Friday 28 February 2014

Michael, your workload survey says: Teaching IS being made 'unbearable'

“Powell-Davies has claimed that our education reform plans will make teaching ‘a totally unbearable profession’.”  
Michael Gove, September 2013

“Teaching at 67, for even longer hours, divided and bullied by performance pay, Gove’s attacks will make our jobs impossible. That’s why we have to step up our  action to stop them.” 
Martin Powell-Davies
February 2014: Teachers' workload diary survey confirms who best understands the reality of a teacher's life  ... and why NUT members must strike on March 26 and then escalate our action until we win a real 'work-life balance':

Thursday 27 February 2014

Gove: Talks on 'implementation' only. NUT: We'll strike on M26

At today's meeting of the National Executive, Kevin Courtney, NUT DGS, gave a report from the discussions that are now taking place between DfE officials and seven teachers' organisations, including the NUT.
While some other unions might be trying to sell these talks as a real gain for teachers, Kevin confirmed that there is, as yet, no sign of any genuine dialogue.
Firstly, the meetings have only been with DfE officials, not Michael Gove. Critically, these civil servants made clear that the talks can only be about "implementation" of Government policy. (See letter below in full on the National NUT website).

On this, of course, Gove has been entirely consistent. Trade unions need to be consistent too. The promise of discussions about the implementation of Gove's agenda to attack pay, conditions and pensions should be nowhere near enough for any union to call off their action. It's possible that some minor concessions might be tabled, with the aim of dividing the trade union response, but the truth is that nothing substantial will be won until and unless action is taken of sufficient strength to force Michael Gove to offer genuine concessions.
That's why I believe a solid national strike must be built on March 26 and plans announced for further strike action next term.
Finally, the Executive heard reports that over 50 NUT Associations across England and Wales had already organised campaign stalls to take our message to the public, especially on Saturday March 8th. Above all, however, school meetings to build for strike action are also essential to make sure we have the strongest possible turnout on March 26.

Wednesday 26 February 2014

Let Down by Academy Sponsors? Return schools to their Local Authority!

Yesterday, E-Act became the latest example of an Academy employer that has been shown to be letting down its students and staff. The Department of Education has announced that up to ten E-Act academies are to be taken off its hands.

Some parents and teachers in E-Act schools may be pleased that their grievances appear to have been heard. Others may be worrying what the future brings - and perhaps with good reason. That's because all that yesterday's announcement means is that the DfE will now try to hand the schools over to new sponsors - ones that haven't yet fallen out of favour with Michael Gove. 

Of course, what the DfE will refuse to recognise is the obvious conclusion that parents and teachers are drawing: academisation doesn't work! Despite the funding thrown at academies and the political backing that they have received from all the main parties, there is no evidence that academies improve education.

Instead, as E-Act has shown, there is increasing evidence that these privatised chains cannot cope with running large groups of schools. Notably, while the list of E-Act schools under threat has not been formally announced, there are some suggestions that some of the more geographically distant of the Chain's schools might be the ones to be removed, leaving E-Act to concentrate on a more geographically compact entity.

Are the DfE suggesting that it makes more sense to allow schools to work in partnership across a particular geographical area? If so, then we should remind the DfE that such partnerships have existed for decades - Local Authorities!

Unlike Academy Chains, Local Authorities are subject to elections that at least ensure some accountability to local people. LAs can properly plan local provision of school places. They aren't subject to the same pressures to profiteer that fall on private education businesses. They can guard against the excessive salaries (like the £300,000 that was reportedly paid to former E-Act DG Sir Bruce Liddington), dubious admission practices and other dodgy-dealings that have regularly hit the headlines from various Academies and Free Schools.

However, the real scandal is that successive Governments have legislated for a one-way ticket  that pushes schools into becoming Academies - but won't then let them be returned to Local Authority control. It's now starkly clear that this insistence on academisation is damaging education.

