. Faced with a protracted economic crisis, big business no longer requires a widely educated workforce. So now it's time for Gove and Co. to draw up the ladder once again so that only a select few youngsters are able to succeed.

Students, parents and teachers must expose these attempts to rob the next generation of a decent future and campaign for properly-paid employment, training and educational opportunities for every youngster.

Finally, these results must also be a further warning to teachers about the dangers of performance-related-pay. It's absolutely clear that the results that teachers will be judged upon are open to all sorts of influences outside a teachers' control - including direct interference in GCSE pass rates.

National Association of Head Teachers' General Secretary, Russell Hobby ( http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-23759165) has commented that: "A lot of us assumed that there was more objectivity to the grades people get. Exams are often held up as being this objective standard, but there's a lot of subjectivity in the marking and grading of exams. It's quite shocking.". However, that hasn't stopped the NAHT issuing model pay policies that recommend that teachers' pay could be determined by exactly such subjective decisions!

For example, how many of my science teaching colleagues ( and I'm yet to find out how my Year 11s have got on * ) will be penalised for a drop in GCSE grades that had been imposed in advance by Ofqual ?

NUT and NASUWT members need to respond to today's news by resolving to make an even more determined effort to build Autumn's programme of strike action against performance-pay and other Government attacks, and to go out and explain to parents why we are fighting for the future of their youngsters' education as well.

 * I know the results now - so congratulations to any of my students who might come across this post!