Saturday 28 February 2015

Say NO to the Prendergast academy plans

On Thursday next week, NUT members at the four schools threatened with academy status in Lewisham - Sedgehill, and the 3 schools in the Prendergast Federation (Hilly Fields, Ladywell Fields and the Vale) will again be taking strike action - this time joined by members of GMB and the NASUWT.

Teachers were buoyed by the excellent support given at a packed meeting of SAiL, Stop Academies in Lewisham, last week.

Following the meeting, I have helped produce a leaflet setting out the arguments against the proposed plans to turn the three schools in the Prendergast federation into academies. It can be downloaded from:

Here's just some of the points it raises:

Isn’t it true that academy schools give children a better education?  
“Current evidence does not prove that academies raise standards overall or for disadvantaged children”
All-Party Select Committee of MPs, Jan 2015.

Can academies be trusted to act fairly when they are given control of admissions policies? 
“Charter School has been criticised for setting its catchment area to exclude children from two council estates with the risk of skewing its intake”
Guardian report on Schools Adjudicator, 2012.

Aren’t academies better than non-academy ‘maintained’ schools at supporting students from all backgrounds ? “Converter Academies, on average, take far less than their fair share of disadvantaged pupils. They aren’t helping increase social justice in education. Maintained schools should be preferred”.
Professor Gorard, listed in Governors’ own report 

Won’t becoming an academy “secure greater accountability” for staff and parents? 
“Parents are sidelined from all important decisions, over whether schools convert in the first place, and over how they’re run once they become academies”
From All-Party Select Committee Report, Jan 2015 

Don’t most Heads and Governors agree that schools have to become academies to successfully run a Federation of schools? 
"Why on earth should I go academy? What are the advantages? We already have a reasonable amount of freedom with the curriculum … unions are happy because their members' terms and conditions are unaffected, the extra money that was given to academies has disappeared"
Chair of Governors, Dartmoor Schools Federation 

Won’t the schools be better-off if  they convert into academies? 
“There is no funding advantage to being an academy” … but there is a “risk of losing PFI funding rebates”
From the Governors’ reports on the school website 

Can we trust academy governors when they are given control over school budgets? 
“Nearly half of academy trusts have paid millions of pounds in public money towards the private businesses of directors, trustees and relatives”
Investigation by the National Audit Office, 2014 

Weren’t the Governors just following normal practice when they voted to apply for Academy status without asking parents first? 
“Conversion to academy status is a significant step” … “No governing body should submit an application unless and until they have consulted”
Advice from the National Governors’ Association

As the leaflet concludes, "we hope these facts help you understand why SAIL opposes the academy plans - but every parent should have a chance to decide. That’s why SAIL is calling on the Governors to hold a full consultation where parents can read and hear both sides of the debate. They should then hold a ballot so that parents can vote on the future of their schools. If the Governors are so sure of their arguments, why won’t they agree to ballot parents?"

The question everyone's asking: Can you tell the difference?

Thursday 26 February 2015

Executive votes against national strike before the General Election

This afternoon’s regrettably brief debate, over my proposal that the NUT National Executive should respond to Nicky Morgan’s total failure to meet the Union’s workload demands by calling a national strike on 24 March, ended in the strike proposal being rejected, by 24 votes to 13.

I believe that decision means that the NUT has missed a real opportunity to allow teachers across England and Wales to demonstrate their collective anger at the Government’s failure to do anything to address teachers’ completely unacceptable levels of workload. It has also missed a chance for the Union to make sure that the attacks facing education were placed firmly in the headlines in the months leading up to May’s General Election.

Worse, however, the debate showed that the argument was about much more than just a tactical difference over action timetables. Regrettably, some of the arguments used to oppose action revealed much sharper differences over the possibility of successfully organising to oppose the ongoing attacks on teachers’ pay, pensions and conditions.

I would have hoped that everyone on that Executive understood from their own experience, from the support they give to stressed colleagues, from the figures we have publicised about working hours, lack of pay progression and mounting resignations, from the thousands of heartfelt responses to the Government’s ‘Workload Challenge’, that teachers are facing completely intolerable conditions.

I hope that everyone on the Executive recognises that we face the risk of a completely broken profession if we don’t act to turn the tide of mounting workload – particularly now Nicky Morgan has completely failed to meet the Union’s demands. Unfortunately, I did not feel that the recommendations presented to the Executive in any way grasped the urgency with which the Union needed to respond to Morgan’s failure.

Of course we should try to continue with local school-based action to oppose excessive workload where we can. Just yesterday, I arranged to meet members in a primary school next week to see if we can protect teachers against the pressure coming from observations, ‘book looks’ and other excessive monitoring. But, to be honest, local action alone is like trying to stretch a sticking plaster over a gaping wound. The time and effort required for each local dispute takes enormous time and resources. For every school action that we can arrange, there are dozens more that we will be unable to organise.

