Tuesday 30 June 2015

Education Bill - Morgan takes another step towards total school privatisation

Yesterday, Nicky Morgan and the DfE finally announced the definition of a 'coasting' school - their new 'category' of school to be legislated for in the Education and Adoption Bill and lined up for possible forced academisation. In another undemocratic move, Government-appointed, unelected ‘Regional School Commissioners’ will be given the job of deciding their fate.   

One estimate using the new definition has calculated that there could be as many as 2500 maintained schools under threat, mainly schools whose only 'fault' is to be supporting pupils with greater levels of need. As the NUT's press release rightly responded, the announcement amounts to a "a crude attack on state comprehensive education and a further step towards full school privatisation.” 

A coasting secondary school will be defined as one where in 2014 and 2015 fewer than 60% of children achieve 5 A*-C including English and mathematics and they are below the median level of expected progress”. This compares to the present ‘floor target’ of 40% - putting hundreds more schools at risk of academisation. Henry Stewart's initial calculation suggests that around 810 secondaries might fall into that harsh definition, around 470 of them maintained schools. 
Of course, around another 340 of these ‘coasting’ secondary schools are already academies but Morgan won’t want that awkward fact to get in the way of the greater aim of privatising public services. However, the threat may well be used to push stand-alone academies into the hands of the bigger academy chains or expanding ‘Multi-Academy Trusts’.

After all, the Tories’ real aim is to replace democratically accountable Local Authorities with these unaccountable education businesses. Local schooling will be torn apart leaving no elected body to be in charge of pupil places, admissions and what schools really need – support and advice.

By further driving down staff morale, academisation will also only worsen the growing crisis of teacher turnover and shortages. It certainly won’t improve education – and a gathering volume of information continues to show that there is no evidence to suggest that academisation has educational benefits.

Of course, reducing workload and providing proper support to schools means increasing funding, not more Tory cuts. Instead of meeting real needs, the Tories seem happy to hand over assets and precious resources to education businesses so that they can pay themselves large salaries and, at some point, be allowed to openly declare a profit too.

Shamefully, instead of addressing the real issues, Labour’s shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt has criticised the Bill only for failing to address supposedly “sub-standard school leadership and poor classroom teaching". At least some Labour backbenchers, like Clive Lewis from Norwich South, have been prepared to speak out, describing the Bill in Parliament as “a smash and grab on our schools” and “an attack on fundamental values that we all hold dear: democracy, accountability and transparency." How many other Labour MPs are prepared to do so – including those in Lewisham for example? 

It mustn’t be forgotten that it’s likely to be the primary sector where the Education and Adoption Bill really bites. After all, for now most primaries remain in the maintained sector. A coasting primary school will be defined as one where for three years “fewer than 85% of children [are] achieving level 4 in reading, writing and maths and which have also seen below average proportions of pupils making expected progress between age seven and age eleven.” Stewart estimates this could target over 2,000 primaries.  

Of course, by definition, some schools have to be ‘below average’ – but why let mathematical necessity get in the way of free-market ideology?
What kinds of schools will fall ‘below average’? Stewart’s analysis explains that the ‘coasting’ definitions, based largely on absolute results, of course target ‘schools with lower ability entries’. As he explains, “when Morgan first started talking of coasting schools, I assumed a key target would be schools with strong entries that do not add sufficient value in terms of exam results achieved. Such schools will in fact be almost totally unaffected by Morgan’s new definition”.  

As Kevin Courtney, Deputy General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers, says in the NUT’s Press Release: “Very many good secondary and primary schools – as defined by Ofsted, and as defined by parents – will now be classified as coasting. They will now stand the risk of losing their Heads and other staff as uncertainty reigns in their school.  

He added that “schools are already under enormous pressure to placate the whims of Government and Ofsted. Today’s arbitrary target will only serve to sharpen teaching to the test and a concentration on borderline students. This already results in a narrowed curriculum and, for many pupils, disengagement”.  

At least Morgan’s announcement reveals the reality of her proposals. This has nothing to do with education and all to do with privatisation of public services. The strong support in the local community for ‘Stop Academies In Lewisham’ and other campaigns across the country shows that staff, parents and students can already see through the false claims of those supporting yet further academy expansion. Now we have to build those campaigns further and link them up into a national campaign to oppose and expose the reality behind the Tories’ attacks.

