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.

Thursday 8 October 2015

Morgan throws down gauntlet – not just stopping pay progression but cutting your pay

The imposition of performance-related pay and the fragmentation of teachers’ pay decisions are already having serious consequences - divisive performance-pay, denial of pay progression, bullying to take on even more workload to justify your salary. But things are about to get even worse.

Nicky Morgan has just written to the School Teachers’ Review Body asking them “whether you consider that there are any additional flexibilities that could be introduced to support schools, such as allowing teachers to move down from the upper pay range to the main pay range”. 

In short, already too many teachers are being denied pay rises through appraisal and performance-pay. Now they want to start allowing schools to bully teachers back down the pay-scale too. Against threats of additional workload and/or capability procedures, and with school budgets under pressure, teachers will be ‘asked’ to accept massive pay-cuts – and, unless we put up a fight, every teacher will be held to ransom. It will be like a game of 'snakes and ladders' with teachers' pay dependent on the next throw of the 'performance' dice.

There are other new threats in the letter to the STRB too, like the “possibility of non-consolidated payments” and “what adjustments should be made to the salary and allowance ranges … to promote recruitment and retention within an average pay award of 1%”. What recruitment and retention can be encouraged with an overall budget of just 1% - with anyone gaining more being at others’ expense!?

At the Salaries Committee, I helped to draft a series of recommendations to this afternoon’s National Executive and the following wording was agreed unanimously:

Recognising the threat of fragmentation of teachers' pay and the further attacks included in the STRB remit letter, the NUT should;
  • issue further NUT advice to members, reps and local officers on NUT policy on adoption of pay scales for 2015-2016;
  • issue specific advice to leadership members encouraging them to adopt pay scales in accordance with NUT policies;
  • issue specific advice to local officers on the importance of pursuing collective disputes with Local Authorities which do not issue advice in accordance with NUT policies;
  • issue further NUT advice to members, reps and local officers on pay progression highlighting key points in the NUT pay toolkit;
  • encourage members, reps and local officers to challenge unacceptable policies and pay decisions both individually and collectively;
  • highlight to members the threats in Nicky Morgan's remit letter to the STRB, making clear that the NUT will consider action up to and including strike action to oppose cuts to teachers' pay; and
  • mount a specific campaign linking pay to growing teacher shortages as well as general recruitment and retention issues.
Other debates:

Baseline assessment: One National Executive member reported that a DfE visitor to his class had questioned why he was teaching children before the baseline assessment took place because it could make the results inaccurate! So is collecting data more important than teaching and learning? Of course, the added danger is what the data becomes used for - setting targets for 'pupil progress' and performance-pay that will be used to penalise teachers and children alike.

Trade Union Bill: a number of contributions were made about needing to highlight to teachers how the Bill would affect teachers' ability to take action - through ballot thresholds, threats to picket organisers, the use of agency staff to break strikes and more. There is a rally and meeting on the Bill in Parliament on October 13 as well as a Lobby of Supply Agencies taking place on October 28.

Jeremy Corbyn: This was the first Executive meeting since Jeremy's victory and Christine Blower spoke of how we might generate 'mutual support'. I suggested that the NUT should invite Jeremy to speak to an Executive meeting to show our support for the direction he was trying to take Labour, while also making clear the Union's education policies.

Monday 5 October 2015

World Teachers' Day - a global struggle for education

World Teachers' Day is a day to restate teachers' determination to defeat the global attacks on public education and teacher trade unionism and to build a world where the 'fully developed individual' can blossom and grow.

My thanks to Mary from Teacher Solidarity for this quick 'video of the day' : 

For anyone who wants to know more about GERM, the Global Education Reform Movement and the battle against privatisation, here's a link to a presentation I produced for a discussion at 'Socialism 2014'. 

Don't forget to book your ticket for this year's 'Socialism 2015' event in London on November 7/8.

Sunday 4 October 2015

Communities under pressure need public services not council cuts

Last Thursday, hundreds of angry residents packed into the Honor Oak Community Centre to attend a meeting called to discuss the violent death of two teenagers on the Turnham estate in the last few weeks. 

There was plenty of emotion on display, as well as anger - anger at the loss of life, at the lack of support for the family of local victim Shaquan, and at the pressures facing the local community as a whole.

Many different contributions were made from both invited speakers and from people in the audience. Concerns about racism and about knife-crime amongst black youth in particular featured significantly throughout the evening. 

Lee Jasper, opening the meeting, pointed to the racism still ingrained in our society evidenced by the disproportionately high levels of poverty and unemployment facing black communities. The mother of the black teenager shot at Streatham Ice Rink back in 2007 talked tearfully of the wasted lives of both the victims and the youth behind bars facing indeterminate sentences for 'joint enterprise'.

