Saturday 7 May 2016

A battle won over academisation - but certainly not the war - now to win our trade dispute over pay and conditions

Morgan forced to retreat by NUT campaign
Yesterday’s climb-down by the Tories over full-scale forced academisation is a significant victory for the NUT and all of our allies in the campaign against the White Paper. It is also a significant defeat for Nicky Morgan and her allies in the DfE and the Conservative party who so badly misjudged the level of opposition that they would meet in attempting to complete their school privatisation plans in one fell swoop.
However, this is just one battle won in a war that is far from over. Speaking on the BBC this morning, defence secretary Michael Fallon argued that "it's not a U-turn on academies, that is still the aim. We want every school to be an academy in the next 5 years". Of course he wasn’t going to admit to being forced into a retreat but, from the Tories’ long-term perspective, he is correct. 

Forced back by public opposition, spearheaded by the NUT’s campaign, a more strategically adept wing of the Tories have recognised that, rather than going for all-out attack, their privatisation plans are more likely to be implemented successfully by continuing the school-by-school, authority-by-authority approach to academisation.

A battle won, but certainly not the war 

The Government aren’t even retreating as far back as their existing forced academisation plans, as set out in the new Education and Adoption Act, bad enough as they are. This legislation already allows them to allow unelected Regional Schools Commissioners to force some schools (like my daughter’s, Sedgehill) into joining a Multi-Academy Trust without any consultation. This will include schools judged to be ‘coasting’ – even though those judgements will be based in good part on the results from the completely discredited Tory testing regime. No, they also want to accelerate the process by forcing whole Local Authorities into complete academisation. 

Yesterday’s DfE press release, while announcing Morgan’s climbdown, also made clear they would now bring forward legislation which will trigger conversion of all schools within a local authority in 2 specific circumstances:
* “where it is clear that the local authority can no longer viably support its remaining schools because a critical mass of schools in that area has converted”.
* “where the local authority consistently fails to meet a minimum performance threshold across its schools, demonstrating an inability to bring about meaningful school improvement”
Another great Polly Donnison cartoon
Another great Polly Donnison cartoon
In short, this retreat will mollify opposition from the Tory Shires while still enabling them to push ahead with complete academisation in many urban authorities where poverty and cuts inevitably mean more schools face challenging circumstances. 

Does this mean that this Tory retreat isn’t significant? No, far from it. As an article by Christine Blower hosted by Huffington Post yesterday made clear: “This is the third major education U-turn by Government. In a month we have seen baseline scrapped, SPaG Key Stage 1 tests scrapped and now the central plank of the White Paper, forced academies. This is a clear indication that Government policy is in tatters”.

However, as it also concluded “the threat to state education in England has not gone away. The spectre of forced academisation still looms over many schools along with the threat to remove the requirement for elected parent places on the governing boards of academy trusts ... The NUT's job will not be complete until we have finally lifted the threat to teachers' jobs, pay and conditions”. 

Continue to build for the ballot
That brings me to the most important issue immediately facing NUT members – our upcoming strike ballot about our trade dispute over funding, pay, terms and conditions. Yes, the political backdrop to our dispute has changed – and for the better! It is now clear that this Government can be forced to retreat and we should take real confidence from their disarray. Now they've found reverse gear, can we push them back further into a full retreat?

However, while we have led a broader campaign against the White Paper, our trade dispute has never been about forced academisation – it is about the threat to jobs, pay and conditions arising from damaging Government policy. Those threats remain. Continued academisation still threatens the existence of any nationally applicable system of pay and conditions. In particular, the funding cuts remain in place, cuts that will further drive the cuts to pay levels and ratchet up the ever-worsening workload that teachers are already facing.

As the Circular sent to all NUT Divisions yesterday stated “"At the moment, there are no concessions in terms of protecting terms, conditions and funding. You should continue to build for our ballot".  

The Union will debate our ongoing strategy 
The Union and the NUT National Executive will need to debate and agree our ongoing strategy. I finish by posting a contribution to that debate from Kevin Courtney, NUT DGS, who has just posted on his Facebook page some points which everyone needs to consider:

This retreat by Nicky Morgan does not mean our dispute is over. There are still huge threats to teacher pay and conditions and therefore to student learning conditions.

Our trade dispute is (and always has been) about the threat to terms and conditions that comes from funding cuts, academisation and the de-regulation within STPCD itself.

Our demands are for:
- a return to national negotiations
- specific improvements in terms and conditions,
- guarantees that these apply to all state funded schools and
- for the funding to ensure all of this.

All our schools are facing significant cuts. 8% threatened across next few years overall. George Osborne is freezing schools money whilst increasing by 5% taxes on the school pay bill.These cuts are impacting on all schools - perhaps even more on academies.

The STRB has recently reported to Nicky Morgan - we don't know what they've said - but we know that she wanted them to say that teachers can now be moved down the pay spine, for more performance pay. Her reaction to their report will appear very soon.

Thousands of schools are still facing academisation - many 'forced', some 'voluntary', all the schools in local authorities where the Government says a 'tipping point' has been reached or where it says 'standards' aren't high enough. All with no evidence that schools improve faster when they are academies! And in particular the Government hasn't been able to show us any evidence that breaking up pay and conditions leads to higher standards.

We need guarantees for the teachers in all those schools and improvements for teachers in all schools. These teacher conditions are after all our students learning conditions. Class size increases are bad for teachers AND students. Closing courses and making teachers redundant is bad for them and means students have less choice. Our campaign to protect teachers and therefore education must continue.

This Government retreat shows that Govt policy is in tatters. We will write to Morgan on Monday demanding genuine consultation, negotiation and a change of direction.

Our strike ballot is still on.

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