Wednesday 30 December 2015

More awkward facts for the academy enthusiasts to answer

"There can now be no doubt that, on average, conversion to become a sponsored academy slows the improvement of a struggling school"

Data released by the NUT this morning confirms, yet again, that academisation fails to provide 'school improvement'.

As the NUT press release explains, the Education and Adoption Bill, close to becoming damaging new legislation under this Government, "is based on the assumption that the only way to improve schools was to convert to become a sponsored academy and join a Multi Academy Trust. This data casts serious doubt on that assumption." 

The data is from Ofsted's own figures, secured through a question from Lord Hunt of Kings Heath. The figures show that, while a very few academy chains may do well, overall a school is six times as likely to remain inadequate if it becomes a sponsored academy than if it remains as a maintained school!

The figures released by Ofsted in answer to Lord Hunt this month

As you can see from the table, according to Ofsted, whose findings the DfE of course set much store by, of those schools that became sponsored academies,
  • 12% remained “Inadequate” at their next inspection, compared to 2% of maintained schools
  • 53% of these sponsored academies remained either “Inadequate” or “Requires Improvement”, compared to 38% of maintained schools.
  • Of schools that stayed in the local authority maintained sector, 62% become “Good” or “Outstanding” compared to 47% for sponsored academies.

This data only confirms other comparative figures that have consistently shown similar weaknesses in the overall performance of sponsored academies. In particular, Henry Stewart from the Local Schools Network has provided a whole series of figures, looking at both primary and secondary phases, attempting to show the Government "how destructive its forced academisation could be".  

As Henry Stewart states in the NUT Press Release, “The data is clear, at primary and secondary level. There can now be no doubt that, on average, conversion to become a sponsored academy slows the improvement of a struggling school.”

Kevin Courtney, NUT Deputy General Secretary, concludes the NUT that:The Government’s whole schools strategy is based on the dogmatic belief that conversion to academy status by definition improves standards. These latest findings show this to be nonsense. It is in fact the proven structural support of maintained schools which is more likely to achieve results. But the Government’s educational vandalism is systematically undermining the role of local authorities in education, to the detriment of our children.”

Unfortunately, their dogmatic and ideological support for school privatisation and the destruction of democratically accountable local authorities means that the Tories will, once again, ignore the incontestable evidence. It will again fall to parents, students and teacher trade unionists to take action to defeat their damaging plans.

Monday 7 December 2015

NUT calls for immediate pay rise of at least £2,000 for all teachers

The NUT issued a press release today, to coincide with its submission to the School Teachers Review Body, calling for urgent action on teachers' pay. It states:

"The NUT is calling on the School Teachers Review Body (STRB) to recommend urgent action on teachers’ pay in order to address the growing teacher supply crisis

Almost 1 in 5 teacher training places remain unfilled. This is the third consecutive year that the secondary recruitment target has been missed. Teacher numbers are also declining through the 50,000 leaving the profession. This is the highest number of resignations for a decade.

Teachers’ pay has now fallen by around 15% in 5 years on the back of Government pay policy and inflation. This leaves teacher salaries trailing behind other graduate professions.

The NUT is calling for all teachers to receive an immediate increase of not less than £2,000 from September 2016. This should be followed by a process of restoring pay to the levels before the Coalition Government took office and then to appropriate levels to attract the teachers we need.

The NUT is also calling for an end to performance related pay and the restoration of national pay scales across England and Wales. The current unpredictability and pay discretion can lead to discriminatory decisions. The lack of a clear career path is of course deterring many from entering teaching.

Christine Blower, General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers, the largest teachers’ union, said:

‘Teacher recruitment and retention are both at dangerously low levels. Many schools are unable to fill vacant posts. Pay and workload need to be addressed to resolve this situation.

‘The STRB has previously acknowledged the growing problems of recruitment, retention and morale. This has not, however, been translated into recommendations to resolve the situation. The STRB needs to demonstrate its independence from Government and make recommendations that will help restore the status of teaching as a secure and reasonably paid career.

‘Teaching is an incredibly rewarding job but it is vital that it is rewarding both professionally and in terms of pay. Workload too needs to be addressed and reduced. Failure to achieve this will see a further decline in the number of entrants to the profession and an increasing number of schools unable to find qualified teachers to teach our children and young people”.

Tuesday 1 December 2015

How many classroom #teachersmake 65K? DfE confirm 0.1%!

Well, well, well ... the DfE today decided to release statistics showing "the number of school teachers earning £65,000 or more in state funded schools in England". 

£65k? That's a strange figure to focus on - unless of course, you're coming under pressure over the misleading claim that '#teachersmake' "up to £65k as a great teacher" !

Do the DfE hope that these belated statistics will let them off the hook? Far from it! They only confirm what teachers complaining to the Advertising Standards Authority had stated in the first place - that only a tiny proportion of classroom teachers are paid over £65,000!

In fact, the DfE have simply provided the confirmation I was seeking at the end of October when I posted on this blog:
 "Now you would have thought by now that the DfE might realise that teachers can apply the skills we teach to our students about analysing sources and data. A quick look at Table 5 of the School Workforce Census suggests that there are 412,000 qualified classroom teachers in English schools. I'm open to correction but, if even as many as four ‘hundreds’ of them are earning £65k, isn't that just 0.1% of the total?"

The figures released by the DfE today
So, it turns out that my estimate was an accurate one. The  DfE are simply confirming that just 485 classroom teachers are earning over £65,000! So, yes that IS just 0.1% of classroom teachers.  

