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

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.

No comments: