Monday 30 September 2013

The 3 attacks that teachers have to strike to oppose


Can you imagine teaching at 67 or 68? That’s what the Government is telling most teachers that they will have to do in order to draw the full pension that they have paid in for.

We’re already having to pay more for a worse deal but the worst robbery will come when we near retirement. Already, many teachers decide that they’re too exhausted to work on until the present retirement age of 60 and draw their pension 'early’. However, that comes at a cost. You lose about 4% of your entitlements for each year you retire below your ‘Normal Pension Age’. The calculators on the Teachers' Pensions website show that if a newer teacher with a ‘NPA’ of 65, retires at 55, then you will only receive 61% of what you’ve paid for!

What if your NPA is 68 or more? Even retiring at 60 will rob you of much of your pension. Can we allow this theft?

Don’t forget that the Union has calculated that over the lifetime of the Teachers’ Pension Scheme, teachers have paid £46bn more money into the scheme than has been paid out. Our pensions aren’t ‘unaffordable’, they’re being stolen by Government.


Michael Gove hopes performance pay will bully staff into taking on even more workload. He wants unscrupulous Heads to be able to divide-and-rule in schools through the fear of having your pay-rises blocked at the end of the year.

Even teachers on the main pay spine could have their pay progression blocked next year if they don’t meet appraisal targets. Those decisions could be arbitrary and discriminatory. ‘Success’ depends on so many factors outside a teacher’s control.

Gove wants to cut costs by cutting the teachers’ pay-bill. Schools can set different pay spines and pay newly appointed staff less than their previous salary (i.e. no ‘portability’).

Research shows that performance-pay doesn’t ‘improve’ schools. Instead, it undermines teamwork, divides and demoralises staff. We’re going on strike to stop that damage.


The worst could be yet to come.

Gove has announced that he wants to remove nearly all the legal protections that can limit teacher workload (and our workload’s bad enough already!)

The final decision will be made in the New Year. We need a firm show of strength to make him think again.If Gove thinks he can get away with it, he has proposed that there will be:
  • NO more 195 day limit on your working year
  • NO more 1265 hour limit on your directed hours
  • NO more ‘rarely cover’ protection
  • NO meaningful PPA guaranteed every week
  • NOT even the right to have a proper lunch break
Exhausted, bullied staff do not make good teachers. These attacks are bad for teachers and bad for education too.

Why teachers are on strike on October 1

Teachers will be going on strike tomorrow right across the Midlands, Yorkshire and the East of England in the second of the three NUT/NASUWT regional strikes in our dispute to defend pay, pensions, conditions - and education.
Reports from NUT branches in Yorkshire show how well the strike is going to be supported:
  • Kirklees NUT reports 24 schools fully closed, 2 partially open (for y11 mock exams only), just 3 open (2 academies and a free school.
  • Of 120 schools reporting to Leeds Council, 70 will be wholly closed, 38 partially closed (usually just Y13 and/or Y11) and just 12 open - so about a 90% closure rate 
  • Calderdale reports 86% of secondaries totally closed, all the rest at least partially closed. 50% of primaries are totally closed, 21% partially closed.
  • Wakefield NUT reports a closure rate of 88% across over one hundred schools that they have contacted.
Here's a message from a Coventry teacher to parents about tomorrow's strike:

To all the parents out there I thought you would appreciate some reasons why you are having to take a day off work or pay for extra childcare tomorrow. No teacher takes strike action lightly but the severity of the government's attacks means we must act.

 Here are just 10 reasons why we are striking:
1. Because our working conditions are also children’s learning conditions. Undervalued, demotivated and stressed teachers cannot be good for children. 
2. Because we will lose many, many times more in pay, pension entitlements and health if the attacks on teacher rights go through unchallenged and unchanged than we would ever lose through taking strike action.
3. To oppose the Government’s plans to increase the length of the school day, reduce holidays for children and teachers and worsen working conditions.
4. To protest at continuing plans to require teachers to work until we drop for a worse pension and to stop further contribution increases. A third increase is due from April 2014. And we are now expected to work until we are 68!

5. To force the Secretary of State to reinstate national pay scales and agree a fair pay system which will motivate and retain teachers in the classroom.
6. To stop further cuts in the value of our pay. It’s more than 10 years since teachers had a cost of living pay rise.
To stop the devaluing of the teaching profession. Schools are now free to employ unqualified people instead of qualified teachers to teach pupils.

8. Because all other attempts to resolve our dispute via dialogue have been rebuffed by an arrogant Secretary of State who refuses to listen to teachers. 
9.  Because action works even when it does not win outright. Tens of thousands of teachers have had their pension rights protected as a result of the pensions action already. Compared to the original proposals the Government has put an additional 8% into their planned spending on pensions. This will be worth more to every member for every year of retirement than any conceivable loss of pay through action. 
10.  Because 50% of all those who enter teacher training courses are not in the classroom within 5 years. A school system that produces that reaction from its young teachers is not fit for purpose and we, as a profession, know it. We have a collective duty to do something about it.

