Promoted by David Beale, 36 Pleasant View, Withnell, Chorley PR6 8SE on behalf of Martin Powell-Davies of TUSC.

Thursday 30 January 2014

National Executive agrees date for national strike action

Today's meeting of the NUT National Executive agreed the next steps in our campaign on pay, pensions and conditions.

I'm pleased to report that, among other suggestions,  a number of the proposals that I and others around LANAC have been making over the last weeks and months were taken on board - such as exploring support for a national demonstration for Education and, above all, agreement on a date for national strike action to take place before Easter, whether or not other unions agree to co-ordinate with us.

Regrettably, as these decisions weren't decided on at the previous special meeting of the NEC on January 16th, a strike day can't now be built for in time for the original announced deadline of February 13th - which would also have allowed more time for further strike action to be put in place before Easter.

However, a date has at last been set. What is that exact date for action? Sorry for any further frustration but you will need to wait just a little longer to find out! The Executive agreed that a formal announcement of the strike date will be announced by the NUT on Friday, February 7th. However, the announcement will be made - so let's start building for the action that will follow.

Yes, we've had to wait too long since the well-supported regional strike actions. Yes, we've seen fourteen weeks pass where Gove has failed to meet unions to resolve our dispute .... and No, a one-day strike alone will not shift him either. However, at least momentum is now starting to rebuild again.

NUT members will be relieved that their union is taking national action to defend teachers and education. However, they will also be thinking about what has to come next if we are to defeat Gove's attacks. Those discussions about the ongoing strategy to win this dispute are essential - and will be central to debates at NUT Annual Conference this Easter. LANAC's Campaign Conference this Saturday will be debating that strategy, based on our policy of arguing for a calendar of ongoing national action, including consideration of escalation to a two-day strike and collections for hardship funds to allow maximum participation in strike action.

As our public campaigning must also make clear, we're in a serious battle to defend education - and we have a responsibility to use our trade union strength to win that battle. Let's do so!

Preparing to attack Teachers’ Hours – and Children’s Education

Another day, another attack. In today's papers another attempt is being made to prepare the ground for Gove’s pending attack on teachers’ working hours, alongside the Government’s proposed Deregulation Bill. 

Former No 10 policy adviser, Paul Kirby has posted a proposal on his blog that holidays should be cut and the school day extended until 6pm and offer ‘45 hours of education per week for 45 weeks of the year’.

Kirby’s argumentation wasn’t primarily an educational one -  but largely that it would provide extended child-care. While that could sound attractive to working parents desperately trying to work enough hours to pay their bills, in reality this is a Tory attempt to institutionalise a low-wage, long-hours economy, maximising profits for hard-nosed employers. Of course, it also links with Gove’s plans to include teachers in that approach and to try and force already overworked teachers into taking on even greater workload. 

Educationally, these proposals make no sense. The idea that children will learn more, simply because they are in class for longer, is nonsense. School students, even more than adults, get tired and need breaks. Concentration will not be maintained. Extending hours will not improve education.

Figures published by the OECD show that pupils in England spend around 7,258 hours in the classroom between the ages of 7 and 14 –already above the OECD average. In Finland, consistently regarded as one of the highest achieving education systems, the equivalent figure is just 5,637 hours.

Socially, children need leisure time and parents should have limits to their working hours so that they can enjoy time with their children. Youth and play services can be a valuable additional resource - but these are precisely the kinds of services that are being slashed by Local Authorities.

The idea that cutting holidays is vital to boost educational achievement is also nonsense. Many countries that are ranked more highly than the UK in international education comparison studies like PISA already have longer summer holidays than Britain. For example, Finland and Hong Kong have a 10 week summer break, Iceland 11 weeks, Sweden 10 weeks, France 8 weeks.

If these kind of attacks were to be forced through, many teachers would see them as the last straw – and leave. Staff turnover would increase even further, further damaging education.

The NUT has a responsibility to make sure these threatened attacks are defeated. We need a calendar of national strike action to defend teachers – and to defend children’s education.

