Wednesday 26 March 2014

March 26 in pictures - on strike to defend teachers and education

From early this morning, teachers have been standing on school-gates getting our message to the public: that, by striking today to defend our livelihoods and working conditions, NUT members are also Standing Up For Education.

Tens of thousands of  teachers will be rallying in towns and cities across England and Wales later today.

Here are some early pictures - with more to follow later:

Over 10,000 teachers marched in London:

There's also good coverage from Reel News on this video:  

Tuesday 25 March 2014

Gove says 'NO' - NUT response to letter on 'talks'

This afternoon, Michael Gove issued a letter updating unions on supposed 'progress' in the talks with DfE officials. If the letter was designed to undermine the NUT action tomorrow, it will have failed. All it does is to confirm how little Gove is prepared to offer - even on the narrow issues of 'policy implementation'.

Gove's letter can be read in full via the NUT website:

Here is the National NUT's response:

"Mr Gove’s letter shows how little he listens to the concerns of teachers and how little progress has been made in the talks process. His letter confirms why we are right to strike.

The secretary of state has attended none of the talks, nor have other ministers. The talks are with civil servants who are forbidden by Mr Gove from straying into areas of policy. The talks are only allowed to discuss how Mr Gove’s policies are implemented.

Nevertheless NUT has participated fully in the talks because we will use any avenue to seek improvements for teachers and thereby to defend education.

However, far from listening Michael Gove has rejected many of the suggestions the unions have jointly put forward.

For example we asked him to:

Continue to publish the pay spine points as a shadow list that schools could use if they wanted. He has said he won’t.

Say that pay portability is normal so that Governors wouldn’t need evidence to justify it. He has refused.

Say that governors should set a budget so that no eligible teacher would be refused pay progression on budgetary grounds. Again he has refused.

Advise Governors that all teachers should get the STRB’s 1% pay rise from this September. Again a refusal.

In areas where Mr Gove says his civil servants will do some more work his response is utterly inadequate.

For example the unions jointly said Government should advise schools that teachers should only need the evidence that comes from the appraisal process to earn pay progression. Instead his letter says schools should balance the “need for robust evidence with the need for proportionality when preparing for appraisal and pay decisions”. This formulation will not drive down unnecessary workload in the way teachers and education need.

The NUT will of course participate in the ongoing discussions on the “impact of schools’ response to the accountability system on teacher workload”. But this joint study will not ease pressures unless Mr Gove accepts that the pressures are not created “in school” – but by the systems outside schools that he promotes.

Further we are very disappointed that Mr Gove has refused the joint unions requests for some immediate action on teacher workload. He has refused

· A letter to heads advising them they should not ask for planning to be handed in, unless there was a specific concern about the teacher, given the extra bureaucracy and unnecessary workload that is causing in many schools

· Immediate advice to schools that they should not be asking for the generality of teachers for evidence that they meet the “teacher standards” given the evidence that heads already have from the appraisal process, observations and student results.

Mr Gove even refused the joint union request for a an extra INSET day or even a ring fenced CPD budget to allow schools and teachers to prepare for the new curriculum and the removal of levels from this September, despite the recent evidence of long teachers working hours from the DFE’s own survey.

The NUT will also participate in the “joint study into the health and deployment implications of teachers working to 68, with the aim of considering what more can be done to support teachers working to this age”. But this falls far below our demands that Mr Gove should publish the pension valuation and then negotiate seriously.

Mr Gove must change direction or a serious teacher shortage will develop that will be extremely bad for schools and the children they serve".

Monday 24 March 2014

Why we must strike on Wednesday

Tens of thousands of teachers have already decided that they will be on strike to defend teachers and education on Wednesday - but if you are still deciding, read on:

We have to strike together if we are to stop Gove before his attacks drive even more colleagues out of teaching. He might be content with a casualised, demoralised and weakly-organised workforce delivering a narrow soulless curriculum but we know what a disaster that would be for education.