Thanks for your support !

Saturday 28 September 2013

Learning from Finland

Teachers from Helsinki visit a school in Lewisham
Yesterday, I had the chance to accompany a delegation of trade unionists from Helsinki on a tour of my own school in South London. It was a great opportunity to chat with fellow teachers and to compare and contrast the pressures we faced.

It was exciting to see the professional interest of these Finnish teachers in our facilities, the curriculum, the children's work, the diversity of our pupil population. As trade unionists, they were also interested in our upcoming strike action and wished us well in our campaign.

Of course, there's a lot that we could be learning from these Finnish colleagues and their nation's consistently high-ranking in international league tables.  

As I explained in a 2010 post on this blog ( ), "Gove and Clegg claim that they want to learn from successful educational systems 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. However, 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

The colleagues from Helsinki gave me a booklet pointing out that Finnish children don't start formal schooling until the age of 7. In contrast,  Gove wants to force children to be formally taught and tested at school from the age of 4. The booklet also points out that the summer holidays in Helsinki last 2-and-a-half months! How do they cope with all that supposed 'learning loss' Mr.Gove?
The response from our visitors when they were taken, first of all, into one of our IT rooms was telling. The school is rightly proud of its IT facilities but the teachers from Helsinki noticed something very different. One turned to me and said "you mean you have to teach 30 students all in this one room?" !

That's the voice of a teacher working in a system where investment in education means that class sizes can still be low enough to allow teachers to give pupils the individual support they need. In Britain, as pupil place shortages hit crisis levels, the pressure is on to cram in even more than 30!

It would be good to think that the exchange of ideas was, nevertheless, two-way. The visitors were certainly impressed by the corridor displays - but rightly wanted to make sure there was support on hand to help teachers put them up!

Regrettably, as economic pressures mount across Europe, even previously more progressive countries will come under pressure to take the same neo-liberal road as Britain - as Sweden bears witness. It will be down to teacher trade unionists, in Finland, Britain and internationally, to maintain the struggle for a genuinely free, equal and comprehensive education system that meets the needs of all our children. 

UPDATE ... and warning Russia not to learn from us! 

I couldn't join the thousands demonstrating  in Manchester today (Sunday) because I had promised to stay in London for a hour-long Skpe interview with a meeting in Moscow of a newly-formed Russian independent teachers' union.

What was clear from the discussion was that Russian politicians were looking to the 'marketisation' of education in Britain, USA and elsewhere as a model for Russia to follow. 

The introduction of a 'unified state exam' to compare schools sounded all too familiar. It was useful to be able to point to Finland as an example of a country where educational success had been acheived by avoiding the use of divisive 'league tables'.

Teacher workload and unpaid 'overtime' seemed to be a common issue between us while other questions, like the role of the Church in schools and the position of Headteachers in the Union are also ones that are debated within the NUT as well, although not as our primary concerns.

Thursday 26 September 2013

No to excessive observations - building for strike action in Liverpool

Tonight was the last of my rushed journeys from school or NUT Office to travel to speak at Local Association nomination meetings. It was good to finish in Liverpool, an NUT Association that has always campaigned for a clear campaign of national action and who helped back LANAC, the Local Associations National Action Campaign, from the outset.

Liverpool teachers, like those across the rest of the North-West, have already taken part in regional strike action in June. Not surprisingly, therefore, the debate centred on what was to follow after the October strikes elsewhere. My view that we had to set the date for a national strike in November, co-ordinated with other unions in dispute, and then alert colleagues to put aside money ready for further action in the New Year, was echoed by other speakers too.

Just as in all the nomination meetings, the pressures facing classroom teachers were a prominent part of the debate. Peter Glover, one of the NUT National Executive members for the district, explained how he had been speaking to a Newly Qualified Teacher who had been observed by FOUR people at once – the Head, Deputy Head, a Governor and a pupil! As Peter put it, “that’s not observation, that’s surveillance!”

Teachers in the North-West took the lead on June 27. Teachers in the rest of England will follow with determined action in October. But if we are to stop the threat of performance pay, pension ages of 68, unbearable workload and bullying observations, that has to be just the start – the start of a program of action that can force back these damaging attacks. I hope to be elected as a NUT National Officer that can help to lead such a winning campaign.

I’ve written a newsletter for Lewisham NUT members to build for the October 17 strike. To download a copy, go to

Wednesday 25 September 2013

Pensions when you need them – not when you’re forced into ‘early retirement’

Public Support for the FBU outside Euston Fire-Station
Somewhere in the Treasury, I suspect there’s an analysis of the real savings the Government expects to make from public sector pensions – not from increased contributions or newly-calculated career averages but from the blatant robbery of enforced “early retirement”.

