Sunday 17 January 2016

Class sizes up, school places in crisis: NUT demands investigation into academy programme

Last week, more evidence emerged backing up the demand carried in the NUT's London manifesto calling on the next Mayor and London Assembly to hold an investigation into the impact of the Government’s academy and free school programme on the availability of school places.

There is already a growing school places crisis, particularly in London, with the latest London Councils analysis showing that 113,000 extra school places are urgently needed in the capital alone, requiring an urgent investment of at least £1.5 billion.
requiring investment of at least £1.5 billion as the capital’s school pop - See more at:
requiring investment of at least £1.5 billion

Without that investment, children are being squeezed into ever-expanding schools - and, as figures released last week from a Labour Party analysis of DfE statistics confirmed, ever-growing class sizes as well. 

The analysis exposed the fact that more than half a million children are being taught in classes of over 30 pupils. This is, of course, a national problem but the DfE figures show that over 44,000 primary school pupils are being taught in classes greater than 30 in the London Region alone. 

Even in Inner London, the figures show, for example, that there are nearly 1000 pupils in these over-size primary classes in the Borough of Lewisham alone. In some Outer London boroughs, the numbers are truly disgraceful.

The boroughs of Barnet, Merton and Redbridge all have over a thousand pupils in classes over 30 at Key Stage 1 - supposedly the statutory limit for infant classes (although the wording of the legislation allows this limit to be breached in a range of 'exceptional' circumstances). At Key Stage 2, the figures are even more shocking:

KEY STAGE 2 FIGURES taken from DfE National Statistics for January 2015

In the boroughs of Harrow, Redbridge and Sutton, over a quarter of KS2 pupils are taught in classes over 30. In Bromley that's as high as 40%, with nearly 5000 pupils taught in these oversize classes.

Do class sizes matter? Of course they do! As an internet petition calling for class size limits that I was asked to sign this week explains, reduced class sizes would mean that teachers could spend more time with their pupils, would help to manage ever increasing workload, provide better class and behaviour management, help to 'close the gap', help provide personalised learning, and help to ensure that no child gets 'lost within their learning'.

Responding to the national figures in an NUT Press Release, Christine Blower, the Union's General Secretary, explained that:  

‘The need for more school places has been known over many years. A key duty of Government is to ensure there are sufficient school places and enough qualified teachers. The Government has failed on both thereby letting down children and parents'. 

'This situation could have been avoided by allowing councils to build schools in areas where additional school places are needed. The Government has poured money and resources into the wasteful and indulgent free schools programme, many opening in areas where there is no need, and many providing only a small number of places at vast cost. The Government must produce sufficient funding and powers for local authorities to open more schools as a matter of urgency.’

This is why the NUT's Manifesto for London
calls on the next Mayor and London Assembly to: 
* champion local councils regaining the power and the funding to open new schools
* hold an investigation into the impact of the Government’s academy and free school programme on the availability of school places.

London NUT campaigning for our children's education

Our manifesto has been issued at the same time as the NUT in London is campaigning alongside parents and governors to oppose the threats of significant cuts to school funding in the capital. Cuts - predicted to be perhaps as great as 20% in some London boroughs - will only worsen the school places and class sizes crisis and make it even harder to recruit and retain the teachers needed in our schools.

A programme of activities around the Manifesto and cuts campaign is being built across London NUT divisions, including building support for:
  • A 'Protect School Funding in London' planning meeting with London MPs, 5.30 pm Wednesday February 3rd, Portcullis House, Westminster.
  • NUT London Mayoral Hustings, 6.00 pm Monday March 7th, Hamilton House, London WC1H 9BD. 
  • Plans are also being finalised for a demonstration to defend London education in April.

Sunday 3 January 2016

Standing up for London's Education

The NUT, representing the majority of London's teachers, has released a manifesto for our schools and colleges ahead of the Mayoral and London Assembly elections on 5 May 2016.

As the manifesto explains, "London’s schools are among the most celebrated in the world. Yet they face real challenges every day from complex issues such as child poverty, unfit testing regimes and funding cuts. We believe that every child deserves the best education that this city can offer. Inside this manifesto you’ll find our suggestions for maintaining and extending the excellence in London schools and a call on the next Mayor of London to help teachers create a fairer society for all".

You can download a full copy of the manifesto from the NUT national website, and also order more copies for local use. Below is a summary of its main proposals for London's education:

1. A good local school for every child
  Every child has the right to a quality education and every parent should be able to send their child to a good school that is close to home. Yet this is becoming increasingly difficult to guarantee for parents in London. The Government’s academy and free school policy has prevented councils from opening local authority schools where they are most needed. Councils have also been denied the legal power to require academies or free schools to take in more children when they have space available. 

We call on the next Mayor and London Assembly to:
* champion local councils regaining the power and the funding to open new schools
* hold an investigation into the impact of the Government’s academy and free school programme on the availability of school places.

2. Affordable housing for children and teachers
Exorbitant housing costs are creating a teacher shortage crisis that will hit every school and college in London. Living in London is no longer a sustainable, long-term option for teachers. Meanwhile unaffordable rents are forcing many families into unsuitable housing, where insecurity impacts on children’s ability to settle and make progress in school. Teachers tell of ‘disappearing children’ as families are priced out of their communities and forced to relocate sometimes hundreds of miles away. Urgent action is needed.

Read more in the latest issue of 'The Teacher'
We call on the next Mayor and London Assembly to: 
* advocate for rent controls and for more affordable housing in London, with investment for councils to build homes, so that parents and children are not priced out of their community
* take urgent action to provide affordable housing to enable London schools to keep the teachers they need.

3. Education - invest, don't cut
Independent experts believe that over the next five years the schools budget will be cut by 8% nationally. Children in London will face even greater cuts, because the Government wants to cut funding from the capital’s schools in order to give it to schools in other parts of the country. Many Inner London boroughs could face real terms cuts of 15 - 20%. Cuts are already resulting in increased class sizes, fewer teachers and support staff, reduced classroom resources and the slashing of essential support for children with special educational needs. This will all get worse if the Government goes ahead with its funding plans.  

We call on the next Mayor and London Assembly to:
Read the NUT's full analysis of 'false funding'

* campaign to protect funding for London’s schools and colleges
* support sufficient funding for local authorities to sustain the services that children and families need

4. All children deserve qualified teachers
Children should be taught by qualified teachers. Every parent expects this for their child. Yet astonishingly the Government allows academies and free schools to employ unqualified teaching staff. 15% of teaching posts in London’s free schools are currently filled by people without qualified teacher status. Many supply teacher agencies are using unqualified staff to stand in for teachers. These private agencies are making huge profits from this; money that should be spent on children’s education.

 The NUT calls on the next Mayor and London Assembly to champion: 
* that every child in every lesson is taught by a qualified teacher
* an efficient London-wide, co-ordinated system for properly paid and qualified teachers to cover teacher absences.

5. An equal chance for every child in London
For decades our schools have brought communities together, challenged stereotypes, overcome prejudice and helped close the gaps in our often unequal society. Countries which rank schools in league tables based on narrow test scores end up with more unequal outcomes for children than those which develop co-ordinated education services. If we’re to overcome the barriers so many children face, we need the Government to drop the policies which are making it harder for teachers and schools to work together. World conflicts bring pressures to our capital’s schools. It’s vital that the new Mayor and London Assembly take the lead in ensuring that London’s schools remain places where children and teachers of all races, religions and backgrounds can debate the world around them and learn from each other’s experiences.

The NUT calls on the next Mayor and London Assembly to:

* promote social cohesion for the benefit of every London child
* champion sufficient investment for local councils to sustain specialist high quality services to meet the diverse needs of children; including children with SEND, from refugee families, or who have English as an additional language.

6. An end to child poverty in London
London is home to some of the wealthiest and some of the poorest people in the UK. Almost four in 10 children in the capital grow up in poverty. As well as affecting children’s health, this poverty impacts directly on children’s learning and educational outcomes. Child hunger is a significant problem in London schools. Welfare benefit cuts and the bedroom tax are hitting families hard. Shockingly, in-work poverty has risen by 70% over the last decade. Nearly two-thirds of children growing up in poverty live in families where at least one family member is working. London’s Mayor should ensure provision of the high quality childcare and early years education which is proven to improve the life chances of children living below the poverty line.

We call on the next Mayor and London Assembly to
Read a NUT briefing on Child Poverty here
* the minimum wage for London to be at least the London Living Wage (currently £9.40 an hour)
* adoption of robust targets for reductions in child poverty. 

7. An end to exam factories
Read more on the NUT website
Parents want their children to be treated as individuals, but Government policies are in danger of turning our schools into exam factories. Students in England are now the most tested in Europe, with children labelled as successes and failures from as early as four years old. This exam factory culture is causing high levels of stress and anxiety among our children. Children need a broad education including arts, music, sport and quality vocational options. Yet these subjects are being squeezed out of the curriculum through budget cuts and a new pressure on schools to prioritise a narrow range of core academic subjects.

The NUT calls on the next Mayor and the London Assembly to 
* champion a rich and rewarding school experience for every child in London
* hold an investigation into the effects of excessive testing on our children’s mental health and well-being.

What you can do: 

1. Talk with friends, colleagues and neighbours about our vision for the future of children’s education, and distribute the manifesto to homes near you.
2. Help out on a Standing Up for London’s Education stall where this manifesto can be discussed with members of the public.
3. Hold an after-work event to discuss this manifesto and the issues local parents would like to raise with candidates.
4. Together with other parents and teachers, meet or write to mayoral candidates to ask their position on this manifesto. Then tell other parents and teachers what they have said.