It is our united strength that  stands in the way of his plans - and on Wednesday, we have to use it.

Yes, our action will disrupt parents and education for the day - but we have to explain that the damage that will be inflicted if Gove succeeds with his plans will be far more long-lasting.
Yes, teachers worry that parents will be against us but the experience of our previous strikes shows that most appreciate why we have to take action.

Who can teach successfully at the intensity expected of us at 60, let alone 68?

How can staff work as a collective team to help students when they are competing for pay rises judged on their individual performance? 

How can teachers properly support pupils when they are exhausted by 60 hour working weeks?

Michael Gove has shown no intention of changing things for the better. The 'talks' he has set up between unions and civil servants are only about 'implementation' of his policies.

To think that he will offer any serious concession without us showing our strength in action is, at best, naive. However, if we do show our strength, as we did in 2011 over pensions, we can win real gains.

Some teachers struggling with bills may genuinely fear that they can't afford to strike. But remember the £1,000's we stand to lose if pay progression is blocked through PRP. Remember the £10,000's teachers will lose if they retire before their pension age of 68 or more. Remember the incalculable costs of the constant stress and hours stolen from time with family and friends as we plan and prepare at evenings and weekends.

The press claim some teachers have 'strike fatigue'. No, they have real fatigue thanks to their workload and real anger at all that Gove stands for. That's why reports from across the Union report that March 26 will, again, be well-supported. 

Yes, teachers want to be assured that something can be done to make Gove change course and that unions are serious about taking the action necessary to do so.

We can make Gove think again - but only if we show our strength on Wednesday and build from there for a calendar of action  -  hopefully with others alongside us - that can force him to think again.

Gove hopes he can divide teachers and impose his damaging plans. We can't let him succeed. That's why we must strike on Wednesday.

Sunday 23 March 2014

Not just what's wrong - but what we need to do to defend education

If you are looking at my blog this weekend having seen the link to this site on my election address, thank you for visiting.

As you will see below, my blog has been reporting on events and issues over many years - so please do look through for items of interest to you.

If, like most overworked teachers, you haven't time to do more than take a quick look, please do click on the short video below to hear what I have to say!

As I hope my election address for the NUT Executive election shows, I am not just someone who complains about what is happening to education, I am setting out a plan of action to turn the tide at last.  


Parents support strike "to defend quality education and terms and conditions".

This excellent letter has been sent to a Headteacher of a Lewisham primary school in response to news that (as across Lewisham and beyond), NUT members will be on strike on Wednesday:

"Thank you for the letter re the NUT industrial action on the 26th March and it's impact on the school. 

Please do not feel the need to apologise for any inconvenience, as we fully appreciate the reasons why the teaching staff are striking to defend quality education and their terms and conditions. 

As parents we understood the two issues are completely connected and have no problem at all fully supporting the action of the teachers recognising the excellent work they do all year around. 

We appreciate as well, the dilemma of some staff being in the ATL union and on a personal level we would urge them to join the NUT too so they can fully participate in the industrial action, but that is of course their choice. 

However as parents we are not prepared to undermine the sacrifice that other teaching staff are making in their stand on the 26th at the school and elsewhere. Additionally we are not satisfied that a partially opened school is fully health and safety compliant. We are therefore putting our children first before any political pressures from the town hall to keep any unsafe school open with inadequate staffing numbers. 

Besides we believe for our children that the day of action will in itself be a fantastic educational opportunity to see their teachers, their mentors, engaged in an inter generational act of solidarity that protects the principles of free education and the living standards of all teaching staff. 

When our children ask why this is all happening we will happily explain to them. That's why our kids will all grow up being socially aware, politically conscious human beings and appreciate their collective power to change things for the better in society. After all that's what a good education should be for too shouldn't it?"

Chris and Judith Flood

Saturday 22 March 2014

The NASUWT, March 26 and Professional Unity

For the last year and more, the NUT has been attempting to build strike action in conjunction with the NASUWT, and rightly so. However, the March 26 strike is having to go ahead without their participation and, regrettably, future national action may have to go ahead without them as well.