If a teacher decides that they can’t last out to their ‘normal pension age’ (NPA) - and many can't - but need to draw their pension ‘early’, they have to pay a huge financial penalty of about 4% of their entitlements for each year below their NPA.

The calculators on the Teachers’ Pensions website show that a teacher who still has a protected NPA of 60 can choose to retire at 55 – but will only get 79% of their pension entitlements. That’s a massive saving to the Treasury.

If you’re a newer entrant with a NPA of 65, then going at 55 will leave you with just 61% of your final pension! 

So who would possibly retire ten years ‘early’ you ask? That’s when you have to remember that the NPA under the new Teachers' Pension Scheme could be as high as 68. The Government wants to make it even higher than that! How many teachers can work beyond 60 – especially when the Government plans wants to make our workload even greater ? So teachers will be forced to quit – and hand back much of their hard-won pension entitlements back to the Treasury. 

Of course, some older teachers won’t be given a choice. They’ll be told by their Head that they aren’t up to speed any more. If they can’t work themselves into the ground like some young teachers who are recruited, overworked and then spat out after a few years, they face the threat of trial by ‘capability’.

Of course, that’s exactly the same threat facing fire-fighters. Now it’s hard enough teaching a class at 60 but turning up at a school in flames to climb a ladder and rescue children is an even harder task at that age !

That’s why the FBU rightly took strike action today and I was pleased to be able to pass by the picket line at Euston fire station on the way to a Coventry NUT meeting tonight. I was even more pleased to find out that my television interview as a ‘random’ passer-by in support of their action had gone out on BBC London News tonight!

Fire-fighters, teachers and other public sector workers face the same attacks on our pensions, pay and conditions. It’s right that the FBU took action today and that the NUT and NASUWT will be holding regional strikes on October 1 and October 17. But wouldn’t be even better if we took that action together on the same day?

The NUT and NASUWT have already pencilled in a date for national strike action later this term. Let’s make it a day when fire-fighters, teachers, postal workers and every union in dispute with this rotten Government takes action together!

No to management bullying – building for strike action in Coventry

Coventry NUT’s AGM tonight congratulated members at John Gulson school for the 14 days of strike action they had taken against a bullying management trying to impose unacceptable policies. However, as the meeting discussed, thanks to Gove’s performance-pay legislation, this could be the kind of bitter dispute that teachers face in schools right across England and Wales.

In Coventry, in my own Lewisham Association, and elsewhere, the NUT is ready to support schools in taking this kind of sustained strike action if Governors seek to impose unacceptable pay and appraisal policies. Above all, NUT reps and local officers are building for united action in October - and beyond – in a battle to reverse Gove’s divisive legislation altogether.

The meeting made plans for the regional action being held across the Midlands next Tuesday including organising picket lines, placard-making, leafleting parents and travelling together to the local rally in Birmingham.

Support from parents interviewed in the local paper has already encouraged Coventry teachers that the public will be behind them (see ).

The meeting also took nominations for National Officers, and I’m pleased to report that this was my thirty-sixth nomination for the Vice-President election.

Tuesday 24 September 2013

No to even greater workload - building strike action in Brighton

After Stephen Twigg’s confirmation of his pro-Academy stance during Labour Party Conference week, it was good to be in a meeting in Brighton tonight where everyone understood why school privatisation should be firmly opposed!

The meeting was an impressively packed meeting of 40 Brighton & Hove NUT members gathered for their General Meeting and strike action briefing. In his presentation to reps, local officer Ron Gordon focused on Michael Gove’s threatened attack on teachers’ working conditions. As Ron rightly pointed out, poorer pensions and divisive performance-related pay were bad enough, but the prospect of even greater workload would be a threat that would really fire-up teachers to take strike action.

The presentation took members through the damaging proposals in the DfE evidence to the Review Body, threats which could be implemented as early as next year. (For more detail, see my summary of the DfE report on ).

These proposals include: 

  • cutting holidays, 
  • lengthening the school-day, 
  • reducing PPA to meaningless snippets of time, 
  • forcing teachers to carry out exam invigilation, cover, admin tasks and lunchtime supervision.
Ron pointed out how the DfE report was blatant in its justification that these attacks on working conditions were needed to ‘cut costs’. Making teachers even more exhausted certainly won’t improve education!

Earlier in the day, I had listened to a young primary teacher, in good faith, explain to a meeting of newly-qualified Lewisham teachers to “look after yourself, make sure you go home at 5pm on at least one day a week” If that’s advice for a ‘healthy work-life balance’, then clearly teachers are already working ridiculously long hours!

If Gove gets away with his plans, things will get even worse. Even more teachers will quit the profession, leaving schools without the stability they need.