“For secondary schools, a school will be coasting if in 2014 and 2015 fewer than 60% of children achieve 5 A*-C including English and mathematics and they are below the median level of expected progress” - See more at: http://www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk/2015/06/morgan-targets-almost-3000-schools-as-coasting/#sthash.wxhlYzZD.dpuf

Secondaries: 814 set to be targetted as “coasting”

The DfE definition: “For secondary schools, a school will be coasting if in 2014 and 2015 fewer than 60% of children achieve 5 A*-C including English and mathematics and they are below the median level of expected progress”
- See more at: http://www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk/2015/06/morgan-targets-almost-3000-schools-as-coasting/#sthash.wxhlYzZD.dpuf

Sunday 21 June 2015

After the demo - come to NSSN Conference

Yesterday's anti-austerity demonstration in London showed the determination of thousands upon thousands of marchers to stand up to the cuts planned by the Tories. 

Now we have to build our efforts to organise, strike and resist against those attacks. There will be no better place for trade unionists than the National Shop Stewards Network Conference on July 4th. Come and join us there!

Thursday 18 June 2015


June’s NUT National Executive discussed a wide range of issues. For my Report, I’ve picked out three areas that are of particular significance, plus a few brief highlights below:


The demoralising performance-pay legislation introduced under Michael Gove is already being used by some schools to threaten teachers that they won’t be progressing up the pay spine next September. But now there could be further divisive threats to pay on their way.

When the Review Body reported last March, they recommended only a 1% increase to the minimum levels of the main and upper pay ranges. However, they certainly weren’t definitely even recommending a 1% increase across-the-board. As far as the Review Body is concerned, national pay scales and national pay rises are already a thing of the past. They believe schools should “decide annual pay awards for individual teachers on the basis of performance” and stated that “our recommendations on pay … are not intended to translate into uniform pay increases within every school".

Perhaps to test out their divisive proposals further, they recommended a higher 2% maximum increase “to the maxima of the main pay range" only. But, again, the proposal was not meant to be read as an automatic 2% rise for all teachers on M6. They made clear that "We would not expect all teachers on the maxima to receive a 2% increase: the full uplift should be awarded only where merited by performance. Some might receive a lower award, or none".

If these proposals are adopted in the way the Review Body suggests, it would open the door to divisive teacher-by-teacher annual pay awards and the ending of national pay scales applying equally across different schools. Against a background of budget cuts, salaries would be driven down and teachers further bullied and divided through differential pay increases.

The Review Body proposals have since been out for ‘consultation’ but the General Election has further muddied the waters, with the new Tory Government apparently reviewing everything that was under discussion before, even though, in Education, the Secretary of State hasn’t even changed. So, although pay awards are due in September, nothing has yet been confirmed. We don’t yet know if the divisive Review Body proposals will be introduced – or if something even worse might be proposed, perhaps enforcing the abolition of pay scales?

Of course, 2% is still far from what’s required to reverse the year-on-year cuts to teachers’ real incomes. However, the Executive’s immediate concern was to stop any further fragmentation of pay structures. It was agreed that the Union should:
• Work to ensure that all teachers receive the same cost of living pay increase, not any differentiated increases;
• Strongly oppose any attempt to relate the award of the cost of living increase to performance;
• Work to ensure that schools maintain fixed pay scales for all teachers including a 6 point Main Scale and 3 point Upper Scale;
• Publish advisory pay scales for 2015-16 including a 1% increase in Main and Upper Scale points but a 2% increase in M6;
• Circulate these advisory scales jointly with as many other organisations as will agree to do so;
• Commit to supporting members who wish to take action to secure any of the above in their school;
• Circulate advice on the above to members and representatives; and
• Convene a further urgent meeting of the Salaries Committee if necessary to discuss any proposals from the Secretary of State.


In contrast to England, the Donaldson Review ‘Successful Futures’, prepared for the Welsh Government, is proposing an integrated curriculum, assessment that supports learning and a central place in education for creativity. As it correctly explains, ‘the high degree of prescription and detail in the national curriculum, allied to increasingly powerful accountability mechanisms, has tended to create a culture within which the creative role of the school has become diminished … At its most extreme, the mission of primary schools can almost be reduced to the teaching of literacy and numeracy and of secondary schools to preparation for qualifications’. Teachers - and politicians - in England should take note!

One of the attacks that may be made on the Donaldson Review is that exam pass rates are apparently lower for Wales than in England. As we discussed on the Executive, this might be partially related to greater funding pressures and levels of poverty in Wales. However, that’s only part of a bigger debate. Tellingly, a member of the Executive from Wales reported that they achieved well in international PISA comparisons when it came to pupil ‘well-being’. In other words, how, and at what cost, are ‘higher’ exam results in England being achieved? Do they really represent an increase in understanding and knowledge? Professor Merryn Hutchings has been conducting research for the Union into the suggestion that there is a growing ‘exam factory’ culture in schools. Look out for its release next month.


The National Executive agreed a motion condemning the attacks on the trade union movement threatened by the new Conservative Government.

They are planning to introduce ballot thresholds designed to further undermine the ability of trade union members to take lawful strike action, particularly national action that could challenge their attacks, such as that agreed on education funding at 2015 NUT Annual Conference.

Insisting on at least a 50% turnout - and that over 40% of the total membership votes ‘yes’ in ‘essential public services’ such as schools - has nothing to do with ‘democracy’. These thresholds would, for example, have turned Ireland’s recent marriage equality referendum victory into a ‘defeat’. It should be for trade unions to decide if they think support is broad enough for action to be called – not for anti-union, pro-cuts politicians to block strike action.

The new Trade Union Bill is being introduced, after all, by a Government elected by just 24% of the electorate. If they were really concerned about building participation in union ballots, then they would allow unions to replace home postal ballots with workplace balloting using mobile phones and internet voting. No, their real concern is to prevent firm strike action being taken against their plans for further cuts, privatisation and attacks on public services, and on the pay, rights and conditions of those who work in those services, including teachers.

The Tory plans are a particular threat to teacher trade unions organised, as we are, over many different workplaces. Schools will be included as ‘essential services’ and so have the most difficult thresholds to reach. The Tories also plan to make it lawful for schools to employ supply teachers to cover for striking teachers while also toughening rules on picketing. While a well organised school group should achieve these thresholds, securing the turnout required to win a national ballot will be much harder. Therefore, this Bill threatens further fragmentation and our ability to bring members together across England & Wales in a united challenge to Government attacks. It can be fought successfully - but only if a determined public campaign is launched as a matter of urgency.

The nine unions in the Trade Union Co-Ordinating Group, including the NUT, have produced a leaflet headed “Unity is Strength, Resist Tory austerity, Defend union rights’, to be given out at the 20 June People’s Assembly demonstration in London.

The Executive agreed a number of action points, including:
• To call on our national union to work with other trade unions, campaign groups and the TUC to organise the biggest possible campaign of meetings, rallies – and action – to defend the right to strike against austerity.
• To call on our union to initiate with other unions and the TUC a demonstration at the Tory party conference in Manchester on Sunday 4 October.
• To initiate with other unions and the TUC a demonstration for union freedoms and rights around the time that parliament discusses the new anti-union laws.
• To use The Teacher and Reps’ bulletins to clearly explain how the Trade Union Bill threatens our ability to defend teachers, schools and other public services from Government attacks, and why we must organise to oppose these threats.

Finally, two extra items from the discussion that followed the General Secretary's Report:

Education and Adoption Bill: This pro-academy Bill won’t finish going through the various Parliamentary processes until October/November. The Union is working with others to call a large meeting in Parliament, building an alliance against this attack on education and democracy.

Teacher Turnover and Workload: I reported on the reps’ survey circulated in Lewisham that showed several schools with 20-30% teacher turnover in 2014-15 – and Lewisham will certainly not be alone. It threatens education and union organisation but also provides an opportunity to expose the results of Government attacks and to build support for Union campaigns. I hope the National Union may be able to include turnover issues in its national surveying of reps. A survey, of course, can only be a tool to building campaigns, particularly around workload, co-ordinating action across as many schools as possible.

Monday 8 June 2015

After the Election - LANAC prepares for the battles ahead

On Saturday June 6th, a packed meeting of the LANAC Steering Committee held in London brought together teachers from 25 different NUT Associations.

This was the first chance for LANAC supporters to meet nationally after both Easter's NUT Annual Conference and the May election of a majority Tory Government. The wide turnout, with teachers travelling from areas as far apart as Plymouth, East Riding, Wirral and Thanet, showed just how many Local Associations see LANAC as a forum where they can meet to constructively share ideas and openly debate the way forward.

Opening the discussion, LANAC Convenor Martin Powell-Davies pointed to the successful 'Stop Academies in Lewisham' campaign as an example of how public support can be won for union policies and in opposition to the Tories' plans for further cuts and privatisation. However, unless the trade union movement uses its strength to oppose them, the Tories will try to impose their attacks.

Sasha, a Lewisham school student explained how students, parents and staff had worked together in a united campaign that has so far successfully beaten back the threat of academy conversion. LANAC agreed to circulate materials explaining the lessons of the campaign and practical steps that other areas could also adopt too. Above all, it could help to set the tone that, if we fight, we can win.