It is obvious that a co-ordinated strike between the two largest teaching unions will have a more powerful effect than one acting alone. It is also clearly in the interests of public sector workers, whatever their union, that we act in unison to defeat the attacks on colleagues, and the services we support, that are being inflicted by this Government. Indeed, that's why I continue to also argue for wider co-ordinated action with other TUC unions as well, not just the NASUWT.

However, I believe that events have, regrettably, confirmed the fears that myself and others in LANAC have been voicing from the start of the attempts to develop joint action. While the benefits of joint action have been clear, the dangers of allowing the NASUWT leadership to set the agenda for the NUT have also been very clear too.

There have always been reasons to doubt the attitude of some of the NASUWT leadership towards genuine partnership working. In 2011, they failed to take part in the June national pensions strike, only joining the next national action in November. 

At the September 2012 TUC, when most unions backed the call for Congress to investigate the 'practicalities of a general strike', the NASUWT were one of the few unions to speak against.

Even throughout our joint 'action-short-of-strike-action', the NASUWT often seemed to put obstacles in the way of genuine joint working in schools, particularly frowning on joint meetings between NUT and NASUWT members in schools.

A commitment to action before Feb 13
... disappears from the NASUWT website
Eventually, regional strikes with the NASUWT were agreed in 2013 but the promise of a further joint national strike in November was broken - as was the later commitment to joint action before February 13 2014.  Instead, and I suspect largely driven by the NASUWT, false claims were made that the prospect of 'genuine negotiations' had been won with Michael Gove. They hadn't. 

The talks that are taking place remain limited to discussions about the 'implementation' of Government policy. That's why the NUT are now correctly going on strike on March 26. (For the latest on the 'talks' and the rejection of "many of the most significant points put forward by the unions on implementation of policy" see )

The decision to call a strike without the NASUWT will inevitably strain the relationship between the tops of the two unions. However, at a school level, things are different. There, where all teachers are faced with the same pressures of performance-related pay, worsening pensions and intolerable workload, many NASUWT members are asking why their Union has backed away from national action. It is that common experience at school level which is the key to building genuine professional unity.

Instead of allowing any 'divide-and-rule', NUT and NASUWT members should try and meet jointly wherever possible to discuss the pressures they face and how to combat them, both through local and national action. Those joint meetings will rightly add to the pressure for joint action. However, if the NASUWT leadership continues to hold back from action, then the NUT will have no option but to proceed with further action next term without them. In those circumstances, notwithstanding long-standing loyalties to a particular union, even more teachers will start to reconsider which union best represents their interests.

Sadly, the immediate response of the NASUWT to the NUT's announcement of a national strike was to announce a 'free membership' offer, to which the NUT has responded in kind. So, far from building genuine unity, it seems that, for now, the long-standing battle for membership between the NASUWT and NUT will continue.

Classroom teachers can't afford the luxury of union leaders playing membership games ahead of the interests of the profession as a whole. That's why there will be continued demands for joint action and genuine 'professional unity' between teachers - as voiced at the recent 'Unity' Conference.

That Conference called for further events to be organised to continue to argue for a united union for teachers (or even for all school staff). However, it is clear that, as things stand, the NASUWT leadership will not support any such move. However, the interests of teachers as a whole are more important than the interests of union leaders. If that also means the NUT continuing to have to act independently of the NASUWT, then so be it.

Friday 21 March 2014

Not just what's wrong - but what we need to do to defend education

If you are looking at my blog this weekend having seen the link to this site on my election address, thank you for visiting.

As you will see below, my blog has been reporting on events and issues over many years - so please do look through for items of interest to you.

If, like most overworked teachers, you haven't time to do more than take a quick look, please do click on the short video below to hear what I have to say!

As I hope my election address for the NUT Executive election shows, I am not just someone who complains about what is happening to education, I am setting out a plan of action to turn the tide at last.  