This damaging privatisation of education has got to to stop. Parents, teachers and unions have got to demand: return Academies back to our elected Local Authorities!

Strike on March 26: Let's make Gove listen!

Entirely predictably, it seems that today's 'talks' at the DfE (apparently just with civil servants, not even with Michael Gove himself) have again failed to address any of the real issues at the heart of the NUT's dispute.

As today's National NUT press release states, "It has been agreed that a weekly series of talks will take place which the NUT will fully engage in. However, the Government is still insisting that they will only be used to discuss the implementation of policy". No surprises there then!

To be fair to Gove, he has been entirely consistent in his attitude. He has always made clear that he was prepared to organise talks - but only to discuss how his policies are to be implemented. The inconsistency has come from the trade union side, who regrettably gave credence to the idea that genuine talks might have been won.  

Unfortunately, the NASUWT seem to want to maintain the illusion that genuine negotiations are taking place. Correctly, although belatedly, the NUT has recognised that, in order to apply the pressure needed to persuade Gove to properly negotiate, national strike action is required. 

While Gove may have been forced by the Review Body to retreat on some of his planned attacks on conditions, he is quite clearly still determined to cut costs by making teachers work even harder for less pay and pension. An equally determined plan of ongoing strike action needs to be organised to force him to think again.

National strike action is the best way to hit the headlines and force politicians to take note. That’s why every NUT member needs to take strike action on March 26. However, March 26 mustn’t just be another isolated  ‘protest’ strike but the start of an ongoing calendar of action that can apply sufficient force to make Gove retreat.

Saturday 22 February 2014

Parents and Teachers together, let's stand up for education!

As NUT members prepare for national strike action on March 26, Local NUT Associations are taking to the streets on campaign stalls to get our message across to the public.
On the campaign stall in Brixton this morning

The first of those stalls took place in shopping areas today, including in Hackney, Hammersmith, Southend - and in Brixton, where I went with other South London colleagues to help a Lambeth NUT stall that was also building for the 'South London Education Question Time' taking place on Thursday. (Details via

There was a constant stream of shoppers and parents taking our leaflets, signing a petition opposing the proposal to set up a Free School on one of the Lambeth College sites, and discussing the unfair pressures on parents, children and teachers under Gove's privatisation and high-stakes testing regime.

Many Associations will be holding similar stalls in the next few weeks, including my own Lewisham NUT Association on Saturday March 8th, meeting at 11am at Lewisham Clock Tower.

Materials and leaflets have been sent to Local Associations by the National Union, so, if you haven't yet made plans for your local stall, then make sure you do so soon! 

Copies of the new National Union parents' leaflet and petition can be downloaded from here: and
Here is the main text:

The Coalition Government’s policies threaten the standard of education in all our schools and colleges. Help us to persuade Michael Gove to change course.

1 Ensure every classroom has a qualified teacher

Academies and free schools are now allowed to employed unqualified teachers. This is a big threat to standards of education.

2 Allow councils to open new schools where they are needed

There is a huge pupil place shortage but councils are not allowed to open new schools. Many councils are driven to putting portacabins on school playgrounds to cope. The Government only allows new “free” schools and these are often in the wrong place.

3 Make sure changes to the curriculum and exams are positive and planned

Rushed changes are stressful for children as well as their teachers. The Government should start listening to what education experts say. They should work together with teachers to develop an exciting and inspiring curriculum that equips children for the modern world.

4 Ensure there are enough new teachers – stop picking fights with the ones we’ve got

Michael Gove keeps criticising teachers. Morale is plummeting. Five years after qualifying 2 in every 5 teachers are no longer teaching. On top of that the current system of training teachers is under-recruiting. But instead of dealing with this problem, Michael Gove keeps attacking the teachers we’ve got and they are striking to defend themselves and education.