Wednesday 29 January 2014

London NUT Reps meeting: local victories achieved, now national action needed

A rainy Wednesday was never going to be the easiest time to bring together NUT reps from across London, but tonight’s London Reps Meeting certainly proved worthwhile.

The meeting started with reports from individual disputes, starting with breaking news of an initial victory at STEM6 Free School in Islington. From a position where the school’s management had originally sought to refuse to even acknowledge the Union’s existence, the threat of strike action had led today to an agreement to union recognition and for meaningful negotiations to begin over teachers’ terms and conditions of employment. 

Other reports included the solid strike action to oppose the worsening of teachers’ conditions at National Autistic Society schools, action against an unacceptable pay policy at Brampton Manor Primary in Bexley, the High Court victory over academisation at Warren School, and successes over changes to pay and appraisal policies both Lewisham and Greenwich.

Louise from Newham and James from Brent both spoke of the determination of their school NUT groups to win pay policies in line with Union checklists – but also how the confidence to take local action depended on teachers being sure that their Union was firm in taking national action too.

Jane from Islington spoke of the pressures on many young teachers to be able to afford to live in the capital and others stressed that the NUT needed to act against the pay cuts being imposed through the enforced increases in pension contributions. That’s one reason why, in my campaign to be re-elected to the NUT National Executive, I am calling for the Union to campaign for a £2,000 increase on all pay points, as well as defending annual progression for mainscale teachers. £2,000 still works out at only around a half of what many teachers have had stolen from them through the combined effects of the pension attacks and pay freeze. However, it is the kind of clear objective that we need to offer to teachers – to help  build an escalating campaign of strike action to stop Gove’s attacks.

Kevin Courtney, the NUT DGS, spoke to reassure reps that the NUT was determined to take action against Gove’s attacks and that the NUT Executive would be meeting to consider plans for further action tomorrow. That was welcomed but, given the continuing delay in making firm strike announcements, the mood from many of the reps who spoke was blunt. As one said, “Stop wasting time and name a date for strike action!”

Leaflets were also distributed to build for a ‘LANAC in London’ meeting on Monday 10 February. As the leaflets state, Now we need to build for action again - but not just for another isolated strike day. If we are to stop Gove, LANAC believes we need a clear calendar of national action, escalating from one to two-day action - and warning Gove that more could follow. LANAC also wants to make sure that, in the NUT elections this year, we elect a leadership that will enact such a bold strategy”.

Tuesday 28 January 2014

NUT General Secretary - should there be a contested election this June?

In June of this year, elections are due to take place to decide the next General Secretary of the NUT. 

Up until now, only one candidate, Christine Blower, the existing General Secretary, had written to Local Associations requesting nomination. Unless another candidate receives the required ten nominations, then there will be no election in June and Christine will automatically continue in post as GS.
A decision by anyone else to stand in the General Secretary election is certainly not one to be taken lightly. The next GS will have the significant responsibility of leading the NUT for the next five years at a time when teachers will continue to face an unprecedented battle to defend their livelihoods, children’s education, and, indeed, to protect the organisation of the Union itself. Standing in the election, especially for anyone with classroom teaching duties, takes commitment and energy and cannot be undertaken without support.

However, at last week's packed Lewisham NUT General Meeting, as part of an angry debate on the continuing delay in calling national strike action, NUT members concluded that there needs to be a contested election because:
  • We need an urgent debate about the Union’s strategy. NUT members have willingly given up their pay to support strike action to defend our pay, pensions and conditions. Yet, each time, they have then seen the NUT prevaricate about what follows next. Now it looks like the February 13 deadline for national action will be missed as well. Teachers are left uncertain and unclear as to whether the Union has a clear plan to defeat Gove’s attacks. An election would help make sure that there was a real debate inside the Union about the strategy to follow.
  • We need a far firmer stand from our Union. Workload, bullying, observations - and all the other demands we face – are making many teachers’ lives intolerable. Yet Union campaigns and communications rarely seem to grasp that reality. An election would allow members to decide who would best speak up for teachers, who will best help things change for the better for us.
That's why it was agreed that Lewisham NUT Officers should immediately write to a number of NUT Associations, asking them to indicate whether they agree that there should be a contested GS election this June - and also, if so, whether they would nominate me to be a candidate.