Tuesday 18 March 2014

Teachers looking for a clear lead

I left school this afternoon to take the train to Bedfordshire to seek the support of Central Beds NUT for my stand in the election for NUT General Secretary.

At the end of a meeting where both I and a speaker in favour of Christine Blower had a chance to make our case, the meeting voted unanimously for my nomination. With news of a nomination also being agreed for me by Blackpool NUT, that puts me decisively over the minimum nomination  requirement to make sure there is a contested GS election in June.

Central Beds NUT is not an Association that would identify itself with any 'faction' in the Union. Indeed, when it was reported that I didn't have the backing of the 'left' or 'right' within the Executive, there was an angry rejection of what seemed to them to be 'union politics'. They just wanted their Union to give a clear lead! 

That 'union politics' also means that I am being challenged for my seat on the NUT Executive - with voting papers going out this week.

My nomination tonight only followed a sober and thoughtful discussion with searching questions about what I would do as General Secretary to defend teachers and the strategy needed to defeat Gove. There was no doubt about the overwhelming anger at the impossible conditions facing teachers, as well as the frustration at what was seen as a lack of conviction shown by the Union in standing up to these attacks.

This was a honest debate and I hope my honest replies helped win the unanimous backing of the meeting. Yes, we face a serious situation. Yes, we have already stepped back too often and allowed pay, pensions and conditions to deteriorate. But we still have the power to reverse these attacks - as long as we stop hesitating and give teachers confidence that we are serious about defeating Gove.

To start with, March 26 needs to be built as strongly as we can. The key role in building that strike now falls to school reps as they organise and rally their colleagues. There will be some setbacks but there will also be real successes. Already reports are coming in of schools closing, with more to come over the days up to the strike.

This time, March 26 must not be another isolated strike. It has to be the start of an ongoing calendar of action.

Whatever the NUT election results, whoever leads the Union has a huge responsibility to speak up for teachers and build support for the ongoing action needed. I hope that, with teachers' support in these elections, I can help give that lead.

Saturday 15 March 2014


Here's a new campaign video taken from today's campaign committee.  

Please view and share with NUT colleagues in the Inner London district who can vote POWELL-DAVIES 1 to help re-elect me to the NUT National Executive in the election that starts on March 19:


Download this leaflet from - or forward the link to your friends!


Download my powerpoint to build for the strike action from:

Friday 14 March 2014

June's election for NUT General Secretary WILL be contested

I am pleased to be able to announce that, following news of my nomination being agreed by quorate meetings of Bolton, Doncaster, Liverpool and Warwickshire NUT Associations this week, I have now received at least the ten nominations required to be able to stand as a candidate in the General Secretary election this June.

This news confirms that a contested election will now take place between myself and Christine Blower, the existing NUT General Secretary.

So far, according to my records, I have received nominations from 12 NUT Associations, with a good chance that several more may yet be added before the final deadline of April 30. 

UPDATE: The final list of confirmed nominations provided by NUT HQ is:
  • Leeds
  • Doncaster
  • Blackpool
  • Bolton
  • Cheshire West
  • Liverpool
  • Central Nottinghamshire
  • Nottinghamshire (South)
  • City of Leicester
  • Warwickshire
  • Central Bedfordshire
  • Lewes, Eastbourne & Wealden
  • Greenwich
  • Lewisham
  • East London
  • Bristol
  • Brighton & Hove

Tony Benn RIP - Goodbye to a steadfast socialist

The BBC News tonight is playing a clip of Ed Milliband saying, "the thing about Tony Benn is that you always knew what he stood for and who he stood up for". Indeed, Ed!

Benn will be remembered fondly by trade unionists for being exactly that - a principled socialist - in such contrast to today's New Labour politicians.

When I joined Labour as a school student, Benn was a leading figure in the party. In 1981 he failed in his bid to become Deputy Leader by a whisker. So then, just a few decades ago, Benn's socialist ideas were far from being isolated. Indeed, Clause IV (4) of the constitution of the Labour Party, inscribed on our membership cards, was avowedly socialist in content.