Perhaps it would be better for the DfE if they stop digging and withdraw their misleading claim ...

Monday 30 November 2015

Teachers at “chaotic” Tech City free school vote unanimously to strike

The following post is an extract from a Press Release issued by Islington NUT this evening: 

Teachers at “chaotic” free school vote unanimously to strike. 

Strike action was also taken by NUT members at STEM6 in February 2014

Teachers at Tech City, a 16-19 free school formerly known as STEM 6, have voted unanimously to strike for five days before the Xmas holidays in support of their demand for humane and workable performance management and a fair pay policy. (Tuesday 8th, Wednesday 9th, Tuesday 15th, Wednesday 16th and Thursday 17th December).

The aim of the strike is that Aspirations, the academy chain which took over STEM 6 and renamed it at the beginning of September, should agree:

  • to a performance management policy - like the one adopted in large majority of Islington schools – with limits on the number of times a teacher can be observed for performance management purposes each year and reasonable notice of the lesson in which a teacher is going to be observed.
  • to a pay policy which allows teachers to progress up the appropriate pay scale unless they have previously been given reasonable notice that there is scope for improvement as well as adequate time and support to achieve it.

As the Secretary of State for Education, Nicky Morgan, wrote to head teachers last year: ‘There should be no surprises’. At Tech City, in November, staff had some big surprises. More than a third of them were refused incremental pay progression mainly on the grounds that the exam results achieved by the students they taught last year weren’t good enough – even though they had been given no warning last year that this could be the outcome of supposed deficiencies in their teaching; even though they had been given no support in addressing and overcoming these deficiencies; even though it is impossible to reduce the cause of a group of students’ exam results to the teaching of an individual teacher; even though a better explanation of the relatively disappointing overall results achieved by STEM 6 last summer had a whole lot more to do with the chaos which reigned at STEM 6 from the time it was established back in September 2013.

These are only some of the many complaints the NUT has received from its members at Tech City:

  • The Leadership has been confusing and chaotic from the start. Plans for the session change right up to the last minute and often during the session itself .
  • There is no organisation to Leadership. Instructions have been emailed on the leadership day at 10.41 (sessions start at 10.40) and this is unacceptable for planning.
  • Parents are being contacted to attend “crisis meetings” based on attendance data which is not accurate. Attendance is the biggest issue and blame has been pushed on to teachers by management.
  • I have been denied pay progression despite never having been given performance targets to meet.
  • I found it totally unacceptable that students were told in assembly and informed in the autumn newsletter that the teaching and learning was not to the right standard and that from January onwards it would be addressed with “better teachers”.

Back in September this year, local MP, Emily Thornberry, wrote to the Secretary of State for Education, Nicky Morgan, expressing concerns about developments at what was then STEM 6 calling for ‘urgent action’ to rescue this academy’.
Not entirely satisfied by the response she received from Lord Nash (on behalf of Nicky Morgan) she wrote back to him expressing further concern about ‘considerable difficulties’ at Tech City, including the resignation of seven teachers (half the teaching staff) this term and the ‘little progress towards improving working arrangements and performance management’.

Islington NUT Joint Secretary, Ken Muller, commented:

"These important questions bring in to relief the chaos which has reigned around STEM 6 / Tech City from the start, chaos which has damaged the educational opportunities of the students who have enrolled there and the teachers whose working lives and careers have been blighted by the incompetence of those who are meant to be providing them with support and direction. 

Tech City teachers are being scapegoated, bullied and penalised for the failings of others.
That is why they are reluctantly going on strike – and that is why they deserve the support of colleagues in other schools, their students and their parents and the rest of the local community".

Please send message of support to:

Wednesday 25 November 2015

"Strike wins policies that protect John Roan teachers' working conditions"

The following statement has been issued by the John Roan NUT group this evening:

"The NUT is pleased to announce that, thanks to the substantial progress that has been made in negotiations, we are now close to a resolution of the dispute at the John Roan School. Our dispute focussed around the imposition of two policies this term: the Teaching, Learning and Assessment (TLA) policy and the Appraisal Policy.

Subject to confirmation of the final wordings of the disputed school policies, we believe that an agreement can now be reached that addresses most of our key concerns over excessive workload and scrutiny. These include:

  • The removal of weekly learning visits to scrutinise lessons.
  • The removal of any reference to students being expected to make 4 or 5 ‘Levels of progress’.
  • The removal of the use of Ofsted graded lesson observations.
  • The removal of any requirement to record verbal feedback.
  • The removal of any reference to ‘drop-ins’.
  • More manageable marking requirements.
  • The adoption of a clear protocol for observations and learning walks.

Given this progress, the NUT is not proceeding with the strike action originally notified for Wednesday and Thursday this week. We recognise that this will be welcomed by staff, parents and students. However, we also hope that it is recognised that it was the determined stand taken by NUT members, including the two days of strike action in November, that have brought us towards a successful resolution of this dispute.

The John Roan NUT group would like to thank everyone who has supported our struggle, a struggle which we took in the best interests of education. Too many schools are being blighted by low morale and high teacher turnover. We hope that a successful conclusion of our dispute will help ensure that our school is not affected in the same way and that teachers, staff and students will thrive and succeed at The John Roan".

There's nothing 'fair' about 'fair funding' cuts to school budgets

With typical 'doublespeak', the Chancellor George Osborne has announced as part of his Comprehensive Spending Review that 'unfair' school funding arrangements will be replaced by a new National Funding Formula from 2017. Of course, his proposals will not actually bring greater 'fairness'. What they will bring is greater cuts to school budgets.