As the letter stated "we understand that there aren’t many members with a national profile that would want to make such a stand. However, Martin Powell-Davies has agreed that he would be willing to stand in this election, as long as there are enough Associations willing to nominate him and work to support his election". 

Initial feedback from the letter has been positive. In fact, I am awaiting confirmation that one London NUT Association has already voted to nominate me to stand. Other Associations have made contact offering support and inviting me to attend hustings meetings. 

Ten years ago, in 2004, I stood in another NUT GS election as "A Teachers' Leader on a Teacher's Salary', a pledge that I am certainly willing to stand by again. Although very much an 'outsider' in that election, won by the late Steve Sinnott, my campaign succeeded, at least in part, in doing what it had set out to do – to sharpen the debate within the Union and to enthuse teachers to take note of an election that would otherwise not have voted at all. 
My 2004 General Secretary Campaign Leaflet - 10 years younger ...

Looking back at my campaign leaflets in the 2004 GS election, the demands made ten years ago still hold true today: 
- an end to excessive workload, 
- for the right to retire on a full pension at 60
- a serious campaign to end league tables
- action to oppose performance-related pay
- teacher unity in action against 'teaching on the cheap'
Those demands are still vital - but none of them have been met. That's why we need a real debate in the Union about how we can turn the tide in favour of teachers and education after a decade and more of relentless attacks.

Nominations for the GS election close on 30 April and so, if a stand is to be made, a decision has to be made soon. The LANAC Conference on Saturday in Leicester will be meeting to debate  the strategy we need – including whether LANAC-supporting Associations would back a challenge in the GS election. If enough Associations want me to make a stand, then, with their backing, I will do so.

Saturday 25 January 2014

Motions now out for next week's LANAC Conference

As promised, motions for discussion at next Saturday's LANAC Conference - and open to amendment - have been publicised on the LANAC website

As LANAC Convenor, I already know of a good geographical spread of NUT Associations who will be represented on Saturday. Just this afternoon, both Gravesham and Barking & Dagenham NUT reported to me at today's AAA AGM that they will be attending the LANAC Conference too!

The meeting is on Saturday, February 1st, from 11am at  Leicester Adult Education College, Wellington Street Leicester LE1 6HL. It will be a vital Conference to discuss the plans to build a clear strategy to defeat Gove's attacks on pay, pensions and conditions. 

We will be meeting right after the next NUT National Executive meeting on Thursday.  Let's hope that, after that NEC, we will then have a firm date for the next strike action that we can build for. However, LANAC has consistently argued that the decisions shouldn’t just be about the next action date but should also map out a calendar of action that can show both Michael Gove and our members that we have a serious strategy to defeat these attacks.

Four different motions are published on the LANAC website, but this is the motion entitled 'Escalation to Win':

1)    Restates our determination to do everything we can to build the strongest possible action to defeat the attacks on teachers pay, pensions and conditions.
2)    Congratulates the NUT and NASUWT members who strongly supported the regional strike actions in June and October 2013 and urges teachers to build the further campaign of action necessary if we are to reverse the attacks we face.
3)    Recognises that confidence built through those regional strikes may have been damaged by the postponement of the strike action promised, firstly, in November, and then by the further delay beyond the announced deadline of February 13.
4)    Congratulates those members of the NUT National Executive who opposed those delays and called for the NUT action to proceed, with the NUT continuing to invite the NASUWT to reconsider their opposition and continue joint strike action.
5)    Recognises the advantages of joint action but also the dangers in allowing the outlook of another union’s leadership to set the agenda for the campaign. LANAC calls on NASUWT members to demand their Union takes joint action with the NUT.
6)    Believes that it was a mistake for the Unions to claim that they has won an offer of ‘genuine dialogue’ with Michael Gove when he had consistently made clear that he had no intention of offering genuine talks to try and resolve our dispute.
7)    Believes that to build firm support for action, and to answer any confusion that the delays and mistaken claims of ‘talks’ may have created, it is now even more important for the NUT to demonstrate to members – and to the Government – that it is implementing an action strategy that is strong enough to force Gove into genuine negotiations and for the Government to retreat from its attacks.
8)    Calls for the NUT to adopt a strategy that includes:

a)     A calendar of ongoing national action – not just isolated strike days

b)     Escalation from one to two-day action – warning Gove that more could follow

c)     Collections for hardship funds to allow maximum participation in strike action

d)     Co-ordinating action with other unions, including, if they are willing, the NASUWT

e)     A national work-to-rule to resist any attempt to worsen conditions

f)      A public campaign to build support for our action and to defend education 

9)    Calls on the NUT to promote much clearer objectives for the campaign so that teachers know the goals that we are aiming to achieve through taking action. 
10) Finally, recognising the urgent need for wider debate about the Union’s strategy, and the support that was shown for the candidate supported by LANAC for NUT Vice-President, LANAC agrees to also back candidates in the NUT General Secretary and Deputy General Secretary elections and to call on NUT Local Associations to nominate those candidates and to campaign in their support

Education not for Sale - Fighting against Academies and Free Schools

This afternoon's AGM of the Anti Academies Alliance brought together trade unionists and campaigners - including from successful campaigns like that at Snaresbrook School - to discuss the ongoing battle against the marketisation and privatisation of education in England. 

Dominic Byrne from Barking and Dagenham NUT reported on the ongoing campaign to prevent the forced academisation of Warren School. They have been boosted by their recent court victory, granting an injunction against the imposition of an Academy Order, for now blocking Gove's plans. Mr Justice Collins even declared that it "seems from reports that the present Secretary of State thinks academies are the cats whiskers - we know of course some of them are not" !

Ken Muller from Islington NUT reported on the strike action that will be starting next week at the STEM 6 Free School, in pursuit of the right to trade union recognition. This, and other campaigns, are reported on the Anti Academies Alliance website:

One of the main contributors to the discussion was Martin Johnson who, along with Warwick Mansell, is writing a report,  'Education Not For Sale', soon to be launched by the TUC, with accompanying leaflets to publicise the key arguments.

Martin - who I used to work alongside on the Joint Union Side Committee in Lewisham some years ago - pointed how edu-business giant Pearson had declared a profits warning as state budgets were being squeezed in the US. Pearson will be trying to cut costs further and shift their investment to emerging economies where they hope they can find parents willing to spend their incomes on their education schemes.

This was just one example of how education has become a global business, bolstered by the ideology of the GERM, the Global Education Reform Movement. As Martin pointed out, that ideology in favour of marketisation has been consistently backed by over twenty years of successive UK governments. They have focused on funding according to pupil numbers, data and league tables, supposedly to allow 'choice' and to feed the myth of 'differentiation between products'. 

To help artificially boost the market, Gove has now allowed Free Schools to expand, regardless of local need, to the increasing opposition of the Treasury. They are questioning the funding spent on the academies programme - particularly with no real evidence of their impact on educational quality - and now the money squandered on the opening of free schools in places where they are not needed. 

Martin pointed out that, while Gove may be pulling back from openly supporting direct  'for-profit' schools, there are plenty of opportunities for indirect profiteering such as through outsourcing, and by paying massive salaries to the Executives of the supposed 'charities' in charge of Academy chains.

The lessons from the US and Sweden are that marketisation does not improve education. However, it has certainly increased educational segregation and reduced the collaboration between schools that can help share good classroom practice and initiatives. Overall, in Martin's words, it has led to an 'impoverished view of education' where the narrow pursuit of league table position dominates over the genuine pursuit of a broad and balanced education that meets the needs of every child.

Everyone present will have left with ideas to develop their campaigns locally and, as I and others called for, to also develop a broader national campaign for education. I believe that a national demonstration, alongside trade union action, could play an important role in building that struggle to defend education from the hands of the privatisers and marketisers. The TUC materials being developed by Martin Johnson and Warwick Mansell should also help to explain to trade unionists and parents why this damaging 'GERM' has to be stopped.