Monday 30 November 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Islington NUT Joint Secretary, Ken Muller, commented:

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

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

Please send message of support to:

Wednesday 25 November 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday 19 November 2015

John Roan - putting the record straight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday 13 November 2015

#TeachersMake - 65k complaint still under ASA investigation

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

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

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

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

Wednesday 11 November 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday 10 November 2015

Why John Roan teachers are right to take strike action

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday 4 November 2015

Lessons from America - It's Poverty, stupid

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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