5 Get our schools working together and fund them properly

The evidence shows that schools working together is best for all children. Financial scandals at free schools show the dangers of privatisation. On top of this fragmentation, 6th forms in schools and colleges are facing 20% cuts while £1.7 billion has been allocated to wasteful and unnecessary free schools.

Join the campaign for education! Our children, young people and school communities need your help.

Friday 21 February 2014

Supply teachers - NUT must organise to expose the profiteers

If you want evidence about the dire effect of privatisation on teachers' pay and conditions, you only need to talk to a supply teacher.

Long before 'pay portability' became an issue for permanent staff, supply teachers had already faced a 'race to the bottom' as unregulated agencies sought to hire their labour as cheaply as possible to make maximum profits, undercutting the official rates set down in the School Teachers Pay and Conditions Document. The increasing use of cover supervisors and teaching assistants to cover absences has tended to push rates of pay even lower. 
Most directly-employed Local Authority supply pools became some of the earliest casualties of Government policy - of all the main parties - to delegate more education funding directly to schools while privatising services and cutting council budgets. There was only one clear winner - the supply agencies that sprang up to corner the market. 

It has proved to be a very lucrative business. For example, Teaching Personnel's profits rose from £4.5M in 2008 to £7.5M by 2010. These, and other agencies, generate these profits by taking perhaps £50 a day as their ‘cut’ of the money that schools are charged by the agency for providing them with a teacher. The agencies are also outside the Teachers’ Pension Scheme. This is profit that has been made from education budgets that should have been benefiting children and teachers - not lining the pockets of profiteers.

While some teachers have opted for the flexibility of supply work, increasing numbers have been driven into insecurity by being bullied out of permanent jobs. Just like workers in other jobs on ‘zero-hour contracts’, they cannot be sure of a regular income. In either case, they complain that many schools give supply teachers inadequate support, even down to the simple things like showing them where the staff toilets are! 

Over the last year, and thanks to lobbying from supply teachers, the anger at the unjust way that these colleagues have been treated has started to be given a focus through the NUT. A Supply Teachers' Conference held last July helped to bring colleagues together and has been followed by the production of an NUT 'Supply Teachers' Charter'. (see report of the Conference on

The Charter is a good initial step, raising the profile of the campaign to defend supply colleagues and calling for best practice to be implemented in schools (see picture above). However, feedback from supply colleagues is that the Charter, while welcome, isn't seen to be as yet anywhere near enough.

While the NUT Charter rightly calls for supply teachers to be employed directly on the proper 'rate for the job' , the harsh reality is that most colleagues will still have to look for work through agencies. That's why I believe that we need to start to go on to the offensive and start to expose the agencies' profiteering racket, for example through ‘naming and shaming’ to expose those with the worst rates of exploitation.  

There is certainly an opportunity for some stunts and lobbies to 'out' the worst culprits and get the story in the headlines. I also support the call for a national lobby of the DfE or Parliament to highlight the issue.

Of course, all of this will need organisation. I helped run a workshop at last autumn's NUT Divisional Secretaries Briefing to discuss how Local NUT Associations can help the campaign. (See: 

The key has to be organising supply teachers themselves, bringing together colleagues who, by the nature of their work, can easily be left working in isolation. Some Local Associations have already organised local supply teacher networks and, at this year's NUT Annual Conference in Brighton, an official fringe meeting gives supply colleagues present an opportunity to further develop a national Supply Teachers' Network. 

I would support the call from Supply Teachers for the Union to organise a Supply Teachers Working party comprised of regional supply reps to inform the Union and to help organise national campaigns. However, I would suggest that a self-organised network, along the lines of the existing Sixth Form College network, with support and resources from the Union, might be the most effective way of building a strong organisation that can start to challenge the exploitation of supply teachers.

The campaign must continue, not just to defend supply teachers, but to warn every teacher and parent of the price to be paid when private businesses are allowed to make profits out of school budgets.

Wednesday 19 February 2014

Countdown to March 26

Download as a flyer from

As Review Body steps in to rein back Gove from further attacks ...