Today, while praising Tony Benn's character and principles, the press have been keen to also portray his ideas as 'old-fashioned' and 'out-dated'. That may have seemed the case  after the collapse of the Stalinist Soviet Union and the worldwide onslaught on the socialist traditions of the trade union movement that followed. However, to youth and trade unionists looking for an answer to the worldwide economic crises and convulsions of today, those 'old-fashioned' ideas are making a comeback. Witness, just to take one example, the stunning victory of socialist candidate Kshama Sawant in Seattle, USA. (See )

Benn's diaries will remain a valuable source of information for those studying how Labour was transformed into today's big business party. It was in his diaries that Benn revealed that when Norman Tebbit asked Thatcher what she regarded as her greatest achievement, she replied "New Labour". As Tony comments, "That says it all really." 

Benn clung on to the Labour Party,  even though it has become a Party which I, like many who were members in the 1980s no longer recognise. There are, of course many teachers who vote Labour, and some that are Labour Party members. However, as the YouGov poll for the NUT showed over the New Year, large numbers of teachers aren't sure who they can support any more. 

In my view, the Labour Party has, regrettably, been damaged beyond repair. I think it was Bob Crow, the other great loss of this week, who reached the right conclusion - that a new start will need to be made in developing a politicial voice for trade unionists. Bob was a supporter of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, as am I. 

In memory of both Bob and Tony, I hope that TUSC can continue to develop and prove to be a step towards building the political voice for working people which was lost when Labour abandoned the traditions that Tony Benn fought so hard to retain.

Thursday 13 March 2014

NUT Executive confirms: All out to build strike on March 26

This afternoon's Special Meeting of the NUT Executive confirmed that the strike on March 26 is most definitely ON! 

Now every Association and every School Rep must go all out to get the biggest possible turnout for the national strike.

The NASUWT and, regrettably, now UCAC in Wales too, may have pulled back from action. However, nothing of any real significance has yet been gained from the 'talks about policy implementation'. If it is only the NUT that is prepared to stand firm for now, then so be it. 

We have a responsibility to take the action needed to force politicians to change course. We must reverse the damage that has been done to teachers' pay, pensions and working conditions. In doing so, we will be defending education too.

Other unions may justify their inaction by claiming that Michael Gove has agreed to ‘serious negotiations’. Regrettably, the only thing that Gove is really serious about is attacking teachers and education.

Michael Gove represents a Government that is determined to cut costs, privatise services and encourage a precarious weakly-unionised workforce that will dutifully do the bidding of hard-nosed managers until they can take no more and resign. He isn’t interested in the fact that such a regime also damages education. 

The Secretary of State has always said that he is prepared to talk to teaching unions. However, he has also always made clear that any talks could only be about 'implementation' of his policies to cut our pay and pensions and to deregulate our working conditions. 

So, yes, talks with civil servants are taking place - but within the parameters set by Michael Gove. So, while the NUT is seeking to make the most from those talks, that limited agenda just isn't good enough!

Negotiations within Gove's 'implementation' parameters are unlikely to yield more than minor concessions - and, even then, it will be the threat of ongoing strike action that will be largely responsible for any gains that are made. 

'Precious little conceded so far'
If the reports from those talks, being posted on the NUT website, are anything to go by, then there is, as yet, precious little conceded so far. (See the letter from the DfE in full on: )

Teaching unions need to recognise that we will only win serious gains when we show that we are prepared to take serious action. That's why I am glad that, whatever doubts may have been harboured in some quarters, the NUT Executive rightly agreed unanimously today that our action goes ahead.

All of the indications are that the March 26 national strike will be well-supported, just as the regional strikes were last year. I hope that the strike will also generate momentum for further action to be called next term, so that March 26 is not left as just another isolated ‘protest strike’.

There is no room for hesitation over the next fortnight. Let's go all out to build the strongest possible national action on March 26.