So do we just concentrate for now on campaign stalls and lobbying MPs? First of all, the workload itself means that it’s hard for teachers ground down by marking and planning to take part. Secondly, members aren’t na├»ve – they recognise that, whoever wins the Election, it will take a lot more than lobbying to get any real change.

Our demands – for example to end PRP and to recruit more teachers to reduce class sizes and teaching hours - mean challenging a cuts agenda that Parliament voted for last month by 515 votes to 18! As was discussed during the Executive, whoever wins in May, schools face budget cuts after the Election, not budget expansion. Even Labour’s pledge to ‘inflation-proof’ school budgets takes no account of increasing pupil numbers and known budget pressures on, for example, pay and pensions. Some estimates quoted at the Executive suggest the reality could be 7% cuts under Labour, 10% under the Tories.

What we need is a way to get our message across to the electorate, and to the politicians, in a far more visible way. What could have been better than a national strike in the lead-up to the General Election, asking strikers to participate in local rallies and campaigning events on the day as we proposed in the debate? What better way to divert away from the debate from, say, UKIP’s manifesto to the NUT’s manifesto?

If we had agreed to take strike action next month, we would, after all, have simply been carrying out the strategy agreed by the National Executive last year – to act on the support shown in the consultative ballot and to call further action before the Election if Nicky Morgan failed to act seriously on workload – which she clearly hasn’t.

In a nutshell, why are we not now doing what we told members that we were going to do?

I am afraid that failing to act on our earlier decision sends out a dangerous signal that, although Nicky Morgan has ignored teachers’ demands, the Union is unable to respond. Taking action now would have shown this Government that we are far from defeated – and, more to the point, it would have been a warning shot to the next Government too, whoever they prove to be.

Of course, Easter’s Annual Conference will be debating a new strategy for a new Government, very probably based on a new strike ballot. Of course, I and others have argued for such a new strategy to be debated, learning the lessons of our failure to successfully defend pay, pensions or workload under this Government. However, taking action in March would have helped prepare the ground for those battles to come after the Election.

Those opposing the proposal argued that the Union risked being unable to mobilise members to take a national strike and questioned the turnout of members on the last national strike in July 2014. I feel that those fears were exaggerated and that some speakers were in serious danger of downplaying the success of the national action that we have taken. That will do the Union no favours at all!

Yes, there will always be some schools, and some areas, that are stronger than others, inevitably so. But, whenever we have called national strikes, including last July, we have successfully reached national and local headlines and built good local rallies. This time, we would not have been calling action at the end of the summer term but at the end of March – and in the run-up to the General Election – a much better date on which to build action.

Worryingly, given the troubled history of trying to take joint national action with the NASUWT, the argument also resurfaced that, in effect, we could not build successful action without the support of other teaching unions. While united action is preferable, surely we have also learned that waiting for unwilling ‘partners’ can just hold back action altogether – and at the expense of our members’ pay and conditions?

It was argued that there was no ‘clamour’ from teachers to take action. But our members are drowning in the daily reality of excessive workload. They are looking for a lead from their Union. Given the anger at those conditions, I believe that teachers would have responded to a strike call – if the National Executive had given a lead this afternoon.

Why should teachers have to lobby their Executive to demand action? After all, the Union had explained that they were waiting to see what the talks with Morgan would deliver before considering further action. Our demands have been rejected but we are failing to act.

Today’s vote is another setback in defending teachers and education from the attacks that will continue to pile onto teachers – until we act decisively to stand up to those attacks. However, the ever-worsening conditions mean that teachers will increasingly realise that they have no choice but to take that stand. We need a National Executive that’s prepared to give a decisive lead in the battles to come.

Tuesday 24 February 2015

TUSC ready to answer on how to provide affordable homes

Martin speaking alongside Natalie Bennett a few weeks ago
It appears that the Green's Natalie Bennett was a little lost for words when asked questions about housing today on LBC.

We've all had moments when the mind goes blank but I am sure that a TUSC candidate would have had plenty that they would have been ready to say on such a vital question for working people, especially here in London.

Here's some of the demands I would have wanted to raise:
■ Rent control now! Democratic rent councils to decide fair levels in each area
■ A mass programme of council house building and renovation to meet demand
■ Hands off our homes! Bring all housing association stock and housing services back in-house
■ Living housing benefits that reflect the real cost of renting
■ Councils should use their compulsory purchase powers on long term empty properties and use them as council housing

For more detail, please read this excellent article from last November's 'Socialist' paper:

Monday 23 February 2015

MPs are living in a different world - I pledge to stay on a teacher's wage

Once again, the news is filled tonight with stories about how MPs 'earn' their money. Malcolm Rifkind reportedly told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that it was "quite unrealistic" to think MPs could live on £60,000 a year without looking for extra income! In contrast, I (like many other TUSC candidates) have pledged that, if elected as MP, I would continue to take only my existing classroom teacher's take-home pay, donating my extra salary towards building trade union, socialist and community campaigns.