Michael Gove has already chosen to make enemies of the teaching profession. Now he is even starting to fall out with his friends!
Michael Wilshaw has spoken out about the high number of newly-qualified staff being driven out of teaching. The Review Body has rejected most of Gove’s plans to make workload even worse.
For once, Gove has had to take a step back. Now it’s time to step forward and push him back some more.

National strike action will hit the headlines and force politicians to take note. Nobody takes action lightly but we need to make a stand for teachers and education:
* 68 is too late to retire - and we are having to pay more out of our salaries for the privilege.
* Performance Pay will divide staff, damage education and be used to block our pay rises.
* 50 - 60 hour working weeks are unsustainable. It’s high time we won a real work/life balance.

Our strike isn’t just about  defending teachers. We are also striking to defend children’s education too.
The National NUT has produced a new ‘Stand Up for Education’ parents’ leaflet explaining the damage being done by Gove’s policies. Call the NUT if you need some copies sent to you.
Ask your Head if the leaflet can be distributed to parents and/or quoted in letters home about the strike. If not, make plans to leaflet parents outside the school-gates or in the community. 

Most teachers will have taken part in other strikes and will have learned to ignore the misinformation and threats that the press and some managers may spread. However,  there are still bound to be lots of questions and  queries to answer:
* Look out for the Strike FAQs on the National NUT website.
* Feedback questions and queries from your school. Do feel free to email me and I will get back with an answer as quickly as I can.

Other teaching unions will not be joining the March 26 strike in England, although UCAC will be in Wales.
Many members of the NASUWT, in particular, will be unhappy that their Union isn’t taking united national action alongside the NUT.
Remind your Head and colleagues that no other trade unionist should be doing the work of a striking NUT member. If you think steps are being taken by school management to undermine action, ask for advice.

* Make sure your school is represented at Local NUT Association meetings to build for the strike.
* Look out for news of meetings and public campaigning in your area. In particular, Saturday 8 March is a date earmarked for NUT street stalls. 
* On March 19, there is a pre-strike London NUT rally at 5.30pm at NUT HQ near Euston/Kings X. Come along to build for action on March 26 - and to prepare for further action in the summer term.

Thursday 13 February 2014

STRB persuades Gove to back away from an all-out attack on conditions - now let's strike to win real gains

After months of leaks about the threat of longer school-days and shorter holidays, there will be relief amongst teachers that Gove has, at least for now, pulled back from his threats to completely dismantle teachers' existing statutory protections.

1265 directed hours and 195 working days will remain, along with existing rights to PPA time and 'rarely cover' provisions. However, teachers returning wearily home tonight will know full well that, even with these protections still in place, existing workload is already unmanageable. What's more, Gove's other major legislative attacks - on pensions and pay - are already on the statute books, and teachers are already suffering the consequences.

Well-organised schools will be able to make use of the retained 1265 hours provision to continue to limit demands to attend after-school meetings and events. However, as the Review Body themselves acknowledge, all teachers "work in excess of the 1265 hours of directed time". In fact, the latest Teachers' Workload Diary survey that they refer to makes clear that most classroom teachers work, on average, 50 hours a week:

DfE (2010) Teachers' Workload Diary Survey
UPDATE: A few colleagues have rightly said "50 hours? - and the rest!" However, these are the official  figures from 2010 that the STRB refers to in its Report. What about more recent information? As the National NUT website points out, "The DfE undertook its latest workload survey in March 2013 and the findings have yet to be published. The NUT wrote to Michael Gove on 18 February to request that the findings be made available to the NUT under the Freedom of Information Act".

So, teachers' satisfaction that Gove has had to pull back from an all-out attack on working conditions will be tempered by the knowledge that no actual gains have been made to improve the intolerable working conditions that are driving so many teachers out of the profession.

In fact, while the bulk of the existing STPCD provisions will remain, some significant protections are still to be lost. Most notable of these is the deletion of the specific list of 21 administrative and clerical tasks that teachers have been legally able to refuse to carry out 'routinely'. Other supportive guidance is also being binned -  such as guidance on 'work-life balance' that included a "wider commitment to secure downward pressure on excessive hours".

In short, the Review Body have clearly concluded that, rather than risk provoking the angry response that a full-frontal attack on conditions would provoke, it would be far better to carry on piling the pressure on staff using the existing STPCD, given that it offers such limited protections to staff. After all, the open-ended paragraph 51.22 of the STPCD remains, making clear that "In addition to the (1265) hours ... a teacher must work such reasonable additional hours as may be necessary to enable the effective discharge of the teacher’s professional duties, including in particular planning and preparing courses and lessons; and assessing, monitoring, recording and reporting on the learning needs, progress and achievements of assigned pupils". That's where our evenings and weekends disappear.

The Review Body's approach is summed up in 4.31 of today's Report: "We consider there is a need to move away from a system where every last detail is prescribed towards a more autonomous system, where professionals exercise judgement and discretion. The statutory provisions offer a sound basis for schools to agree flexible arrangements locally". 

In short, given the continuing absence of any meaningful national contract, and with the fear of job loss and performance-pay also being held over staff, the Review Body understands that existing provisions are quite adequate in many schools to maintain the pressure on staff to do everything that is asked of them by their managers.

Once again, the only thing that stands in their way will be union strength and organisation.  However, just as with performance-pay, while some gains can be won in well-organised schools, a national campaign to improve national pay and conditions is still absolutely vital if teachers are to win real and lasting changes.

Teachers should take heart from the fact that Gove has been reined in. It shows that, despite the hesitation shown by unions over the last few months and years, some in Westminster do have an idea of the level of teachers' discontent, discontent responsible for the high, and educationally damaging, level of teacher turnover. They also recognise that, with pressure for extended action building inside the NUT, they still risk provoking a serious action campaign, and one that would win public support.

However, to make real gains for teachers, it's not just enough to hold back Gove's attacks. We now have to go forward and seek to reverse the attacks that have been made on pay and pensions, as well as securing real improvements in working conditions.

That's why I have made clear in my campaigning materials that the Union needs to set clear objectives for our ongoing campaign. As well as protecting our existing conditions, I have proposed that the Union fights for:
  •  A life outside school - we need a minimum 20% PPA in all sectors
  • Retirement at 60 - not 68
  • Abolish OFSTED and league tables
  • Guaranteed mainscale pay progression 
  • A £2,000 increase on all pay points
These are the kind of demands that will win real gains for teachers. To achieve them, we have to build an ongoing calendar of action, building from a solid national strike on March 26 to further national action in the summer term. 

Let's not allow Gove to push forward again. It's time we pushed him back.

Wednesday 12 February 2014

Gove announces his next attack - on teachers' national working conditions

Unions are expecting Michael Gove to make an announcement on Thursday about his plans to deregulate teachers' working conditions, when he releases his response to the Report from the 'School Teachers' Review Body'.

His original proposals were released in his 'evidence' to the STRB report last June - which I summarised in the document posted on:

Here's what Gove had in mind then:

  • Reducing PPA time
  • Shorter holidays, longer hours  
  • No right to a clear lunchbreak
  • Back to invigilating exams and covering for absence
Regrettably, in response to those threats, teaching unions have failed to take the determined action needed to make Gove think again. Regional action wasn't followed by the national action we had threatened - although now, at last, the NUT have announced action for March 26. 

How confident will Gove feel to press ahead with his attacks - and, if so, will he again leave it to individual schools to decide how to introduce the deregulation - as he did over pay?

Watch this space ... 

Striking to oppose divisive performance pay

Another solid local strike to oppose an unacceptable performance-pay policy is taking place in Avenue Primary School in Newham today.

The school has imposed a pay policy that introduces ‘half-points’ into the usual pay-scales, so that there are sixteen steps between the top and bottom of the classroom teachers’ pay-scales, instead of the usual nine.

It’s not hard to see that this will be used to ration pay-increases and divide and bully staff with the threat that most will only be awarded a smaller ‘half-point’ salary increase at the end of the year. As the London Region NUT  leaflet handed out to parents at the school-gates made clear “these changes to pay policy have nothing to do with improving education and are designed to cut teachers’ pay”.

The logical conclusion of such a divisive approach to paying teachers was spelt out bluntly by a private-school Headteacher quoted by the TES yesterday. He believes that schools should use performance-pay to create a 'culture of fear' According to his divide-and-rule mentality “if the average pay rise was 5 per cent, good teachers would get 10, providing I gave the poor teachers zero. Good and bad teachers soon get the message … And make no mistake, under this system, poor teachers should be afraid, should be very afraid. Because for them, this model of performance management is a culture of fear which dominates their professional and personal lives."
But good schools depend on teamwork, not fear and division. That can only damage education. But at Avenue Primary, that teamwork was clearly on show today!  NUT members stood together on the picket-line – six stewards by the school-gates and many more colleagues across the road holding the school NUT group’s union banner. They included ATL members who had recently joined the NUT to support the action, angered by the aggressive rejection of the teachers’ requests by Governors.

However, if the Governors had been misled into thinking that staff were not united in their opposition to ‘half-points’, then the solid turnout today has hopefully opened their eyes. I was pleased to be able to talk to the Chair of Governors over the school-gates and hope that, following today’s action, discussions can now take place which will resolve the dispute.

I attended an enthusiastic meeting after the picket-line ended, where staff had been visibly boosted by the support they had received from parents and the public and by the experience of solidarity from today’s collective action. Lots of parents had wished the staff well and taken leaflets. In fact, so many had stopped their cars to talk to the teachers that the police were asked to tell us to make sure we weren’t blocking the traffic! (while also discussing how we’d both had our pensions stolen from us – but that at least teachers were able to go on strike to do something about it!)

So, while hoping that progress can be made, staff are preparing for further action, including making further links with parents who have offered support to the campaign. Further strike action, if required, has been notified for March 4th and 5th and messages of support can be sent to the school’s NUT Rep, Louise Cuffaro, on

The strike gave another glimpse of how the discontent of teachers can be channelled into effective action, action that will get the backing of parents too. Now we need to repeat that action on a national scale on March 26 and, as at Avenue Primary, prepare for more action to follow to make sure that Gove has to back down from his attacks on teachers and education.

Monday 10 February 2014

Let's Make Gove Listen! - Build for National Strike Action on March 26

This post can be downloaded as a Lewisham NUT leaflet
Last year, we took regional strike action to try and stop Michael Gove’s attacks. Teachers marched right across the country because we know that: 
  • 68 is too late to retire - and we are having to pay more for the privilege!
  • Performance Pay will divide staff and be used to block our pay rises
  • Our workload is already too great - but Gove wants to make it worse
Since that strike, even more evidence has emerged as to why these attacks on teachers and education have got to stop:
  • 74% of teachers say their morale has got worse under this Government
  • Michael Wilshaw has admitted that it’s a ‘national scandal’ that 40% of teachers are forced out of the profession within five years of qualifying
But Michael Gove has refused to listen. He has refused to hold any serious talks with teaching unions to try and resolve our dispute. Instead, he has asked the Review Body to make recommendations which could include:
  • NO more 195 day limit on your working year
  • NO more 1265 hour limit on your directed hours
  • NO more ‘rarely cover’ protection, no guarantee of meaningful PPA time
Gove is on a mission to cut costs by making teachers work longer hours  for less pay and pension. Even more colleagues will leave the profession. That’s not just bad for teachers, that’s bad for children’s education. We must make him think again - we have to build a solid strike on 26 March!


