Friday 29 December 2017

Academies - the facts against conversion

“The academies programme is an expensive mess. In the face of overwhelming evidence, the government is burying its head in the sand. The academies programme has delivered an unstable system with a lack of parental involvement, inefficient and undemocratic”.
Kevin Courtney, NEU joint General Secretary, December 2017

FACT: Academy conversion does not benefit educational attainment in primary schools

“We have been unable to locate any evidence ... of a relationship between primary academy status and raised attainment ... We heard some evidence that the particular challenges for primary schools within the academy system are not sufficiently recognised. Concerns ranged from the low levels of representation of the primary sector on the new headteacher boards to fears that cross-sector MATs could view their primary schools merely as feeders for the more important secondary schools or, more broadly, might lack knowledge of the primary sector and its importance in its own right”.
Source: House of Commons Education Committee: 'Academies and free schools' (2015)

FACT: Academy conversion doesn’t benefit attainment for 'disadvantaged' pupils

“Too many chain sponsors, despite several years in charge of their schools, continue to struggle to improve the outcomes of their most disadvantaged students ... Disadvantaged pupils in sponsored academies did less well than those in all mainstream schools and in mainstream schools other than academies”.
Source: Sutton Trust: Chain Effects 2017: impact of academy chains on low-income students

FACT: Academy conversion does not benefit attainment in secondary schools

“Our principal finding through this extensive study is that academies do not provide an automatic solution to school improvement. As we demonstrate throughout this report, there is significant variation in performance at both different types of academies and Multi-Academy Trusts. ...There is no evidence that schools judged as good, satisfactory or inadequate ... improved their pupils' GCSE attainment as a result of the academy conversion”. 
Source: Education Policy Institute: 'Impact of academies on educational outcomes' (2017)

FACT: Your child is more likely to be taught by an unqualified teacher in an academy

Unqualified teachers in primary schools:
2.8% of teachers in local authority maintained schools
4.8% of teachers in academies
Unqualified teachers in secondary schools:
4.6% of teachers in local authority schools
6.6% of teachers in academies
Source: Department for Education Schools Workforce Statistics: trends and comparisons (2016)

FACT: Your child's teacher is more likely to leave to go to another school if it is an academy

Teachers leaving to go to other schools (on average):
9.7% primary teachers
8.2% secondary teachers
Local authority schools:
7.8% primary teachers
7.6% secondary teachers
Source: Department for Education Schools Workforce Statistics: trends and comparisons (2016)

FACT: Multi Academy Trusts are less accountable to parents

“We heard from numerous sources that the means by which local communities can hold their trust to account is less clear than in maintained school structures ... We were told by parents that MATs are not sufficiently accountable to their local community and they feel disconnected from decision making at trustee board level”.
Source: House of Commons Education Committee Report 'Multi-academy trusts' (2017)

FACT: Your child's teacher is likely to be paid less if they work in an academy (but senior management are more likely to earn more) 

Average teacher salary in primary schools:
£33,800 in local authority maintained schools (but £54,400 in the leadership group)
£32,600 in academies (but £54,600 in the leadership group)
Average teacher salary in secondary schools:
£37,300 in local authority maintained schools (but £63,100 in the leadership group)
£36,400 in academies (but £63,200 in the leadership group)
Source: Department for Education School Workforce Statistics SFR25/2017

FACT: Academies can set their own pay, terms and conditions for staff, threatening national agreements

“Where an academy converts from maintained school status, transferring staff are protected by TUPE (Transfer of Undertakings and Protection of Employment) arrangements.
When hiring new staff, or in the case of entirely new academies and free schools, academy trusts can determine their own pay, terms and conditions for staff, providing they comply with employment law and any relevant terms in their funding agreements”.
Source: House of Commons Briefing Paper 'FAQs: Academies and Free Schools' (2017)

FACT: Academy conversion won't stop budget cuts ( in fact, more academies are running up 'overspends' than Local Authority maintained schools )

Proportion of schools spending more than their income (2014-15)
● 44.1% primary
● 60.6% secondary
Local Authority schools:
● 32.7% primary
● 59.3% secondary
Source: National Audit Office report into risks to schools' financial sustainability (2016)