Unlike those mainstream MPs, I also pledge to lead campaigns to fight cuts, not vote for them! I and other TUSC supporters spoke at a Lobby of Bromley Council tonight to oppose the cuts being put forward by the Tory councillors.

Of course, as I explained in my speech, on Wednesday I will also be joining trade unionists lobbying against cuts in Lewisham too - this time from a Labour Council. 

According to an article on the Guardian website, Lewisham 'tops' the list of the biggest-cutting London boroughs:

A video of part of my speech can be seen from the link below:

Saturday 21 February 2015

Taking the TUSC message around Lewisham West and Penge

This morning, TUSC supporters in Lewisham West and Penge took to our cars to do a tour of the constituency with a set of speakers on the back of my car to make sure that everyone knew what TUSC stood for as we drove past!

The support on the street stalls in Forest Hill and Penge was excellent, with a number of new campaign supporters signed up during the activity.

A video of today's campaigning can be found via this link:

Wednesday 18 February 2015

No Tory cuts, No Labour Cuts - build an anti-austerity alternative with TUSC

Tonight, Lewisham’s Mayor and Cabinet approved recommendations to go to next week’s Full Council meeting confirming a further £40 million of cuts for 2015/16.

Those cuts come on top of around £100 million of cuts that have already been made since 2010. Staff numbers have already been cut by a third, and are due to fall even further.

A further £85m of savings was already planned from 2015/16 to 2017/18. However, as tonight’s papers spelt out “Following the Chancellors announcement in the Autumn Statement of a further £10 billion [sic] of cuts to public sector expenditure these estimates are likely to worsen”.

What the Lewisham Council report fails to point out is that it wasn’t just the Coalition parties that backed the Chancellor’s austerity plans. Osborne’s plans for billions of pounds of further cuts passed through Parliament by a massive 515 votes to 18. Just five Labour MP’s were prepared to defy the whip and vote against them!

The fact is that, whichever combination of the main parties forms the Government after May’s general election it will really just be a 'change of management' only. They will all continue to inflict cuts on local government that will bring councils down to the bare legal minimum of service provision and in some cases below even that. At the same time, as the HSBC scandals are showing, the super-rich continue to squirrel away their billions. What kind of society is it that sees the 1% continue to profit at the expense of the 99%?

This continuing austerity, and the failure of the Labour Party to challenge it, shows the desperate need to building a new mass party for working people. Events in Greece have already led to the election of anti-austerity party Syriza, and in Spain there is a surge in popularity for Podemos too.

The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) is planning to stand 1,000 council candidates and 100 parliamentary candidates in May's elections, in order to start building that alternative to the pro-austerity status-quo. 

The lesson from these cuts is not to vote for the austerity parties on 7 May. Instead trade unions and communities need to prepare for the battles to come whoever wins. That’s why I am calling on voters in Lewisham West and Penge to support my TUSC challenge this May.

Join the Anti-Cuts Lobbies: No Tory cuts, no Labour cuts!
Monday 23 February, 6.00 pm, Bromley Civic Centre
Wed. 25 February, 6.00 pm, Catford Town Hall - 

followed by Stop Academies in Lewisham Public Meeting, 
7.30 pm, St.Mary's Centre, Ladywell.

Tuesday 17 February 2015

Look to the super-rich to find the 'something-for-nothing' culture

Pride of place on the blog today has to go to these clips of Claire Laker-Mansfield of Youth Fight for Jobs, answering the Tory propaganda about the 'something-for-nothing' society and redirecting the insults back at wealthy tax-avoiders.
As Claire pointed out, "Youth are being punished for the crime of having to grow up in austerity Britain" and " 'Something-for-nothing' is at the top of society, they don't even pay their taxes". 

These points have clearly struck a chord with many. My tweets posting those comments have been retweeted throughout the day, and replies have congratulated Claire on the clear arguments that she put forward.

Claire asked "what kind of a systen is twentieth-first capitalism if it says to the next generattion that you're going to be worse off than the people who brought you up?". She rightly called on David Cameron to create more jobs to let young people live a "dignified existence".

Of course, it's not just young people who have a right to dignity, both in and outside work. But cuts and austerity are robbing that dignity from millions of all ages.

TUSC, the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, stands with Youth Fight for Jobs in calling for investment to create and protect jobs, including for young people.

You can find out more on Youth Fight for Jobs on:

Monday 16 February 2015

Martin is one of four NUT NEC members standing for TUSC in May

The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) national steering committee has endorsed the Manifesto for Education produced by the largest teachers' union in England and Wales, the National Union of Teachers (NUT). At the same time it was confirmed that four members of the union's national executive committee (NEC) will be standing as TUSC candidates in May's elections.

The Con-Dem Government has damaged children's education. Their determination to open free schools and academies has left a fragmented and divided education system. Their attacks on pay, conditions and pensions have demoralised school staff. Excessive testing and divisive league tables have driven enjoyment out of education for staff and students alike. Children, families and school staff need these damaging policies to be reversed.

Shamefully, the Labour Party has given no indication that it would do so. David Blunkett's policy review made clear that "academies are here to stay". Shadow Education secretary Tristram Hunt has joined the Tories in blaming teachers for the problems caused by cuts, poverty and divisive education policies.

TUSC stands against cuts and privatisation and for good quality education for every child. We stand for free education for all, for grants not fees. That's why we fully endorse the NUT's Manifesto for Education which sets out a different direction for education in England and Wales. In particular, TUSC backs the NUT's Manifesto in saying that:


  • The current system stifles creativity and leads to 'teaching to the test'. League tables should be replaced by national sampling.
  • The £156 million a year spent on Ofsted inspections could be better invested in services to generate improvement and share good practice.
  • Unless child poverty is addressed by the next government, millions will never achieve their potential. The bedroom tax should be abolished.
  • Funding should be increased for high quality early years education, with more qualified teachers and smaller nursery classes.
  • The role of the local authority should be restored as the democratic local organisation responsible for education. They should be given the funding and legal powers they need to plan and provide enough school places in their local areas.
  • Approvals for free schools should end and the forced academies programme should be stopped immediately.
  • Funding should be restored for high quality local authority services for schools and families.
  • The downward spiral of education funding should be reversed, restoring it to at least 2010 levels in real terms.
  • Action should be taken to reduce workload and to restore a national pay structure for all schools.

TUSC endorses all of these points but we would also go further. We have clear policy of opposition to academies and 'free schools'. We call for all schools to be brought under the control of a genuinely democratic local education authority so that parents, staff and the local community can work and plan together to ensure that every child receives the education they need and deserve. But unlike Labour candidates, TUSC candidates can clearly say - we support the NUT's Manifesto for Education.

It is also significant that more members of the NUT national executive committee will be standing as TUSC candidates in May's elections than there are candidates on the executive for any other party. Martin Powell-Davies is a TUSC parliamentary candidate in the Lewisham West and Penge constituency, Anne Lemon in Bristol North West, and Pete Glover in Bootle, while Phil Clarke is a TUSC local election candidate in Brighton. 

Taken from:

Friday 13 February 2015

Prendergast Governors' claims - open to challenge

A failure to consult

For months, the Governing Board of the Leathersellers’ Federation of Schools has failed to keep the school community properly informed of its deliberations. Just days ago, letters were being sent to parents accusing the NUT of acting prematurely in taking strike action because “The Governing Board has not yet received or considered the working party recommendations and therefore no decisions have been made”. What they failed to mention was that they were proposing to take a decision to apply for an Academy Order on the day of the strike!

The vote to apply for an Academy Order has been taken before any proper consultation has take place. The common law duty of consultation set out in the Court of Appeal states that “Consultation should be undertaken when the proposals are still in a formative stage”. The National Governors’ Association (NGA) has issued advice to schools to say that “The NGA remains of the view that consultation should take place at an early stage of the process before governing bodies have applied for academy status”. It seems that this advice hasn't beeen heeded by Governors.

Now let’s have full and open consultation, including a binding ballot of staff and parents

Only now, have the Governing Board posted documentation on the school website and written to staff and parents outlining the proposals in any detail. It states that “the Governing Board, in the event of being granted an Academy Order, has been advised to postpone consultation until after the general election”. However, Unions and Stop Academies in Lewisham certainly cannot afford to delay in campaigning vigorously against these damaging proposals, and in demanding full and genuine consultation with parents, staff and students.

There needs to be a full and meaningful consultation begun at the earliest possible opportunity. Will there be open meetings for parents and staff where there are speakers both for and against academy status? If the Governors are being told to delay consultation until after the election, then shouldn’t the academy application be also withdrawn until after the election? Otherwise, this appears to be a delaying tactic to curtail discussion.

Academy conversion is an irreversible process with far reaching consequences for pupils, staff and the wider community. It is not a decision that should be taken lightly by a small group of governors acting without the support of key stakeholders in the school.   

Will the consultation conclude with a full ballot of parents, staff and other stakeholders? Will the Governing Board abide by the views of these stakeholders so that, if they reject academy status, it will not go ahead? If not, why not? Or are Governors afraid that their arguments might not be so convincing to the school community after all?

An initial response to the Governors’ claims

The letters to parents and staff make a number of claims that are open to challenge. Here are some initial points that I hope can be refined and expanded upon in further campaign materials:

· The Federation would be founded in law as a charitable education trust, complementing Prendergast School’s Charitable Trust.

It will also be constituted as a Company Limited by Guarantee with Directors – so it will operate like a private company

· The Federation would benefit by being an organisation of the same status as 60% of secondary schools in the country and 13% of primary schools in England.

It remains the case that 80% of state funded schools in England are maintained. Just 20% of schools overall are academies – of these, while 60% of secondaries are academies, 40% remain LA maintained. In Lewisham, of course, it’s even greater.

· The Leathersellers’ Company would take even greater stewardship of the Federation, which would become a key element in its long-term education strategy.

What does this mean in practice? What actual benefits would accrue? Is this just confirming that the schools would now be largely controlled by the Worshipful Company of Leathersellers?

· The multi academy trust structure, with its main board and local schools boards, would ensure greater accountability to the community and staff.

How can this be the case? Stakeholder governing bodies in maintained schools are by far the most accountable and democratic. They allow for elected governors and there are guaranteed places for staff, parents, representatives of the LA and the local community. In an academy, governors are appointed by the academy trust.

The all-party Education Select Committee published a report on academies and free schools in January 2015 following an 18 month inquiry. It said that there is an ‘absence of parent voice’ in academies and recommended that a more transparent and independent complaints’ procedure must be established.

The proposals suggest that the Federation would be run by a Board of 12 to 15 members appointed by the Leathersellers’ Company and that parent and teacher representatives would only find a place on a second-tier of school committees.

· The education of the students in the schools would be enhanced and strengthened with more effective sharing of resources.

How? The point of the Local Authority family of schools is that resources can be shared through funding arrangements agreed by schools themselves at the schools forum. This should mean that the schools that need the most support are given it.

· The financial structure of the Academy Funding Agreement would allow more effective financial management, resilience and capacity.

Again, what does this mean in practice and what is the evidence from other MATs? The Education Select Committee said that there was a lack of proper oversight of academy governance and financial arrangements. It also said that “conflicts of interests are common in academy trusts” and it recommended strengthened governance and stronger rules around “related party transactions”.

· The financial structure would allow resources to be applied more efficiently and immediately at student need, directing resources more effectively and particularly at vulnerable groups.

Shouldn’t this already be happening?! Why would Academy status make a difference?

· Ofsted has recognised the impact of the Federation’s capacity to secure better outcomes for children.

A federation offers all the positive collaboration opportunities argued for the MAT without any of the disadvantages of academy status.

· Academy conversion would facilitate further improvements in outcomes.

How? Where’s the evidence? Again, the Education Select Committee inquiry report concluded that: “Current evidence does not prove that academies raise standards overall or for disadvantaged children.”

The Ofsted annual report for 2013/14 also noted that there was no relationship between school type and performance and that the rate of improvement in KS4 attainment (5 A*-C in English and Maths) between 2010/11 and 2012/13 in LA maintained secondaries was twice that (at 2 percentage points ) of converter academies (1 percentage point).

· There would be greater employment security for staff.

No, the opposite is true, staff who want to leave an academy and transfer back to working in an LA maintained school may find they have lost their continuity of service for benefits such as non-statutory maternity entitlements, sick leave and other entitlements negotiated at local authority level.

· Any future change of status for the schools would include a commitment to offer terms and conditions in line with STPCD and national conditions for support staff.

That’s good but how long will this parity last? The academy trust has discretion over pay and conditions for all staff and isn’t bound by any national agreements – what’s to stop them changing this in the future? The best guarantee is to stay as things are.

· TUPE arrangements would offer all employees enhanced employment protection.

But, as unions know from experience, many academy trusts have sought to vary these once a period of time following transfer has elapsed. TUPE arrangements do not apply to new staff or when new contracts are issued after ‘reorganisations’.

· There would be no loss of entitlement to or change in pension arrangements.

That’s because academies are in the Teachers' Pension Scheme.

· There would be no change to the admissions code, inclusion or gender intake of the schools within the Federation.

There can be no guarantees about this. The academy trust can determine its own admission arrangements and even if they don’t change in the short term there can be no guarantees about the future.

· The Federation would continue its partnership with key groups, the LA, union groups and other stakeholders.

So what is the point of changing status? In fact the more schools that become academies, the harder it is for the LA to facilitate and support such partnerships.

· There would be no threat to the unique character and ethos of each of the three schools currently in the Federation; their inclusiveness, their individual character and their service to their specific communities. Furthermore, the ability of each to serve their individual communities would be enhanced by the greater resources of the Federation.

Again, this may be so in the short term but the academy trust can make whatever changes it chooses to in the future. Without an accountable and representative governing body to steer the direction of the schools there can be no guarantees over what decisions the trust may make in the future. Unfortunately, the governance proposals suggest that the voices of parents and staff will be excluded.

· The Governing Board has taken this decision in due process and mindful of the representations made to it. The Governors are determined to maintain the highest standards of inclusive education within the Federation and believe this application is part of the process of securing the best possible outcomes for the young people we serve through education.

It seems that the Governing Body has taken this decision despite the representations made to it and the opposition so clearly demonstrated by the school community on Thursday. So what hope is there that parents and staff will be listened to in the future under academy arrangements where there is less voice for parents and staff?

Thursday 12 February 2015

Save Prendergast - this battle has only just begun!

Hilly Fields
The energy and determination shown by the Lewisham teachers, parents and students striking and protesting today against the threat to turn their schools into academies will have been an inspiration to everyone determined to halt the privatisation of education.

NUT members at Sedgehill and the three Prendergast Federation schools took part in a solid strike today. 

Ladywell Fields

Pickets were on the school gates from 7.30 am before strikers packed into a Ladywell cafe to warm up for the rest of the day. From 9.45, strikers gathered outside Hilly Fields school where the Governors of the three schools in the Prendergast/Leathersellers Federation were meeting to vote on whether to press ahead with their Academy plans.

By 10.30, when the Governors' meeting started, the crowds had been boosted by both parents and class after class of chanting Prendergast students. The meeting could have been left in no doubt about the views of the school community as they chanted "Teachers, parents, students say, 'Academies in Lewisham - No Way!' " For a video of the protest, see .

The fact that this overwhelming show of opposition was them to be so blatantly ignored will be a bitter disappointment to all those who protested. Regrettably, however, the fact that a majority of the Federation Governors were intent on voting to apply for an Academy Order, starting down the road to the academisation of Hilly Fields, Ladywell Fields and The Vale schools, was never really in doubt. Governors have shown no intention of taking note of the strength of the arguments against academies - nor the strength of opposition in their school community. SAiL, the Stop Academies in Lewisham campaign is going to make sure that those Governors have to take note - and are made to think again!

SAiL had already made plans at our meeting the night before to respond to the likely pro-academy vote. A committee of staff, students and parents has been set up. Unions will be setting dates for further strike action after half-term. Leaflets and pamphlets are being written to answer the Governors' claims and to explain how these academy plans threaten to damage and tear apart education right across Lewisham. We will be out on the school gates, train stations and shopping areas building for a public meeting in a fortnight's time. We will be demanding that, if Governors are so sure of their arguments, why won't they agree to a full ballot of parents to see if they agree with their proposals - or not?

Look out  Prendergast Governors, this battle has only just begun!

Tuesday 10 February 2015

Lewisham Council Cuts - "When Services Go, People Suffer"

As Lewisham is dubbed the “most violent place to live in the country”, Lewisham Council prepares to finalise a £1 Million cut in its Crime Reduction budget.

According to today’s Evening Standard, Lewisham has been rated in the “UK Peace Index” Report, calculated using rates of homicide, weapons crime and other factors, as the least ‘peaceful’ Local Authority in Britain.

The press are happy to sensationalise crime while failing to condemn the poverty which this report shows is at the root of the problem. Lewisham residents also know that headlines like the Standard’s can exaggerate most people’s everyday experience. However, for those people who have been victims of crime, particularly youth, the effects can be long-lasting.

What is Lewisham Council’s response? It is to finalise a £40 million cuts package being voted on at the Mayor and Cabinet meeting on Wednesday February 11th. Alongside a £1M cut to the Crime Reduction budget, these cuts include a shocking £9.7M reduction in Health and Social Care budgets and a cut in the community grants budget by up to £1.5M.

The proposed cuts to the Crime Reduction budget are:
· £604k to be cut from Drug and Alcohol Services, including residential rehabilitation.
· £200 k in cuts to the Youth Offending Service
· £200K from cuts to the Integrated Offender Management Service

The Council’s own papers from last September, when these cuts were first considered, admitted that these cuts will come at a cost. For example, on the IOM proposal, it said:

“Those who are involved in the criminal justice system are notoriously difficult to engage in drug/alcohol treatment services. Without additional support this engagement is even less likely which means that their criminal activity is likely to continue with all the associated impacts on other Lewisham residents”.

“Generally the impact of the service will be on those who would otherwise receive it. As young men from BME communities are over represented in the criminal justice system the impact there is likely to be increased. There is also a general impact on those who are victims of crime and the same group are again over represented”.

Martin Powell-Davies, prospective parliamentary candidate in Lewisham West and Penge for TUSC, the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, said:

“These cuts can only further damage our community. It doesn't matter if the cuts are carried out enthusiastically by Tories, like neighbouring Bromley, or with a heavy heart by Labour in Lewisham. When services go, people suffer.

Instead of crying crocodile tears, Lewisham’s Labour Councillors should stand by the needs of local people and refuse to carry them out. Like TUSC, they should demand that the next Government stops the cuts and funds services to meet needs.

TUSC is one of the local groups and trade unions supporting a Lobby of Lewisham Council to protest against the cuts on Wednesday 25th February, from 6.30 pm outside the Town Hall”.



Sunday 8 February 2015

Organising against cuts and privatisation - from all the main parties

The last week has been a busy week of campaigning for TUSC and for me, the TUSC prospective candidate for Lewisham West and Penge in this May's General Election.

Organising for trade union action
Campaigning for TUSC in Sydenham
Last weekend, I travelled to Bristol for the National Steering Committee of LANAC, a network of Local NUT Associations campaigning to build the national campaign of action to defend teachers' pay, pensions and workload. NUT Associations from across England were represented, including a teacher from Warwickshire who spoke from her heart about the intolerable pressures facing her and so many colleagues. 

"I can't wait to get out" she explained. "I know I'll be in trouble on Monday because I've taken a day out of my weekend to come here instead of doing my planning". That's the reality facing education - staff having to work seven days a week to keep on top of their endless workload. Unions need to take industrial action to stop those attacks - but they also need a political voice like TUSC to campaign for teachers, and other workers, to have contracts that guarantee a maximum working-week and a decent pay and pension for the work that they do.

Academies and privatisation driving down conditions
On Sunday, I was in Brighton for the NUT's 'London weekend' bringing together activists from across the capital. Discussing with colleagues from South-East London, it was clear how academies were too often at the forefront of the attacks on teachers' conditions, and sometimes on trade union reps too.

I met some of those colleagues again at a meeting on Tuesday night in Bexley to meet with teachers from some local academy schools. One explained that owing to pressure and workload, with just two-years service, she was already one of the longest-serving teachers at the school. Another explained how she was spending at least four hours every night marking books. That's no way to run education!

On the UNITE picket-line at Catford bus garage
Trade union action can help turn this tide of attacks. That's why I was so pleased to be on the picket-line at Catford Bus Garage early on Wednesday morning to support striking bus workers fighting for a decent rate of pay for all, against the havoc caused by privatisation.

Fighting for Equalities
On Thursday, I attended the NUT's Advisory Committee for LGBT Equality, on which I sit as a member of the NUT's National Executive. This month is LGBT History Month - although fewer schools take note of it than they should.

I made sure to put in a word for the teachers at Sedgehill School getting ready to take strike action next week. (See: ). I have always admired the inclusive ethos at this genuine community school, an ethos which staff, parents and students are determined to defend. An ex-Sedgehill student visited the school as part of Grayson Perry's 'Who are You' series on Channel 4 - with an accompanying exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery.  

I also sat with my son, a Sedgehill student, in the public gallery at Lewisham Town hall on Wednesday evening. We were there to hear Lewisham's CYP Scrutiny Committee debate how the Council could justify imposing an Interim Executive Board at the school. Imposing that IEB has left the school vulnerable to enforced academy conversion, a threat that I am glad to be supporting NUT members in opposing through strike action. 

Debating the way forward
On the SERTUC 'Question Time' Panel
On Saturday, in my role as Chair of the SE Region of the TUC's Public Services Committee, I had a chance to sit on a Question Time panel in TUC Congress House alongside Natalie Bennett, leader of the Green Party, and Jonathan Simons of the right-wing Policy Exchange 'think-tank',  among others. I was pleased to steer Jonathan, perhaps unwittingly, into agreeing that parents should have the chance to be balloted on their views before an academy transfer. Perhaps he could tell governors at schools like Prendergast who, regrettably, I am told may be poised to vote for an Academy Order.

Saturday's debate was a chance for a proper discussion on the future of education, in sharp contrast to Thursday's Question Time where it was hard to spot the political difference between Tory Nicky Morgan and Labour's Tristram Hunt. Hunt made absolutely sure that voters know where Labour stands with his performance on television this morning, already turned into a TUSC meme!

TUSC - Offering a real alternative

As the picture says, TUSC, the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition is determined to offer a political voice for trade unionists and all those in our local communities determined to fight against the cuts and privatisation promised by both Tory and Labour - whichever becomes the majority party in May.

On Saturday, TUSC supporters leafleted the trade unionists attending the SERTUC Conference to make clear that TUSC is backing the NUT's Manifesto for Education. Unlike Nicky Morgan and Tristram Hunt, TUSC has a clear policy of opposition to academies and free schools and stands against cuts and for the funding needed to provide high quality local authority services for schools and families.

As the picture above shows, back in Sydenham, TUSC supporters in Lewisham West and Penge were holding a campaign stall outside the Post Office. This will be the first of many local activities, including plans for a 'car calvalcade' around the constituency later in the month. 

If you want to support our campaign, do get in touch. Look out for more updates on the campaign Facebook page:

Support teachers striking to oppose academy status in Lewisham

On Thursday, February 12th, members of the National Union  of Teachers will be striking at four Lewisham schools:

Teachers don’t go on strike without good reason. We          think that the threat that our schools might be turned into academies means that we have to take action. A change     to academy status risks the terms and conditions of our employment. We think that it risks children’s education too.

Academy threat facing four schools
ŸLast year, Governors of the Leathersellers' Federation of the three Prendergast schools set up a Working Party. Staff believe that it is going to report back soon to Governors with a recommendation. It could be proposing that Governors apply for an ‘Academy Order’. This could mean starting the academy conversion process for the three schools before any public consultation has taken place.

ŸLewisham Council has imposed an ‘Interim Executive Board’ (IEB)  at Sedgehill School. Parents, staff and students have stood up for their community school and demonstrated their opposition to the Council’s unjustified plans. That campaign helped make sure that the Head was not replaced by one from an Academy. But the Government still expects an IEB to pursue academy conversion.

A fifth school, Bonus Pastor, has confirmed that it isn’t wanting to convert into an academy at the moment. Now for the other four!

A threat to teachers’ conditions

ŸThe Government says academies are given extra ‘freedoms’. That includes being ‘free’ to break from national pay and conditions.

Instead of being part of one democratically accountable Local Authority, schools and staff are divided into different employers.

Staff in many academies report that conditions and staff morale have got worse. That’s bad for teachers - and bad for education too.

A threat to education in Lewisham

There’s no evidence that academies improve education. That’s not an NUT claim - it’s what a Committee of MPs has just concluded!

What the Government’s academies programme has definitely achieved is to take schools out of the hands of local Councils, that we can vote for, and given control to private businesses instead.

Up to now, Lewisham has largely resisted the spread of academies that has taken hold in some boroughs. Shouldn’t it stay that way?!

This Government introduced new rules that allow schools to convert into academies very quickly and without having to properly listen to the views of staff and parents. Once converted, you can’t change back. If politicians and governors are so confident that academies are the answer, why not put the decision to a full ballot of parents? 

Morgan fails the workload challenge - time to take national action

This is LANAC's response to Nicky Morgan's rejection of the NUT's workload demands:

After months of talks, requests for feedback and over 40,000 responses from teachers demonstrating the crushing impact of workload on the job, Nicky Morgan’s ‘big announcement’ amounted to next to nothing.

Teachers had a right to expect more. Workload in many schools is at an intolerable level. The DfE’s own figures show that teachers are leaving in record numbers. Almost 50,000 have left in a year. Yet the best that the Secretary of State could offer was that teachers will no longer be subjected to major changes in Ofsted inspections or government policy during the academic year, "except when absolutely necessary" of course!

Nicky Morgan has failed the workload challenge. She has completely ignored the NUT’s workload demands. So how do we respond? Can we afford to let her rejection go unchallenged and leave teachers drowning in workload? Our best answer would be a national strike.

NUT members were surveyed in the Autumn over continuing strike action to defend pensions, improve pay and reduce workload. The overwhelming majority (80%) said they would support up to two days further action before the general election. The NUT National Executive agreed to wait to see what talks with Nicky Morgan would bring before deciding on further plans for action. The Executive will meet again at the end of February.

LANAC is calling on the NUT to urgently draw up action plans to debate at that Executive - including  plans for national action. Make sure to let your National Executive member know what your colleagues would support.

Monday 2 February 2015

Neither Hunt nor Cameron will stand up for education. We will!

An opposition spokesperson who really cared and understood about education would have been in the news today condemining the Prime Minister's speech announcing yet another expansion of academies. Instead, Tristram Hunt was in the news for insulting a Sedgehill parent, Tom Mann:

The Socialist Party issued this press release this afternoon, giving my response to both Hunt and Cameron: 

Within months of election Labour’s Tristram Hunt insults teachers and parents

Tristram Hunt confirmed Labour’s contempt for teachers with his tweets to a concerned South London parent. On the day Cameron is to announce greater moves to academies which threaten teachers’ working rights, Hunt insults teachers and concerned parents.

Hunt, Labour's shadow education secretary, tweeted to a parent and a teachers’ group to “stop moaning” and “do some work” in response to a query about the details of Labour’s education policy.

Martin Powell-Davies, National Executive of the National Union of Teachers, the largest teachers’ union, said:

“The Tories’ latest announcements show that they are determined to take the whole of education out of democratic local control by turning even more schools into academies. Clearly Labour has ruled out repealing any of the Tories’ major school reforms if they form the next government. In Lewisham, however, teachers and parents are determined to stop these attacks.”

Martin is a teacher and active campaigner in Lewisham, South London. He is also one of two members of his union’s executive standing as parliamentary candidates for the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) - which is more than for any other party. Martin is challenging in the Lewisham West and Penge constituency.

Martin explains why as a teacher trade unionist he is standing as a candidate in the general election. “Teachers’ strike action has already seen off one pro-academisation education minister. Both Nicky Morgan and Labour’s Tristram Hunt should take note. Building on this includes standing to give a voice to the millions who oppose academies.”

Martin explains the fight against academies in Lewisham: “Campaign meetings have heard from students, parents and staff who know from their own experiences that academies are no solution to educational issues. In fact, they make things worse. Staff pay and conditions are threatened. Parents complain about how their children have been treated in schools that are like ‘exam factories’.

“Lewisham NUT has now balloted its members in five schools for strike action against the threat that their employer might change to an Academy Trust. A first day’s strike is due to be called on Thursday 12 February. News has just come through that one of the schools, Bonus Pastor, has announced that it isn’t going ahead with its academy plans! So that’s one down, four to go!”