Monday 3 February 2014

Striking a chord with teachers - answering Michael Gove

This morning, Lewisham NUT sent notification to NUT Associations of my intention to seek nominations to stand in the NUT General Secretary election. By this evening, my first two nominations had already been confirmed - in Greenwich and Tower Hamlets.

The unexpected nomination from Tower Hamlets had already been won at a meeting last week - but was confirmed this evening. Support from Greenwich NUT at their hustings tonight was perhaps more expected, but the heart-felt comments - and unanimous support that I received - clearly demonstrated the depth of frustration felt by many teachers at the shortcomings in the Union's existing campaign against Gove's attacks.

The TES tonight ( ) has labelled me the "Hard-Left Challenger" in this election - but those Greenwich teachers wouldn't have described themselves in any such 'political' terms. They were just angry at the conditions we are facing and the damage being inflicted on children's education and teachers' lives.

Several of the Greenwich NUT members were attending their first-ever Association meeting. It was reassuring to hear them speak up in support for the policies I am campaigning for. To his credit, beneath the predictable TES headline, Stephen Exley has produced a fair initial summary of some of those policies, and the background to the election, saying:

"It had been widely expected that Ms Blower would be unopposed in her bid to win another five-year-term. Although she was an active member of the union’s left-wing Campaign for a Democratic and Fighting Union faction before she became general secretary, Ms Blower has also proved to be a popular figure among members to the Right of the NUT’s political spectrum. But it has emerged that she will be challenged by Martin Powell-Davies, one of the most prominent figures on the Left of the union. 

... In his campaign flyer, Mr Powell-Davies says the NUT and NASUWT has “too often” tended to “hesitate” over escalating their campaign to national strike action. He has called for an “ongoing calendar of national action”, including a two-day strike, as well as a national work-to-rule to “resist any attempt to worsen conditions”. Mr Powell-Davies also calls for a doubling of the planning, preparation and assessment (PPA) allowance to 20 per cent of a teacher’s day, as well as the abolition of Ofsted, retirement for teachers at the age of 60 and guaranteed pay progression for all teachers on the main pay-scale".

Tonight's meeting wasn't the only place where my thoughts seem to have struck a chord with teachers. On Twitter,  this election stand by @MPDNUT was provoking further debate! My tweet from this morning also seemed to gather support:

This was, of course, a reply to Gove's latest ramblings this morning in praise of independent schools. Perhaps one of the best responses tonight has come from Peter Wilby in the Guardian:

"It is sometimes hard to know whether to take Michael Gove seriously. In a speech in London on Monday, the education secretary said he was aiming to achieve a situation where, if you visit a school in England, "standards are so high all round that you should not be able to tell whether it's in the state sector or a fee-paying independent" ... So as parents visited, say, Marlborough College, they would ignore the demand for £27,420 for a year's teaching and nearly another £5,000 for boarding. They would breeze into classrooms and wouldn't notice that, for 870 pupils, Marlborough has more than 150 teachers and assistants, a ratio that, if applied to all England's 8.2 million schoolchildren, would require the teaching workforce to be tripled to roughly 1.3 million. Then they would wander the grounds and somehow fail to clock 11 rugby pitches, eight cricket squares, 14 cricket nets, 12 tennis courts, an eight-lane swimming pool and .22 rifle range, a variety of facilities which, if extended to every state school, would require (according to one calculation) 33m acres, or more than half the English countryside".

Many London schools are now so full of 'bulge class' portacabins that they hardly have a playground, let alone a rugby pitch! Unfortunately, Gove's dangerous ideology, and his planned attacks on teachers' conditions, will not be stopped simply by force of argument. A serious calendar of strike action will be needed to force Gove back - and that's a demand that has won the backing of teachers tonight.

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