April's NUT Annual Conference had seen some sharp differences over proposals tabled by LANAC over the strategy needed to win. Only narrowly, by 52% to 48%, had delegates voted down LANAC's analysis that, while the Union had scored some successes, "our campaign has failed to sufficiently protect teachers and education". In the face of worsening conditions and soaring resignations, the successful Executive amendment's claim that "our campaigning has forced the issue of workload to the top of the education agenda" would sound unconvincing to many hard-pressed classroom teachers.

Questions were also raised about how successful the 'Stand Up For Education' campaign had been in practice. It had helped emphasise the need for an outward-looking campaigning Union but could not, on its own, force pro-austerity politicians to change their policies. Industrial action has to play a central role in the Union's strategy.

The meeting agreed that LANAC's general approach was still correct - that the Union must set clear demands, and campaign, prepare and convince teachers to take the action needed to win them. Of course, the Government also understand that a campaign of national strike action, especially one co-ordinated across different unions, could seriously threaten their austerity plans. That's why they were looking to impose turnout thresholds that would make it much harder to win national ballots. The law could also be changed to allow schools to  employ supply teachers to cover for striking staff.

We agreed that LANAC would circulate a model motion  calling for a national demonstration to oppose these new threats, linking to the need for teachers to take national action to oppose cuts and defend our pay and conditions.

While national action is key to defeating a national attack on education, local action, co-ordinated across schools as widely as possible, is also necessary. Mike Whale from Hull NUT explained how a meeting they had set up between classroom teachers and an Ofsted Director had helped bring home to Ofsted how 'accountability' fears were driving schools into imposing unsustainable teacher workload. Local Associations should turn teacher turnover and shortages to our advantage to build support for local action and to help expose the damaging effects of Government policy.

A lunchtime workshop on 'seizing back our lives' discussed a range of practical steps for building workload action in schools. We should use the fact that Heads were breaking their legal duty to 'have proper regard for [staff] well-being .. and the expectation of a healthy balance between work and other commitments" as a way to encourage colleagues to demand schools change policies to reduce the demands on staff. As well as limiting overall working hours, winning manageable marking policies and limiting expectations over sending and reading emails particularly featured in the discussion.

In the alternative workshop on 'speaking up for your members' colleagues shared advice on how best to make your point when speaking to school management - and in union meetings as well. Both workshops agreed that LANAC would develop a website or forum to develop these discussions further and to share campaigning resources. This could include a LANAC 'guide for reps' with practical suggestions on how to strengthen workplace organisation.

A final session on building LANAC and the Left in the NUT agreed that, while LANAC was primarily a campaigning and organising body, we also needed to continue to make a stand in union elections to publicise and build support for our strategies. The meeting agreed, with just one vote against, that LANAC would support Bridget Chapman and Jane Nellist in their stand in this Autumn's election for NUT National Vice-President. 

We also agreed that we must defend and, hopefully, build on the success that LANAC supporters had achieved in the 2014 elections for the NUT National Executive. We should again aim to challenge existing Executive members who back 'Broadly Speaking' (on the 'right' of the Union). It was also agreed that LANAC representatives will discuss further with others on the 'Left Caucus' on the Executive to continue the discussions which had begun about what defines the 'Left' in the Union.

Above all, teachers left the meeting enthused that, whatever Cameron and Morgan might be ready to throw at us, we should build with confidence that we can - and must - oppose the attacks that they are planning to make on teachers, trade unions and the communities that we live and work in.

Wednesday 3 June 2015

Morgan seeks to block opposition to impose even more unaccountable academies

Education Secretary Nicky Morgan has announced today that the Government's new 'Education and Adoption Bill' is to “sweep away bureaucratic and legal loopholes” in academy legislation - in other words, to remove even the limited opportunities that have allowed communities to oppose the conversion of their maintained schools into unproven and unaccountable academies. 

As the NUT have rightly said in response, “The Coalition Government railroaded through its Academies Act with the minimum of consultation, and regularly used force and coercion to push schools towards academisation. This Bill promises more of the same but with an additional intention to silence critics, including parents and teachers as well as elected local councillors and the communities which schools serve".

Although not mentioned specifically by the DfE, we are in no doubt that they have the SAIL anti-academy campaign, Stop Academies in Lewisham, as one of the 'obstructions' they have in mind. It seems to be a case of, if you can't win the argument, change the law so you can block opposition.