Wednesday 12 March 2014

As UCAC pull back on M26, concerns rise about NUT decision

The decision by UCAC, the Welsh teaching Union to announce today that they will NOT be proceeding with national strike action on March 26 has raised concerns about whether there will be sufficient support for a similar decision being made when the NUT Executive meets for a Special Meeting tomorrow afternoon.

Certainly there have been other straws in the wind that have raised some alarm. A Local Associations survey asking for levels of support for the strike and a poster and a voicemail message from the NUT GS to members emphasising that the strike can be called off if Gove "negotiates seriously" have caused a level of confusion about the Union's strategy.

Worryingly, in a twitter exchange with UCAC, the prospect of 'serious negotiations' was exactly their reasoning for postponing strike action. In reply, I pointed out that calling off the strike risked throwing away the only lever that we had to make sure Gove does genuinely make concessions, rather than maintaining his insistence that talks can only be about 'implementation' of his policies.

At a nomination meeting tonight in Liverpool, I contrasted this approach with the strategy adopted by the late Bob Crow and the RMT on London Underground. After showing their strength in a solid 48 hour strike (even though ASLEF did not strike too), the prospect of a further 48 hour strike brought London Transport to the negotiating table and led the Tory press to complain that Mayor Johnson had capitulated. However, the dispute is not yet resolved.

A further postponement of action by the NUT, after a series of earlier postponements of national action,  would not show strength but weakness. Gove would feel no pressure to concede on anything significant. NUT members would feel confused and active reps demoralised.

Let's hope that those fears are unfounded and that, unless there are very concrete promises of clear concessions - not just 'talks'  - tomorrow's NUT Executive confirms the plan for the strike so that the whole Union can then go all out to build the kind of solid action that can make Gove think again.

The well-attended Liverpool meeting voted unanimously for a motion calling on the NUT Executive to confirm that, without real concessions, the strike should proceed on March 26 and, further, as the RMT did, the Union should announce further action to follow so that we demonstrate the seriousness of our determination to force Gove back.

The discussion also highlighted the need for the Union to mobilise around clear demands so that teachers know what we are trying to achieve - a point that I have emphasised in my campaign to win nominations to stand as a candidate in June's election for NUT General Secretary.

The meeting also unanimously voted to support my nomination which, once some other nominations are confirmed, should mean that I have at least now reached the minimum threshold of ten nominations required to trigger a contested election in June.

Tuesday 11 March 2014

Bob Crow - a leader who stood firm

Bob Crow speaking before TUC 2013
Today's sad news of Bob Crow's sudden passing has shocked and saddened trade unionists from across our movement. 

Bob's determined stand in support of RMT members marked him out as a trade union leader who was prepared to lead from the front, and to win victories through collective action. 

He was also a great supporter of co-ordinated trade union struggle, supporting the National Shop Stewards Network, on whose platform I had the privilege to speak next to Bob at a meeting held at the start of last year's TUC Conference.

Bob also understood the importance of trade unions having a political voice and gave valued support to the development of the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition.

If the trade union movement had been led by more leaders with the determination of Bob Crow, then the Con-Dems would not have got away with the depth of attacks that they have inflicted on pay, jobs, pensions and conditions. 

The best way to remember Bob will be for trade unionists to build on his traditions of building both determined struggle and for genuine political representation for trade unionists.

Saturday 8 March 2014

Standing Up For Education

Across England and Wales, NUT Associations took to the streets today to take our message to the public about how Gove and this Government are damaging education.

On our stall in Lewisham, and I am sure repeated elsewhere, support from the public was strong. Parents commented on the lack of school places and the pressure of testing on their youngsters. Many expressed anger at how this Government seemed only interested in helping the wealthy through privatisation.

Several people spoke about  friends or relatives who were teachers and how people needed to understand how hard they worked. One young man explained how his partner had qualified to be a teacher but decided against finding a job because of the workload she knew she would face in teaching. She certainly isn't alone in making that decision.