Nobody takes strike action lightly, but we have a responsibility to ourselves, our colleagues and  our pupils to make a stand for teachers and education.

Few teachers can afford to easily lose a day’s pay on March 26 - but, if we don’t take action, we stand to lose a whole lot more.

National strike action will hit the headlines and force politicians to take notice. If they don’t act, then they must be warned that more union action is to follow.

The Government will be under more pressure as we approach the General Election. Parents will want to know why we are having to take strike action. Most will rightly blame Gove, not us.

To get our message across, the National NUT has produced a new parents’ leaflet explaining how Government policies are damaging education. Help to get that message out to parents and the public in your area.

  • Do  hold a school meeting to encourage everyone to support the action
  • Official strike notices will be issued by the National Union - teachers don’t have to tell their Head individually that they will be on strike
  • Do attend local NUT meetings - or send in a report - so we know what’s happening in your school  and/or can answer any questions or queries
  • Don’t  set work on the day; nobody should be covering your post
  • Do make plans to join your local  demonstration or rally on March 26
  • Do make plans to get our message to parents - perhaps by agreement with your Head or on the school-gates. Help out with local NUT activities

Saturday 8 February 2014

Meeting the needs of every London child - a report from the London Education Conference

Today's London Education Conference at the Institute of Education was a welcome chance to reflect on the successes of schools in the capital and to discuss the challenges to be met in meeting the needs of every London child. 

First of all, in reviewing the Conference, it's worth starting by saying it provided clear evidence opposing the attempts by the real 'enemies of promise' - Gove and his ilk - to say that London schools are failing our children. It's just not the case. 

Given the constant criticism of teachers and schools, it was uplifting to hear so many speakers praise what we do and to acknowledge the 'magic' weaved by so many dedicated professionals. For example, just last night I had the privilege to watch a comprehensively brilliant production of 'Romeo and Juliet' at Sedgehill School in Lewisham. As the Head said at the end of the play, that performance alone was an answer to the Secretary of State's attempts to portray community schools like his as 'crucibles of medicocrity'.  

In today's Conference, Professor Merryn Hutchings, responsible for the DfE Evaluation of the City Challenge Programme, presented data which showed conclusively that, while schools in all regions have been improving in terms of examination outcomes,  London's schools stand apart from the rest of England in the levels of attainment achieved. This was particularly evident for schools from poorer backgrounds (judged by Free Schools Meals data). 

Professor Hutchings pointed out that London's schools had always had expertise in teaching disadvantaged children but that the progress visible in the data had been pronounced during the eight years of the 'London Challenge' programme.  

What can schools learn from that success? Firstly, she pointed out, it was a sustained programme rather than another attempted 'quick-fix' initiative. The higher pay won by London teachers at that time (thanks to NUT strike action!) may have helped to encourage and retain teachers - although they still had to contend with the high cost of living in the capital. Above all, she stressed how the London Challenge was centred on encouraging schools and teachers  and helping them to develop, and share, good practice - in contrast to the criticism and division so prevalent in present education policy. 

Rather than going to the expense of setting-up sponsored academies, Merryn pointed out that it was much cheaper and more effective to support and encourage schools! (Regrettably, during the afternoon's panel discussion Labour MP Rushanara Ali wouldn't accept that academies had failed to improve education, to which Melissa Benn rightly objected). Of course, as well as the damage inflicted by this privatisation agenda, performance-pay and continued competition through league tables also discourage staff and schools to share ideas and work together, to the detriment of education as a whole.

However, there were other elements of the presentations that were more debatable. Too many 'school improvers' seem to forget the limitations that have to be set in terms of teacher working hours. Having worked in London schools throughout the last 20 years, I know that the undoubted improvements in practice have also come at the  expense of teacher workload and stress. 