SAIL has been celebrating after the Chair of Governors of the Prendergast Federation announced to parents that they are stopping the ongoing consultation on their plans to convert their three federated schools into a Multi Academy Trust. Instead of being able to go ahead with a vote for academy conversion at the upcoming Governing Body meeting on June 17, they have had to defer their conversion plans in the face of a legal challenge made by a parent.  

The challenge was based on Regulation 46 of the School Governance (Federations) (England) Regulations 2012. SAIL campaigners spotted that this Regulation stated that, at least when an Academy Order is being applied for “in respect of a federated school” (like the three schools in the current Prendergast Federation of three maintained schools”), the application must be made by specific categories of Governor. These include “the head teacher of the federated school”, “any parent governor or parent governors elected by parents of registered pupils at the federated school” and “any staff governor employed by the federated governing body or local authority to work at the federated school”.  

When the Prendergast Governors met to vote for an Academy Order in February 2015, one parent governor was absent and the elected staff governor voted against the application. Clearly, the Regulations had not been followed and the Governors have therefore had little choice but to retreat. 

While these Regulations remain in force, then other campaigners may want to make a similar challenge. Labour MP Kevin Brennan has also tabled a series of parliamentary questions asking how many other Academy Orders made on behalf of a federated school since September 2012 and whether they have complied with Regulation 46.  

Of course, this is only a temporary victory as this is very likely to be one of those 'loopholes' that Nicky Morgan now wants to close. Sheila Longstaff, DfE ‘Project Lead, Academies South Division’ has written complaining that “it is disappointing that this issue has delayed the academy conversion of a school when the majority of the governing body voted in favour of the applications”. That sentence gives the game away as to how little the DfE care for genuine consultation – as they clearly expected the outcome to be conversion whatever was said by parents, staff and the local community in response to the academy proposals.   

At least the current Regulations – introduced under the last Conservative Government after all - make sure that Governors can’t just force through academisation of a federated school but have to win the backing of a range of stakeholders. Even the Thatcher and Major Governments legislated for parental ballots before a school could take on grant-maintained status. For this Government, however, it seems that winning the support of the school community is just an awkward hindrance to their ideological mission to rip apart democratically accountable local authority schooling.

Pro-academy Governors may be angered by the legal challenge but parents, students and staff are delighted. That’s because this challenge was just one part of a deep-rooted community opposition to the academy plans that included meetings, strikes and local demonstrations. Governors had failed to convince the school community that academisation was in the interest of education – and how could they when the educational evidence simply isn’t there to support academies? 

Our local battle mirrors what is now happening nationally. It is the Government that are guilty of putting 'ideology before children', not anti-academy campaigners. Instead of being able to convince parents, staff and students that academies are to their benefit, Nicky Morgan wants to prevent any opposition succeeding in blocking academy plans. She can try, but she won't stop the opposition!

Monday 1 June 2015

Breakthrough! - Consultation and conversion plans deferred at all three Prendergast schools

BREAKTHROUGH!  Governors agree to defer academy consultation and conversion plans at all THREE schools in the Prendergast Federation
Over the last few months NUT members and other trade union colleagues at the Prendergast Federation, together with students and parents, have mounted a tremendous campaign to oppose the damaging academy conversion proposals. Demonstrations, strikes, meetings – and now legal challenges over Government Regulations – have all helped to keep up the pressure on Governors to think again – and now they have! They have now agreed to defer both the consultation and conversion proposals at ALL THREE SCHOOLS in the Federation.
This is a major breakthrough for the campaign. It reflects the pressure that has built up over months, culminating in legal challenges that have left Governors with little option but to pull back from their plans. Every NUT member and SAIL campaigner should be proud of themselves for standing firm and refusing to accept that the academy steamroller was unstoppable. The campaign has shown the lack of public support for academies and the lack of any evidence that academies help education.
This is not yet a final victory. The DfE will want to rewrite their Regulations so that the Prendergast Federation and other federated schools can start over with their plans. However, we hope that Prendergast Governors will resist DfE pressure to do  so and instead win back the goodwill of the school community in the interests of education. As parent Ned Boulting said, quoted in the Guardian, “governors have created a rift [that] will raise questions with teachers as to whether they want to stay on at the school”. Regrettably, he understood the dangers better than Governors.
Unless or until the Governors withdraw their academy plans altogether, then the dispute still continues. However, for now, the proposed strike action on June 3rd and 4th has been withdrawn. We are confident that, boosted by today’s news, staff, students and parents will be ready to continue their campaign if necessary.   

Martin Powell-Davies, Secretary, Lewisham NUT   - June 1 2015