Teachers should take heart at the public support - support which we have found whenever we have taken strike action.
Campaign stalls like this are vital to get our message across but we also have to remember that it will be our strike action that has the strength to really make politicians take note.

As we build for national action on March 26, any uncertainty in the messages we give to our members would be unforgiveable. When the NUT Executive meets for a special meeting next week, the conclusion must be to firmly and determinedly build for the strongest possible strike on March 26 - and to prepare for further action next term until we win real gains over pay, pensions and workload.

As today's stalls have shown, a determined stand will get wider support from a public angry at a Government that is attacking all our services and our children's education.

Thursday 6 March 2014

Answering Cable's insults

The first thing that colleagues wanted to talk to me about when I got to school this morning was their anger at Vince Cable's latest insult.

I am sure my staff weren't alone in feeling outraged at yet another politician criticising teachers. His choice of complaint - about deficiencies in career guidance  - is particularly galling. Why? Because it is Cable's Government that is responsible for cuts to the dedicated Connexions service, alongside budget cuts that have also slashed much of the additional career guidance once provided by councils.

The Education Select Committee have warned Ministers that cutting services, then simply expecting schools to fill the gap without additional resources, was going to undermine support to youngsters. Clearly Cable wasn't listening.

Instead, Cable chose to try and get a cheap laugh at the expense of teachers by accusing us of not knowing about the 'world of work'. The real problem is that politicians like Cable don't know about the world of education.

Many teachers have a wealth of experience from other employment. All of us work hard trying to equip our students with the skills they need to try to make their way forward in the uncertain future that lies in front of many of them. What we can't be expected to do is to provide specialised career guidance on top of the other responsibilities that already lead teachers to be working 50 to 60 hours a week!

I was glad to make some of these points on the Jeremy Vine show on Radio 2 this lunchtime and hope that I was able to speak up for the teaching profession. For the next few days, the discussion can be heard on the BBC Radio iplayer on (35 - 43 minutes).

Nick Clegg is now apologising for Vince Cable, realising perhaps the offence that his remarks have caused. Unfortunately for the LibDems, his comments won't be forgotten by teachers.

Wednesday 5 March 2014

Building support for a solid strike on March 26

I was glad to be sitting on the small chair of an infant classroom this lunchtime, so that I could discuss with the staff of a Lewisham Infants' School about the reasons for our strike action on March 26.

After a quick run through the issues, and some queries answered about pay deductions, the attitude of other unions and the refusal by Michael Gove to offer any meaningful talks, it was clear that NUT members would be supporting the strike. This school was one of the few in the borough that had traditionally had a majority NASUWT membership - but no longer. Teachers were going to go and speak to those colleagues still in the NASUWT to explain why they felt that teachers should be taking action together.

Face-to-face contact like this is still the best way of answering questions and queries - but, with limited time, it's impossible to meet in every school. That's why I've also produced a PowerPoint that runs through the issues which can be downloaded from: . Here are just some of the slides:

Download this presentation from
As well as school meetings, NUT Local Associations are also meeting to make plans for action. I was pleased to attend a General Meeting in Lewes last night where the discussion also included consideration of nominations for NUT General Secretary. Just like a meeting of West Cheshire NUT that I could not attend in person on Monday, I was grateful that, having discussed my call for a clear calendar of ongoing action to win a clear set of demands, both Associations voted to nominate me to stand in June's General Secretary election.

Sunday 2 March 2014

A weekend to teach teachers - don't 'wait for Labour', rely on our own strength

Yesterday, Ed Milliband finally cut through the last remaining threads tying the Labour Party to its roots as a party created to provide a political voice for the trade union movement. Today, Tristram Hunt went onto the Sunday Politics show to announce that a future Labour Government "won't repeal Gove's school reforms". 

If any teacher was in doubt, this weekend has provided further evidence that we can't rely on any Government elected after the next General Election to willingly reverse the direction of education policy. Instead, we will need to rely on our own strength to force politicians to think again.