When, as the teachers’ joint trade union representative, I spoke to those NQTs myself I put up a display that concluded by saying that “teaching should be a great job – help teacher unions keep it that way”. I hope that those young teachers will join their colleagues in defending education from the attacks of all the privatising politicians.

On a final note, I was pleased that the meeting also voted for me to be one of Brighton NUT’s nominations for the upcoming National NUT Vice-President election. This support, together with news of additional nominations from Bolton, Brent and Medway, gives me, at the latest count, a promised 35 nominations from across England and Wales so far. I would like to thank all those Associations for their backing and those colleagues who have spoken in support of my nomination.

Monday 23 September 2013

Teachers must defend comprehensive education - because Twigg won't

My apologies to anyone sitting near me on the train as I travelled home from an excellent Hackney NUT hustings tonight. It's just that when I turned to page 30 of the Evening Standard (pictured), I couldn't help but vent my frustration!

Tonight's London Evening Standard
"More academies, more freedom" - if that's going to be Stephen Twigg's education policy for a future Labour Government then teachers should clearly not expect too much change in direction from whichever party, or parties, form the next Government. We will have to rely on our strength, and the support of our communities, if we are to successfully organise to defend education from cuts and privatisation.

Regrettably, Twigg's article is of no real surprise. Indeed, I  had already raised similar points at the Hackney meeting about the responsibility facing the NUT to lead the campaign to defend education. As I explained, the cost of our pay and pensions are a barrier to the profiteers seeking to gain from the privatisation of schools and other public services.  That's an important reason why they are being attacked. However, collective strike action can also provide the force that can help push back those attacks.

Of course, cuts to Local Authority budgets are already threatening teachers' jobs and vital educational services. The meeting voted to support action to oppose the threat to posts in the Hackney Inclusion Team.

The discussion inevitably centred on how best to build support for our ongoing campaign of action amongst both teachers and the wider public. A number of good practical proposals were made including a petition for NUT/NASUWT members calling for continuing coordinated strike action, organising campaign stalls to leaflet parents, and advertising an assembly point to bring local teachers together before they  travel  to the Central London march on October 17.

One school rep also explained that his Head was happy for a letter for parents to be drawn up explaining why the strike was taking place and, once agreed by the school, I hope I can circulate the text that is decided upon.

I was one of four candidates speaking at the hustings and was pleased to secure one of Hackney NUT's two nominations when the vote was taken. My thanks to Hackney teachers for their support - and for the nomination I received from Bristol NUT tonight as well.

Sunday 22 September 2013

A serious challenge to be NUT Vice-President

Ever since I was backed by LANAC to be a candidate for NUT National Vice-President in May, I have made clear to teachers that I intend to be a serious challenger in November's National Officers' election.

On Saturday, I was pleased to be able to report to LANAC's Steering Committee just how much backing I was receiving for my stand. As the growing list on the right of this blog shows, I have now been notified of around* thirty Associations backing my nomination across England and Wales. They cover a wide spread of areas - not just geographically but also in their traditional 'allegiances' within the Union.

I hope that support shows that I am seen as a candidate with a consistent record of building the Union, leading campaigns and calling for the determined action needed if we are to successfully defend teachers and education.

As I have stated in my latest flyer for nomination meetings ( ), I believe that, as a National Officer, I could help:
• Give confidence to teachers to take the national action required
• Sharpen our communications; explain our case boldly to parents, press and public
• Encourage school reps; support Local NUT Associations
• Show members that their Union understands the relentless pressure facing teachers – and that, together, we are going to do something about them ! 

Gove has criticised me for saying his 'reforms' will make teaching "unbearable" - but they will! However, as I also say in my leaflet, "every candidate can list Gove’s attacks. The question is, how to stop them!" Here's what I am calling for:

"Pulling back from action on pensions in 2012 encouraged this Government to attack our pay in 2013. Any further hesitation will invite even worse attacks on our conditions in 2014. We can’t afford not to act. So, as we must, then let’s strike with the strength necessary to win:
• Build NUT/NASUWT school committees to cement unity and maintain joint action
• ‘Save to strike’; collect to support colleagues facing the greatest hardship
• Coordinate local strikes to encourage action against unacceptable pay and appraisal policies; advise members not to agree to unacceptable targets based on Ofsted gradings and/or excessive targets
• Announce the date for a national strike in November – and appeal to other unions in dispute like the CWU, PCS, FBU to take coordinated action with us on that day
• Prepare for further action next term; consult over calling a 2-day national strike

Teachers would prefer to be concentrating on teaching but we should not apologise for making a stand. We have a responsibility to defend teachers and to defend education, especially when so few of our politicians are prepared to oppose cuts and privatisation"

* "around" because some are still to be confirmed with NUT Headquarters