As I pointed out in asking a question from the floor, 'London Challenge' showed clearly that 'sharing ideas works' - but coaching, observing colleagues, developing initiatives etc. all take time, a precious resource that is at a premium for teachers. Another colleague also pointed out that many teachers faced an increasingly punitive classroom observation model in their schools. During the coffee break, teachers confirmed with me that, for all the top-table talk of collaboration and encouragement, few of them recognised that supportive approach from their everyday experience in schools.

In reply to our questions, Tim Brighouse acknowledged that there was a big difference between observing colleagues and being 'observed' - suggesting that perhaps some INSET days could be used to provide opportunities for peer observation. He also admitted that too many schools were 'lamentable at providing support for CPD' and that this was a key responsibility that was too often ignored in Ofsted's reports on schools.

Another debatable point from Tim and Merryn was their suggestion that Teach First had played a positive role in encouraging teacher recruitment. One Head of Department  questioned that conclusion, and I think rightly so, pointing out how this poor apprenticeship relied on the input of overworked teaching colleagues. As recent publicity has also demonstrated, praise for Teach First has, unfortunately, also been accompanied by the demoralising attempts to trash the long-standing teachers that London's schools rely upon for stability and experience. Anyone interested in genuine school improvement has to strongly oppose the cheap-rate 'use-up and spit-out' model of teacher recruitment so favoured by the international 'Global Education Reform Movement'.

In the afternoon session Professor Peter Mortimore compared English education systems with other international examples, particularly those in the Nordic countries where he believes smaller class sizes have benefited education (as they also have in the private schools so beloved by our Secretary of State!). 

Peter praised the quality of the teaching in many English schools, but explained how that was being undermined by Gove's neo-liberal, market-led reforms. In contrast, he called for the end of selection and the abolition of league tables - a demand that I have highlighted in my election materials as well.

I also attended an excellent workshop on the 'Year of the Curriculum' - linked to a NUT-sponsored development programme (see Dave Peck from the Curriculum Foundation pointed out how, as schools prepared for the implementation of the new National Curriculum in September, very few teachers had ever been given curriculum development training. Yet, in this short session, classroom teachers were given an opportunity to discuss what they would want to see in a school curriculum. These words will give you an idea of what the teachers - and parents - around my table were looking for: Global, Creative, Relevant, Enjoyable, Self-Esteem.

Of course, while these discussions allowed teachers to discuss what is needed and wanted, Gove's imposed assessment schemes will undermine any attempt to introduce a genuinely-rounded curriculum to meet the needs of every child. For example, Lewisham NUT members in one of our secondary schools have reported that mangement is now consulting over extending its school day in order to provide additional curriculum time. This isn't driven by a genuine discussion of what best meets pupils' needs, just by the school's need to meet the new 'Progress 8' accountability measures which will now be used to judge schools.

These external pressures put pupils under pressure, as well as staff. One of the goals highlighted in the presentation for a curriculum to meet was to encourage students to be 'willing to have a go'. Instead, our imposed testing regime has created a deep 'fear of failure' in too many of our youngsters.

Teachers feel strongly about these curriculum issues. Indeed, one Lewisham primary school teacher rang me just last week straight after a staff meeting to discuss their new curriculum initiatives. However, what had provoked him to call was that, far from involving staff, the meeting had just filled teachers with fear of even more workload, even more pressure.

That's why, in order to achieve our educational goals, we can't divorce curriculum demands from trade union demands for improved pay and conditions for school staff. The best school improvement initiatives will fail if teachers are too exhausted and burnt-out to implement them. That's why, alongside the demand for abolition of league tables and my stated opposition to education being determined by politicians' prejudices instead of children's needs, I believe we have to highlight the need to put an end to the relentless workload that is weighing down on teachers. 

So, to defend teachers and education, I am not only camapaigning for a defence of existing workload protections, but for the right of teachers to have a mimimum 20% of their teaching time set aside for planning, preparation and assessment - and for that right to apply in all school sectors.