A common theme raised was the decline in 'social solidarity', in opportunities for communities to work together, of the need for fathers to engage with their sons. However, some of the most powerful contributions focused on the collective pressures on families struggling to make a living and to support their children while services were cut and real incomes were falling.

A young man, Marlon, delivered an angry diatribe to the local politicians on the panel, pointing to the cuts to Sure Start, Connexions and Youth Services. He complained about 'gentrification' and plans to build more housing on the estate, supposedly social housing but, as a young woman behind me shouted out, "it's NOT affordable!".

A young woman speaking on behalf of Shaquan's mother Sharon, pointed to the reality facing so many working parents, not least Sharon herself. Sharon hadn't been able to stop to grieve; she had no choice but to carry on working at her local hairdressers to pay her rent. This was an estate where most people were in work, but where too many had to rely on food banks because of low pay. Turning to Lewisham Cabinet member Janet Daby, who had offered little more than the need to 'give youth wisdom' and the importance of 'Operation Black Vote', the young woman said pointedly, "why should we vote, when we don't trust you?" adding, "why should youth talk to the police when they don't trust them either?"

Needed - a Party that will fight cuts and racism

Alienated and angry communities like this urgently need a Party that can earn their trust by showing that they are genuinely prepared to fight poverty and racism, by refusing to carry out Tory cuts, fighting for a £10 an hour minimum wage and ending the housing policies that are leading to the 'social cleansing' of working -class communities across London.

Will a Corbyn-led Labour provide that Party? As things stand locally, it appears not. Councillors offered condolences and fine words but little more. Newly-elected local Labour MP Vicky Foxcroft offered even less, replying to the young residents with the excuse that "the political reality is that it's the Conservative Government's cuts". That was meant with shouts of derision and the MP sat down silently for the rest of the meeting.

A Lewisham Council Officer had earlier spoken to the meeting about what the Council were doing to help with 'crime reduction'. Yet, as part of the £40 million of cuts made last year, Lewisham Council chopped £1 million from its Crime Reduction Budget! Worse, its report on one of those cuts spelt out bluntly what such a cut would mean to black youth in particular: "As young men from BME communities are over represented in the criminal justice system the impact there is likely to be increased". 

Not surprisingly, the Officer also didn't reveal the further  'savings proposal' to her service discussed at the previous night's Mayor and Cabinet meeting. It suggested a possible further £2.5 million cut in the 'Crime Reduction and Supporting People' budget that will mean "reduced support for mental health, learning disability and single homeless clients" which might lead to "a rise in Anti Social Behaviour on the streets" - in their words, not mine!

That's just one cut amongst a further £45 million planned over the next two years - from a Council budget that has already been slashed by £120M - one-third - since 2010. That could include a further £6M from Adult Social Care, £3.6M from Environmental Services, £1M more cut from grants to voluntary sector organisations, £300K further cuts to Youth Services and £1M cut more from the libraries budget.

Already, however, it's clear that trade unionists and communities are getting prepared to fight those cuts. A Lobby of the next Mayor and Cabinet meeting discussing the budget, on Wednesday December 9th, is being planned. A Save Lewisham Libraries website has been launched explaining why the plans for more volunteer-run 'community libraries' has to be opposed. UNISON members are asking supporters to sign their online petition and attend the first public consultation meeting on the library cuts, on Wednesday 7th October, 7.30pm at the Broadway Theatre in Catford.

Fight the cuts, instead of just voting for them!

I hope the anger shown at the meeting sent the politicians who attended home to think again about their role in passing on Tory cuts. Labour councillors can't claim to stand against racism and poverty while they preside over cuts to communities that already have their backs to the wall.

As TUSC and the Socialist Party have explained, Labour councillors could choose to lead a fight, instead of just meekly passing on cuts. If they did, they would get massive support - including from embittered and embattled communities like those on the Turnham estate. For example, the council unions across Glasgow Council have come together to demand their councillors say 'No More Cuts'. I'll leave the final word to those unions - but theirs is a rallying cry that needs to be repeated by trade unions and communities across England, Scotland and Wales: 

"Politicians have a choice – make the Tory cuts or do not. We call on all elected politicians in the city to use all available financial mechanisms to hold-off any further cuts whilst leading a fight to win more money for the city. The council could use some of its reserves and borrowing powers, supported by the legal financial process of “capitalisation”, to ... allow time and space to build a mass campaign of elected councillors, trade unions, user groups and local communities with the objective of winning more money from the Holyrood and Westminster governments. There is plenty of money in our economy – it is just in the wrong hands or lying in the bank accounts of big business. The trade unions will support any council politician or council political grouping who adopts this strategy of “No More Cuts”.