As Kevin Courtney, Deputy General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said in press statements from the NUT today: 
“Schools are already facing job cuts, increasing class sizes and cuts in spending on books and materials. The Government must accept that we must invest in education, not cut it, for the sake of our young people and our country.
Schools and colleges face significant additional costs in addition to inflation; higher employer national insurance and pension contributions will mean an increase of some 5% in school and college paybill costs. Without significant additional resources, reallocation of school funding under the Government ‘Fair Funding’ proposals will not address schools’ funding problems.
The NUT agrees that in some areas schools urgently need more money if they are to avoid removing teachers from classes. However we do not in any way accept that any school or local authority can afford to have money taken away.  The funding reform programme must include additional money, otherwise far from being ‘fair funding’, the Government plan is false funding".

A real 'fair funding' scheme would start by looking at the funding schools and Local Authorities actually need to meet the costs of meeting children's needs. Instead, and far from addressing funding problems, NUT research published today shows that Osborne's ‘fair funding’ proposals, based on the redistribution of insufficient funds, just mean more cuts.

It found that, even just taking predicted inflation rates (as predicted by the Treasury), every local authority in England  (with the possible exception of just one - Barnsley!) will see real terms cuts ranging from 2.3% in the currently lowest funded authorities rising to more than 20% in some London boroughs. These losses do not even take into account the additional costs of higher employer pension and national insurance contributionsnor the expected additional cuts in funding for 16 to 19 year olds – which will make the situation much worse in sixth form and FE colleges and in any secondary school with a sixth form. 

These cuts will have a particularly dramatic effect in London where, at present, schools generally have a higher per pupil allocation of funding, although they also face higher pay and other costs as well. That higher funding is undoubtedly a factor in helping to explain the 'London effect' where GCSE results in the capital are generally higher than the rest of England. Higher funding helps schools to help young people. Instead these vicious cuts will damage young people's lives.

Figures taken from the National NUT's research showing huge cuts to London schools
London NUT Secretaries will be holding an emergency meeting next week to discuss the impact of these proposals and to plan a campaign to protect education from Osborne's cuts.

Thursday 19 November 2015

John Roan - putting the record straight

Today, NUT members at the John Roan school took their second day of strike action as part of the ongoing dispute over workload and new appraisal and teaching and learning policies being introduced by the school.

The response to today's action was even greater than the first action last week. Around 60 NUT members, parents and others gathered at the school gates to show their support for the strike. Alongside other speakers, I thanked NUT members for acting with such determination but also explained that, following talks that an NUT delegation had attended on Tuesday, negotiations were ongoing to see whether the dispute could be resolved.

It is, therefore, extremely disappointing to then find that a provocative article has been posted on the South London Press website today which carries misleading statements that could damage those ongoing negotiations.

The NUT was not given an opportunity to answer this one-sided story by the SLP. For our part, we do not wish to be provoked into a 'war of words'. However, and having discussed with Greenwich NUT this evening, I feel that some facts need to be put on record:

"Urging teachers to attend talks"
The article starts by creating a false impression that governors are having to plea to the Union to attend talks. The headteacher and governors know full well that they met with the NUT negotiating team as recently as Tuesday evening and that the Union are awaiting revised proposals following those talks.

"Policies have been nationally approved"
The disputed teaching, learning, assessment and appraisal policies are not nationally agreed policies but ones which have been drafted by the John Roan school alone. They are new policies which change those that were previously in place at the school. That's why there is a dispute at the John Roan. We have explained that, as originally drafted, the policies are in breach of not only national NUT guidelines but even aspects of the national clarification for schools issued by Ofsted. We hope that negotiations can resolve these differences.

"Taking the right action ... to revitalise the school"
It is disappointing that the Chair of Governors chooses to describe his own school as 'mediocre' when students, parents and staff know that the John Roan is a good school. Teachers want to provide the best education for their students but do not agree that increasing workload and levels of scrutiny will achieve those aims. Instead, the NUT have outlined a number of proposals which we think will help address some of the specific issues that contributed to a recent dip in GCSE results.

"We want to resolve this matter swiftly"
The NUT certainly does. Yes, as Ms Powrie says in the article, "we have some amazing teachers here and a long tradition of inspiring students". What the NUT wants is to agree policies that allow those teachers and students to flourish in an atmosphere of trust and with teachers being given their contractual right to a reasonable work/life balance. 

"The majority of John Roan staff support the changes"
The repeated assertion that the dispute is supported by only a minority flies in the face of reality. The NUT represents around 70% of teaching staff at the school. The school has now been twice closed to most year groups through NUT strike action. There is no evidence to justify the claim that most staff support the changes. Colleagues, including those not in the NUT, have expressed concerns about the policies. Again, we hope negotiations can address those concerns.

Friday 13 November 2015

#TeachersMake - 65k complaint still under ASA investigation

If you were one of the many teachers angered by the misleading content of the DfE's "#teachersmake" advert (see my previous posts), you'll be pleased to know that the Advertising Standards Authority have today confirmed that the advert is still under investigation.

I have been awaiting further correspondence from the ASA Council and have now received a letter stating that "We have carried out an initial assessment of your complaint and have decided that further investigation is needed".

I'm also pleased to read that although "our investigation is focussed on the TV ad. You may also be aware that the content of the TV ad is also replicated on the website of Department for Education and their social media pages. Therefore, it is worth noting at this stage that the outcome of the ASA Council’s ruling will be applicable to ads in both broadcast and non-broadcast media".

I await further news from the ASA .... and the DfE !

Wednesday 11 November 2015

Workload - Lewisham teachers report on how schools are breaking the law

Last month, a YouGov poll confirmed that excessive workload is the main reason why so many teachers are leaving the profession:

At a recent Lewisham NUT training day, I asked school reps to tell me what they thought were the main issues that colleagues were concerned about. Once again, workload was the main concern - although closely followed by fears about performance-pay and 'capability' (both being used as ways to bully staff into maintaining their excessive workload):

I then asked the reps to analyse how much time they thought they and their colleagues were working in a typical week. The results were shocking, if not surprising, given that even the Government admits teachers are working over 55 hours a week:

Lewisham NUT reps reported that teachers were working even more - typically around 63 hours a week, although one reported a 71 hour week:

What was taking up all that time? Reps gave an approximate analysis to answer the question:
Even allowing for a range of experiences, what's clear is that EVERY teacher is reporting more than a 48-hour week. Yet that's what the Government says is the maximum working week for any worker (and even that's hardly a reasonable 'work/life balance' ):

So, isn't it about time schools stopped breaking the law?

If you want to use these slides to help discuss excessive workload in your school, download them from:

Tuesday 10 November 2015

Why John Roan teachers are right to take strike action

Today, NUT members at John Roan School in Greenwich took a day's strike action against the imposition of unacceptable assessment, scrutiny and appraisal policies. 

If Governors were under the misapprehension that staff grievances were confined to just a minority of teachers, hopefully today's solid action will make them think again. With forty teachers assembling at the school gates, and other colleagues also on strike, the strength of feeling was clearly demonstrated. Let's hope that Governors are taking note.

The dispute at John Roan is a microcosm of the way that the 'accountability' agenda is damaging education in far too many schools. Like some other local schools, GCSE league table scores took a dip in the summer. But why?

Firstly, it should be no surprise if some schools are struggling to maintain achievement levels. Those that are, often only succeed through damaging 'exam factory' techniques, as explained in recent NUT research. Schools can only have a small effect on overall results. As research from the Sutton Trust quoted in NUT materials on child poverty explain, “These differentiated outcomes cannot be solely attributed to the education system: family income, job prospects, health, housing, social capital and social culture are all important. Analysis suggests that schools contribute only between 7% and 20% of the variability in pupil outcomes.”

Secondly, teachers can sometimes point to specific issues that have contributed to problems, issues which can then be specifically addressed. For example, contributory factors at John Roan appear to include the effect of the school entering Year 10s for early-entry maths GCSEs, a high turnover of teachers in a key department, and a decline in results following a change in exam board in another key subject area.

Unfortunately, rather than talk to staff and address these concrete issues, the school has adopted the top-down 'accountability' model of imposing more demands for data, observations and scrutiny. The NUT believe this will force staff to focus on the wrong issues and take away time and energy from teaching.

It's an approach which, bluntly, just puts the blame on teachers. It demands more pressure, more workload, more monitoring. It leads to demoralisation and stress, not school improvement. The 'conveyor belt' can only be sped up so fast before teachers fall down on the job. Sadly, thousands are, leading to a national crisis in teacher morale and retention - as this recent article by author Alan Gibbons describes.

Small wonder, therefore, that when an NUT group like that at John Roan (and others like the NUT members at Alfreton Grange in Derbyshire)  take strike action to oppose such a damaging approach, messages of support flood in to them from teachers around the country. I received an email from a newly-qualified teacher in Lewisham who was so inspired by the news of the action at John Roan that she was now joining the NUT!

However, and to reassure parents who have apparently raised this concern, the John Roan strike isn't  just some kind of 'proxy' for a national dispute. No, on top of the national issues, John Roan staff face specific threats from new Teaching, Learning and Assessment and Appraisal policies. Instead of seeking a negotiated solution, Governors have imposed these policies when they knew they were in breach of NUT policy on observations and workload limits.

The John Roan  policies aren't, however, just in breach of NUT policies. They're even in breach of Ofsted's own Inspection Handbook clarifications! For example, while Ofsted says "it does not expect schools to use the Ofsted evaluation schedule to grade teaching", the school's appraisal policy demands Ofsted grades. While Ofsted  says it "does not expect to see any written record of oral feedback provided to pupils by teachers" the school TLA policy says verbal feedback should be "recorded whenever possible, by use of a stamp or a more developed means".

These are just some of a number of detailed concerns that the NUT has raised with Governors and the Local Authority Regrettably, instead of listening and negotiating, the school has responded by saying that they are not prepared to change course but will evaluate the policies only "after the revised proposals have been in place for a year". That's no way to try and reach agreement!

Governors need to take note of the strength of staff feeling, withdraw these policies and open proper and full negotiations. If they won't do that, then what alternative do NUT members have but to take further strike action?

Wednesday 4 November 2015

Lessons from America - It's Poverty, stupid

Teachers have been angered and saddened by the announcements by Nicky Morgan yesterday of more testing, more academies, more attacks that put the blame on individual teachers.

Parents too are angry. It's heartening to see the results of a Daily Mirror online poll showing overwhelming opposition to the reintroduction of 'rigorous' formal tests for seven year-olds. It's a policy designed to label teachers and young people alike - and to label many as 'failures'.

But who's really failing here?  I heard Nicky Morgan claiming that she was acting in the interests of those less well-off than her (and the rest of her privately-educated cabinet colleagues). How dare she! This is the same Cabinet that is driving children into poverty, the poverty that we must never forget is the main factor that impacts educational progress.

As this slide from my Socialism 2015 presentation  points out, it's social class that has the main impact on test scores - a class divide that has only got wider in society since this graph was produced. Yet this fact is deliberately overlooked by right-wing educational policymakers across the globe because, as the US teacher quoted above points out, it suits them to blame teachers and their unions, instead of themselves.

That Global Education Reform Movement is being imposed across the US - but it's also being resisted too. I was sent a link to the video below that's definitely worth taking the time to view:

Here's just a few lines from Dr. Williams that also ring true here in the UK:

 "Test scores aren't the answer to solving our problem, dealing with the poverty that impacts our schools is the answer to solving our problem"
 "Over the kids I've helped my kids by just being there - nice if you don't work two jobs, if you don't work the midnight shift"
"Dr King said we made a grievous error - we focussed so squarely on access and opportunity, we missed one enduring truth, what good is it to have a right to go to a restaurant if you can't afford anything on a menu". 

Building the struggles of the 99% to end poverty and social division are the real answer to educational division. Inspiringly, those struggles are building in the States. I also awoke to the news that Seattle's socialist council member Kshama Sawant has been re-elected despite all the big business funding thrown against her over the last few weeks!

Let's keep building the struggle for a better future for the next generation.

Thursday 29 October 2015

Education in the 21st Century - factory school products or fully-developed individuals?

“We are churning out identikit stuff to fuel the employment sector. Don’t we want something more, something individual, something creative, something better for society?”
(Secondary teacher quoted in 'Exam Factories?', research commissioned by the NUT) 

I am very pleased to have been asked to be one of the workshop leaders at the 'Socialism 2015' event being held over the weekend of November 7/8 at the Institute of Education, 20 Bedford Way, WC1H 0AL.

Together with Mary Finch, a socialist student who has recently helped organise a further 'Leeds For Free Education' march against cuts, privatisation, and tuition fees, I will be introducing a workshop on Sunday afternoon (1-2.45 pm) on 'Education for the Masses'.

I will be opening a discussion on 'Education in the 21st Century: factory school products or fully-developed individuals?'. Some of the topics I will throw in to the debate* will be:
  • 'Useful knowledge’ – for who?
  • Who has control of education?
  • What are the aims of the ‘Global Education Reform Movement’?
  • Are schools becoming Exam Factories?
  • Can we still learn lessons from the “Commissariat of Enlightenment”?
  • What is our Strategy to Win?

Please come and join the discussion - but don't just leave it there. This workshop is just one of a wide range of discussions taking place over the weekend, together with two significant rallies taking place at the Camden Centre, Judd Street, WC1H 9JE.  You can get an idea of what to expect by looking at this footage of last year's Saturday rally, featuring US socialist Kshama Sawant.

This year, the Saturday rally includes Paul Murphy, prominent fighter in the mass campaign of non-payment of water charges in Ireland and Anti-Austerity Alliance TD (Irish MP) and Jawad Ahmad, Pakistani singer and activist in the International Youth and Workers Movement. The Sunday rally includes Andreas Payiatsos, Greek socialist at the forefront of rebuilding the resistance after Syriza backed down in the fight against the austerity, and Dave Nellist, TUSC national chair and former socialist Labour MP.

* If you want a sneak preview of my introduction, you can download my presentation here

Wednesday 28 October 2015

So just 'hundreds' of #teachersmake £65k? - the DfE should withdraw its misleading 'up to' claim

Yesterday, the DfE helpfully decided to launch their misleading “#teachersmake” recruitment campaign during a half-term break. For once, that meant that I, and other teachers, had more time available than usual to respond to their half-truths (or perhaps that should be their 0.1%-truths as I explain below).

I took the chance to submit a complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority, and have received an acknowledgement that the complaint is being looked into. The complaint has also been picked up by both Schools Week and the TES – and now, it would appear, by the DfE itself.

By this afternoon, the DfE had released a press statement defending its advertisement, saying that “teachers have the potential to earn up to £65k and hundreds do"

Now you would have thought by now that the DfE might realise that teachers can apply the skills we teach to our students about analysing sources and data. A quick look at Table 5 of the School Workforce Census suggests that there are 412,000 qualified classroom teachers in English schools. I'm open to correction but, if even as many as four ‘hundreds’ of them are earning £65k, isn't that just 0.1% of the total?

In short, many teachers (at least in Inner London, the only area where the little-used 'Leading Practitioners Pay Range' goes up that far) may have the ‘potential’ to earn a £65k sum but very, very few of us do! Isn't it just more than a little misleading for the DfE to suggest that we can do so?

So is 'up to' £65k an acceptable claim?

We've all come across similarly suspiciously high 'up to' claims on broadband speed. A helpful comment on my original post  suggested I look at what the ASA and other regulatory bodies advise broadband providers. Here's what I found:

Achievable for at least 10% of the 'relevant customer base' ?! Not 0.1%?! If this is the standard set elsewhere, then I hope the ASA will be advising the DfE to withdraw the 'up to £65k' claim at the end of their advertisement immediately.
DfE 'flexibility' - insulting our intelligence

The DfE statement goes on to say that “teachers play a vital role in raising standards and ensuring all pupils can reach their full potential”. Well that’s a statement that teachers would entirely agree with. However, it’s their final statement that will only stoke teachers’ anger: “We have given all heads much greater flexibility to set staff pay and reward their best teachers with a pay rise.”

I've always suspected that some in the DfE have a low opinion of teachers, and would-be teachers, but do they really think we’re that gullible? Most of us know only too well what these new ‘flexibilities’ entail – and they are chiefly about cutting our pay, not increasing it! 

For many decades, teachers could rightly expect to progress up the pay scale as they gained experience. However, this Government’s imposition of divisive and demoralising ‘performance-pay’ means that Governors can now decide to pick and choose who gets a pay increase - and who doesn’t.

Some schools are already using those powers to deny salary increases. For example, figures that I have seen suggest that as many as a third of main range teachers were refused progress in some of the biggest academy chains. Upper pay range rejections were even greater.

With budgets under pressure, finding the budget to pay some teachers more can only be achieved by cutting salary costs elsewhere. Tellingly, given that the £65k figure is only applicable in Inner London in any case, it is precisely this region that could be facing the biggest budget cuts under the Government’s proposed changes to the Funding Formula. A paper tabled at a recent Lewisham Schools Forum warned that “schools in Lewisham [may] need to find savings of up to 20% over 5 years”. If that warning is proved correct, what ‘flexibility’ will schools have to pay any teachers £65k?

Supply Teachers worst hit of all

Of course, the attacks on permanent teachers’ pay are attacks that have already been experienced by agency supply teachers. With privatised agencies skimming off a good chunk of the money paid to them by schools, most supply staff receive far less than the pay rates set down in the School Teachers’ Pay and Conditions Document. Of course, as the recruitment and retention crisis worsens, even more vacancies are being filled by these underpaid supply colleagues.

That’s why, today, the NUT held a lively lobby of supply agencies in London, bringing our message to firms like Protocol and Hays that it's time to ‘Stop the rip-off!'

Tuesday 27 October 2015

#TeachersMake: My complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority

Today, faced with a teacher retention crisis of its own making, the DfE launched a new advertisement. Of course, it isn't designed to address the real causes of the crisis. No, the DfE simply hopes to try and attract more applicants to fill the posts of those who have been driven out of the profession.

The advert, however, is in my view, and that of many other teachers, deliberately misleading:

£65K as a great teacher? As many teachers who have angrily taken to social media this evening have been asking, "where are these teachers" ?!  The salary may be technically available but only to the very few classroom teachers paid at the very top of the Inner London range of the very infrequently used 'Leading Practitioners Pay Range'. 

How many teachers receive that kind of salary? Well the DfE should know the statistics, as they are downloadable via

Table 7a confirms that just 0.6% of teachers are paid on the Leading Practitioners range. However, the minimum of the range is currently as low as £38,598 - so I'd suggest that an even tinier proportion of this tiny proportion are paid anywhere near £65K!

Table 9a of the school workforce statistics also makes clear just how few teachers can expect to earn salaries of £50,000 or more. 80% earn less than £40,000. I've added a graph to help make the Government's figures clear:

The DfE know these figures but are creating a very different impression to would-be teachers. That's why I have written a complaint to the ASA tonight stating: 

The advert is deliberately misleading as it focuses on the salary that teachers might expect to earn through its #teachersmake hashtag. It claims that a teacher may make 'up to £65k as a great teacher'. In fact:
1) Th
at amount is only available to a very few teachers in Inner London paid at the top of the Leading Practitioners pay range. It is not available across the whole of England and Wales. Most 'great teachers' would only be paid on the Main or Upper Pay ranges.
2) The Government's own figures (see table 7a in shows that only 0.6% of teachers are paid on the LP pay range and, given that this range starts at as low as £38,598 then only a small proportion of this small proportion of teachers receives a salary anywhere near £65k.
Given that the DfE is fully aware from its own data that the proportion of teachers who might expect to earn this sum is extremely small, this advertisement is creating a deliberately false impression of what '#teachersmake' and should be withdrawn from circulation.

I await a reply.

The other figures - teacher turnover and 'wastage rates'

Instead of wasting millions on misleading adverts, the DfE would do better to consider the real causes for the crisis. The facts are that, after 5 years hard slog, most teachers can only hope (if they've not had their pay progression blocked) to have made it to the top of the Main Pay Range. That's £33,000 pa or £634 per week. If you're working a 63 hour week, that's just £10 per hour. That's what most ‪#‎teachersmake‬ in reality. No wonder there's a crisis.

If the DfE looked again at their figures, they'd find further confirmation. Additional table C1a confirms the real scandal - a 'wastage rate' of 10% leaving the teaching profession every year. Why doesn't the DfE act on that?!

Saturday 17 October 2015

How to improve education - and how to make things worse

The decision by the Government to rush into publishing tables of schools' provisional GCSE results, even before appeals and remarks have been finalised, is no surprise. League tables have been used by successive governments to unfairly compare schools in order to drive through damaging education policies. These latest results will be used to drive through Tory plans for further school privatisation and to reduce costs through performance-pay cuts for teachers.

League tables are not the basis for genuine school improvement. Nevertheless, schools and Local Authorities will be under pressure to analyse these tables and compile plans to improve their ranking next year. That's certainly the case in my borough of Lewisham. The danger is that plans are made which only compound existing difficulties rather than ones that address the real issues.

Poverty is still the main factor driving educational outcomes

First of all, schools must not be bullied into accepting that they can somehow defy gravity and overcome the main factor driving educational outcomes - poverty. Of course, the politicians who are presiding over growing inequality will hypocritically claim that pointing out such economic realities is somehow showing 'poverty of ambition'. Teachers who strive every day to help youngsters facing challenges like poor housing and low household incomes don't need lectures from Tories who are cutting tax credits. The facts are clear.

As "Exam factories ?", the independent research conducted for the NUT by Professor Merryn Hutchings points out "despite making schools accountable for attainment gaps and the provision of funding, the attainment gap at GCSE level between pupils eligible for Free School Meals and those who are not has remained at about 27 percentage points throughout the last decade ... Gorard (2010) drew on a range of statistical evidence about attainment, and concluded that, “to a very large extent, schools simply reflect the local population of their intakes” (p.59), and schools cannot do much to change this. Research has shown that home background is a much larger influence than the school attended and thus attainment gaps are very difficult to reduce. Rasbash et al (2010) examined variation in pupils’ progress at secondary school and concluded that only 20 per cent of this is attributable to school quality ... Other estimates of the ‘school effect’ are lower: Wiliam (2010) reported that OECD analysis showed that in the USA, only eight per cent of the variability in maths scores related to the quality of education provided by the school, and analysis of data in England showed that the school effect contributes only seven per cent of the variance in attainment between pupils".

In Lewisham, and beyond, Local Authorities therefore need to remember that decisions they are making over cuts to youth services, social care and libraries all have an impact on educational outcomes too. For example, award-winning writer Alan Gibbons points out that "children who go to a library are twice as likely as those who don’t to read well. It is not just picking up a book. It is the social experience of reading, talking about the books, browsing, comparing what you have read with family and friends. Librarians are gate keepers in that process. They open doors to new worlds, new possibilities". Lewisham councillors, please take note.

'Gaming the system' - malpractice

In October 2014 Lewisham's CYP Scrutiny Commitee was shown a series of charts analysing KS2 results, including this one comparing achievements at level 5 (the columns) with the percentage of 'pupil premium pupils' (the orange line):

With some variation, the trend is as expected - most of the highest columns are on the right of the chart, in schools where poverty levels are generally lower. Yet one school (circled) stands out as having the highest results while being a school with high levels of poverty. Were council officers and councillors so unaware of the unavoidable link between poverty and outcomes not to question this anomaly? Clearly someone did question it, as the school's results for 2014 were annulled following an investigation by the Standards and Testing Agency. 

'Gaming the system' - so what is acceptable? 

Nobody would accept that outright 'cheating' is an acceptable way to improve exam results. Yet the temptation to maladminister tests and coursework will always be there when the pressures on schools to improve results are so high, and particularly when we are told that 'poverty is no excuse'. However, there are many other ways of 'gaming the system' analysed in the 'Exam Factories ?' research that many schools consider acceptable, if not essential, practice.

Narrowing curriculum choice, 'teaching to the test', 'booster classes' and focusing efforts on borderline students are just some of the ways that schools aim to improve their scores. Pastoral support can suffer as a result as well as the constant emphasis on test scores having a damaging effect on pupils' emotional health and well-being. Whether these methods actually improve lasting knowledge and understanding is also debatable. Certainly many secondary teachers question the KS2 data that they are given for some Year 7 pupils, yet these provide the baseline used to measure progress and set future GCSE targets. Primary colleagues will soon find baseline assessment of Reception children being used in the same way.

Given the link between intakes and outcome, of course the other way to 'game the system' is to use powers over admissions and exclusions to alter your pupil population. earlier this year, the Head of Burlington Danes academy spoke out against the 'underhand tactics' used by some schools operating 'covert selection' practices.

The schools that are most easily able to use such covert methods are schools who are their own admissions authority, particularly academies. The Tories are determined to drive through further academisation, using GCSE results as a weapon to force through attacks on supposedly 'coasting schools'. Yet there is increasing evidence confirming that academisation does not improve educational outcomes. That's also shown by the GCSE results for Lewisham's academy schools (and, conversely, by the improved results at Sedgehill School, a school that would now appear to have been unfairly singled out for damaging public criticism).

In planning for improved GCSE results, schools need to make sure that these outcomes are not achieved at the expense of other vital goals - not least the well-being of the young people we teach (and of those who teach them) and genuine equality of opportunity.

'Speed-ups' - how much more can you ask of staff?

Without looking at the overall context and the real lives of our young people, these league tables are treating schools like factories churning out a 'product'. In a competitive market, we're all told to increase our production targets or go under.

Putting aside the inappropriateness of such a marketised model for public services, let's suppose schools really are just meant to be 'exam factories'.  A forward-thinking manufacturer would know that the real answer to increase productivity is investment. In schools, that would mean more resources, smaller class sizes, more staff, more time for preparation and training. 

Of course, far from increasing investment, this Government is determined to make further cuts. The planned 'National Funding Formula' threatens school budgets in London in particular. A paper tabled at the latest Lewisham Schools Forum warns, alongside other budget pressures, that schools in Lewisham might "need to find savings of up to 20% over 5 years". Such a level of cuts would have a disastrous effect on London schooling and is one more reason why John McDonnell was right to oppose Osborne's fiscal charter.

The alternative approach, from the short-sighted 'captains of industry' in Downing Street, is simply to speed-up the school 'production-line' even more. But how much harder can the workforce be driven?

Already, according to the Government's own figures, teachers are working well over 50 hours a week, in breach of the Working Time Directive. How can any teacher perform at their best when they are exhausted by working such long hours? Why are schools continuing to ignore their legal responsibilities by consistently expecting teachers to work over 48 hours a week?

Yet reports from schools suggest that the pressures on teachers are only increasing. New marking policies that require detailed comments from teachers are adding further to the workload burden. Yet these are being introduced at the same time as some schools are reducing the amount of non-contact time available for teachers to prepare and assess.

What will be the consequences of further 'speed-ups'? Already, as the Guardian highlighted, “Department for Education figures show that in the 12 months to November 2014 almost 50,000 qualified teachers in England left the state sector. That is almost one in 10 of all teachers – the highest rate for 10 years and an increase of more than 25% over five years”. There are a number of Lewisham schools that saw around a quarter to a third of their teachers leave over the summer. Children, particularly the most disadvantaged, need familiar faces and stable relationships in their lives. That stability is being lost in our schools.

As teacher shortages continue to grow, teachers will continue to vote with their feet and leave for posts where the pressures are more manageable. Trade unions have a responsibility to organise to protect teachers from excessive workload, in the best interests of the children they teach as well. What unions locally would welcome is being able to work with the Authority to ensure that unreasonable expectations are not being set. That way, we can work together to make sure all Lewisham schools are seen as an attractive place to choose to teach.

'Ticking-boxes' - or using time productively?

One of teachers' main complaints is not just that the hours of work are excessive but that too much of the pressure is from activities that seem to have little benefit for the students we teach. A culture of 'accountability' has developed (outlined in the 'Exam factories?' research ) where many teachers feel they have to concentrate on accounting for what they are doing, rather than concentrating on teaching and learning.

Monitoring of marking, lesson planning, data collection and lesson observations take up a lot of time but the main outcome is too often just added stress rather than useful feedback and collaborative discussion. That stress impacts on teachers' relationships with children.

Over 60% of staff surveyed by Professor Hutchings 'agreed a lot' that "I spend a disproportionate amount of time on documentation related to accountability rather than on planning for my lesson", nearly 70% that "my stress levels sometimes impact on the way I interact with pupils" and over 75% that "I do not have enough time to focus on the needs of individual pupils". 

One teacher quoted explained "I am totally exhausted all the time. I work 60–70 hours a week just to keep up with what
I am expected to do…. The pressure put upon teachers to provide accountability for so many factors is unmanageable and seemingly pointless. Many teachers in my workplace are feeling permanently stressed and demoralised. More of us are looking to leave as more and more workload is being given with no regard to its impact on teachers or the children

This is a picture that will be familiar to far too many teachers, including teachers in Lewisham. Genuine school improvement cannot be generated in such an atmosphere of fear and demoralisation.

No to performance-pay and imposed targets

If somebody presents you with a table showing the % of students making 3 levels, or 4 levels, of progress across a school, the only appropriate response is to ask them why they have such a lack of understanding of school measurement that they could think this is in any way useful.
- See more at:
As unions warned, performance-pay in particular is adding to teachers' fear and being used to bully staff into taking on excessive workload. Last year, thankfully most Lewisham teachers were awarded pay-progression, in contrast to reports from some academy chains. However, the fear remains that more pay rises will be denied or even, under Nicky Morgan's latest proposals threatening demotion from the Upper Pay Spine, actual pay cuts imposed.

Teachers (and schools) are also often being judged against unreasonable numerical targets based on unreliable statistics and statistical methods. Lewisham NUT has circulated advice to teachers warning against accepting such objectives.  We have warned that too much credence is being given to setting expected 'levels of progress' which take no account into the differential progress that children from different starting-points are likely to make. 

This has been explained by statistician Henry Stewart for the Local Schools Network in his post entitled 'using data badly': "If somebody presents you with a table showing the % of students making 3 levels, or 4 levels, of progress across a school, the only appropriate response is to ask them why they have such a lack of understanding of school measurement that they could think this is in any way useful ... setting targets entirely unrelated to what the data tells us is more reminiscent of Soviet Stakhonovite targets or those of the Chinese Great Leap Forward than targets rooted in sound educational knowledge". 

Again, Local Authorities and school managers, please take note. 

So what does work? - The London Challenge ?

Far too much school policy has been driven over decades by an agenda based on marketisation, privatisation and on increasing teacher workload rather than increased investment. The fruits of those policies are, regrettably, a demoralised and divided system which is now under severe pressure. 

Nevertheless, there have been examples of policies that helped produce more genuine gains. One of those that is worth looking at is the 'London Challenge'. In another piece of research, Professor Hutchings argues that this initiative helps to explain the 'London effect' whereby London schools generally 'outperform' schools elsewhere, especially looking at disadvantaged pupils (although other researchers point to other factors such as the mixed social intakes in many London schools and particular improvements in primary schools).

Hutchings concludes that: "perhaps the most effective aspect of [the] Challenge was that it recognised that individuals and school communities tend to thrive when they feel trusted, supported and encouraged. The ethos of the programme was a key factor in its success, and contrasted with common government discourse of ‘naming and shaming’ ‘failing’ schools. Expectations of school leaders, teachers and pupils were high; successes were celebrated; and it was recognised that if teachers are to inspire pupils they themselves need to be motivated and inspired".

That's a conclusion that we hope will be taken on board by any school or Local Authority analysing its GCSE results. Teachers need to feel trusted, valued and listened to. As I have written in a letter to Lewisham councillors, "the NUT and our fellow teaching unions are concerned to make sure that the voice of classroom teachers and their unions is heard in these discussions. Teachers can provide a unique insight into the difficulties they face in supporting students, and in explaining the support and input they would benefit from". 

I hope that Lewisham councillors will open up a dialogue with teaching unions and make sure that classroom teachers can input into discussions on school improvement, not just school leaders and council officers.