Sunday 7 February 2016

Some thoughts from the NUT London Regional Secretary - February 2016

After just short of 30 years as a NUT member and science teacher in Kingston, Bromley and then, for over two decades, Lewisham, for the most part as local NUT Secretary, I am now a month into my new role as the London Regional Secretary of the NUT.

Leading the work of the Union across the London Region is no small responsibility. Around one-fifth of the NUT's membership work in London. Being the capital city, the work of the Union here inevitably has a wider impact and influence than just the London Region alone. The NUT can make that impact thanks to the strength and hard work of our Local NUT Divisions, supported by the NUT staff working out of the London Region Office in Wandsworth. 

I aim to post regularly on this blog to give you a flavour of the issues and campaigns being taken up by the NUT in London. Here's an update from last month:

Organising across London  to defend education
As Regional Secretary, I want to make sure that the Regional Office and Local Divisions are working together as much as possible to build the Union and our campaigns to defend teachers and education. Already, in my first month, I've been able to visit schools and NUT meetings in Southwark, East London, Haringey, Barnet, Lewisham and Richmond. Divisions have also met together to discuss our campaigns and organising plans, not least at the successful 'London Weekend' event held in Brighton last week.

Delegates at the NUT 'London Weekend' show their support for suspended NUT rep Simon O'Hara

As we discussed in Brighton, teachers and education in London face threats that are perhaps as serious as any we have had to face before. Here are just a few of the challenges we need to meet:

Education Cuts
Under Government funding proposals, school budgets across London are facing cut of 12%. Schools in some boroughs could lose over 20% of their funds. That would mean understaffed schools, bigger class sizes, more children’s needs unmet and a narrower curriculum.

Wednesday's meeting in Westminster to protect school funding in London

A meeting at the House of Commons last Wednesday brought together MPs, Headteachers, Governors, Councillors, school staff, parents and students to discuss a joint campaign to protect London schools. I was one of a number of contributors who pointed out how the relative success of London schools was in part down to the higher relative level of funding that London schools have received. The government should be increasing school funding in other regions, not taking funds from London budgets to cover up their failure to fund schools properly nationally.

Next week, a formal ballot starts across NUT members employed in Sixth Form Colleges to seek their support for a one-day strike to oppose the cuts to their sector. A good response to the ballot will help provide momentum to the London funding campaign too. 

Teacher Shortages
Talented, hardworking teachers are being driven out of the profession by excessive workload and the lack of affordable housing. However, the Independent reports that, under new Home Office regulations, some overseas teachers will be forced to leave their jobs and return home this April! 

London NUT Regional Office is offering to support teachers affected by the new regulations

With the average cost of renting a one-bed flat in London now over £1,100 a month, an NUT survey of young teachers found that 60% of respondents were looking to leave London in the next five years. One in five were still having to live at home with their parents to be able to make ends meet. The other main pressure, as I discussed when I spoke to young teachers in Richmond, is workload. Teachers are typically working well over 60 hours a week - an impossible burden that Union organisation can - and must - help to combat.

What Lewisham NUT reps reported last term - a story repeated across London
Much of the workload is also being driven by excessive demands for detailed marking, lesson observations and pupil progress scores, all part of an 'exam factory' culture which is demoralising both staff and children alike. When I had the chance to speak on BBC Radio London last month about the pressures on schools, feedback on social media showed that many parents shared the NUT's concerns about the excessive pressure on school students.

Poverty and unaffordable housing
Of course, unaffordable rents aren't just a burden on teachers. The lack of genuinely affordable housing is forcing many families into unsuitable homes or out of London altogether. 

It's also part of the reason why almost four in 10 children in the capital grow up in poverty.  These social conditions remain the main factors that impact on the progress children make in school.

Lack of school places
London needs 113,000 more school places to meet demand. Yet our Councils have neither the funds nor the legal powers to open new schools. 

Instead, the Government is trying to push even more schools into becoming academies. However, as the strong support for the campaign to 'Stop Academies in Lewisham' showed, parents and staff alike are increasingly opposed to the academisation of schools.

NUT London Mayoral Hustings on March 7 

London’s Mayoral and Assembly elections are a chance for Londoners to influence the capital’s policymakers and highlight the issues that matter most to them. The NUT wants to make sure that education is at the heart of those debates.

That’s why the NUT are hosting a Mayoral election hustings on Monday 7 March at the NUT’s national headquarters. NUT General Secretary Christine Blower will open the event and point out why London’s educational success is under threat. The hustings will allow candidates to be questioned on where they stand on the issues above - and the policies set out in the NUT's Manifesto for London's schools and colleges - as well as some of the other issues that matter to London’s teachers and parents.

Make sure of your place by booking in in advance on Eventbrite:

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