Scandalously, but not unsurprisingly, Hunt is quoted on as saying "I don't think you want to waste political energy on undoing reforms, that in certain situations build actually rather successfully on Labour party policy

Meanwhile, yesterday, the special Labour Party conference voted to further dilute the ability of the affiliated trade unions to influence the direction and policies of a future Labour government. 

So, while most teachers rightly want to see the back of Gove, Osbourne and Cameron, this weekend will make even more question who they can vote for at the next General Election. However, these events can also help convince teachers that we have to take strike action on March 26 and beyond. 'Waiting for Labour' is simply not an option.

Regrettably, I believe that the Labour Party has been fundamentally changed  from the Party that I joined as a teenager to campaign for a real alternative to Thatcherism. 

I believe that the struggles that we will have to wage in the months and years ahead will convince ever wider layers of trade unionists that we need to rebuild our own political voice. Hunt's comments make ever clearer that the Labour Party is not going to provide it.

Saturday 1 March 2014

United action can make us stronger

At the instigation of the NUT, but with the involvement of most of the teacher unions, a packed Professional Unity Conference met today in London.

As Christine Blower, NUT GS, described it, today was not more than a 'tentative step' towards 'one union for all teachers' but nevertheless it was significant that so many colleagues from so many different backgrounds and traditions were represented. 

Messages of support to the event were given from NAHT and ASCL and opening speeches given by speakers from the NUT, ATL and UCAC as well as from OAJ, the union representing 95% of Finnish teachers. 

Some individual UCU and NASUWT members were in attendance. However, regrettably but perhaps predictably given their present stance on joint national strike action, the NASUWT was not officially represented.

In part, the pressures on facility time, the costs of competing for membership and providing separate support and resources for members mean that, as with other parts of the trade union movement, teaching unions know that they need to speak together. However, that's not the critical issue for classroom teachers. 

For colleagues battling against common attacks on pay, pensions, conditions and state education, building united action is vital to build collective strength against a common enemy. That is even more the case in the increasingly atomised education system in which we work.

Both the messages from the NAHT and ASCL made clear that they were more sceptical of a single union but wanted to find ways of unions speaking together with a common voice as much as possible.

Mary Bousted, ATL GS, speaking by video, rightly suggested that in principle we would be "better together" but warned that any such move would have to be carefully prepared. Mary made clear that the ATL would be looking towards a new union with a new rule-book and constitution. 

Those details will, indeed, be critical. 'Unity is strength' has long been a watchword of the trade union movement. But that strength needs to be used. Building a larger union that doesn't have collective action at its core would be a waste of that potential strength.

Any rulebook needs to make sure that a new Union has democratic and inclusive structures that ensure that the discontent and concerns of classroom teachers drive decisions. I would be confident that a union rooted in its members in this way would be a union that would also stand for bold collective action and campaigning to defend teachers and education.

Howard Stevenson reminded the Conference that teachers first became organised to oppose payment by results and to win national collective bargaining. Far from 'opposing change' as politicians sometimes claim, Howard pointed out that teachers helped implement tremendous progressive change in the 60s and 70s. However, when Governments switched to policies that sought to reverse that progressive change, the division between teacher unions made it harder to oppose that 'pushback'.

Howard called for more organisation at workplace level, fighting on professional concerns as well as on pay and conditions. The conclusion he drew was, to build that collective voice, teacher unions must work together. He pointed to DfE research that pointed out that 97% of teachers were unionised - a huge potential barrier to those who want to dismantle comprehensive education - but divided across multiple unions.

The discussion showed that, while today might only have  been billed as a 'tentative' step, teachers want concrete steps towards unity to be taken speedily.

The workshop feedback produced a series of suggested initiatives including follow-up regional meetings to promote professional unity amongst teachers, cross-union joint reps' training and regular local meetings of reps and local officers to work on united action and campaigns.

Joint meetings in schools, discussing the common problems we face, and the action needed to confront them, will be vital to build that unity at school level.