FACT: Academy Trusts criticised for excessive expenditure and making business links with relatives’ firms

"An investigation revealed that 40 chains had spent more than £1 million on executive expenses, including luxury hotels and first-class travel. More than half of the largest 50 chains pay their top bosses more than the prime minister's £143,000 salary".
Source: Schools Week 'Investigation reveals £1m expenses bill for academy bosses' (2016)

"Thousands of transactions are being made every year by academies to individuals or organisations with which senior staff have relationships. The number of potential conflicts of interest, in the form of "related-party transactions" at academy trusts has soared by 50 per cent in the space of a single year. Meg Hillier, chair of the Commons public accounts select committee, said: "Despite previous warnings, it seems that too many still think it's OK to do business with relatives or businesses with whom the staff or governors have personal connections. It's not acceptable. Schools aren't personal fiefdoms".
Source: TES 'Boom in controversial payments to related parties by academy trusts' (2017)

FACT: If you decide you've made a mistake in converting to join a Multi Academy Trust, too bad ! - you have lost control of your school

Q. 'Can an academy ever return to local authority control?'
A. There is no mechanism for an academy to return to local authority control. Academies that are deemed failing or underperforming may be transferred to another MAT or sponsor (known as re-brokering) or subject to other intervention from the relevant Regional Schools Commissioner'
Q. 'Can an academy unilaterally decide to leave a multi-academy trust, or MAT, once it's joined?'
A. 'There is currently no mechanism for a school that is part of a MAT to unilaterally decide to leave or transfer to another MAT'.
Source: House of Commons Briefing Paper 'FAQs: Academies and Free Schools' (2017)

FACT: Schools do NOT have to choose to become academies

"In March 2016, the Government said it would pass legislation to require all remaining maintained schools to convert to academy status by 2022 at the latest. The plan was met with criticism; in October 2016, Education Secretary Justine Greening said that the Government would not bring forward further legislation this Parliamentary session".
Source: House of Commons Briefing Paper 'FAQs: Academies and Free Schools' (2017)

FACT: School success in London has been based on partnership and support, not academisation

 “The Government should focus on cost-effective and proven school improvement initiatives, such as local partnerships and federations or larger scale interventions such as the City Challenge programme ... A 2014 National Audit Office report ... found informal interventions such as local support were more effective than academy conversion. In 2013, Professor Merryn Hutchings, lead author of the DfE's evaluation of the City Challenge programme, stated: "The evidence that the London Challenge was a successful approach to school improvement is overwhelming. It was also comparatively cheap; over three years the funding for City Challenge was £160 million, considerably cheaper than the £8.5 billion reportedly spent on the academies' programme over two years”.
Source: EduFacts: Academy Status, Pupil Attainment and School Improvement


FACT: Councils can develop federations instead of academies

“The purpose of the proposed Hackney Schools Group will be to maintain the continued improvement in educational performance and pupil outcomes in the Borough through the establishment of a 'school led' education system that is locally maintained and accountable ... using federation regulations to establish the schools group avoids the cost and distraction of academy conversion, including the significant transfer of land, staff and assets away from Council management. It will reduce the potentially serious risks which are posed by the piecemeal conversion of schools into academies and their absorption into a range of academy chains and smaller, unsustainable MATs”.

Source: Meeting of Hackney Council Cabinet 18.12.17: 'A New Direction for Hackney Schools' 

If you want to discuss further with the NEU about why we oppose academisation and/or ways to build the genuine support and partnership that schools need to succeed for our children and communities, get in touch with Martin Powell-Davies, London Regional Secretary, NUT Section, National Education Union via 

“Academy status, we were repeatedly told, was a mechanism for raising standards in schools. Multi-academy trusts, we were assured, were structures to ensure that individual academies did not work in isolation and so stronger schools could provide support to weaker counterparts. Regional schools commissioners, it was said, would hold the whole academy system to account … But it isn't happening. It hasn't worked. Instead, we have a chaotic education market where schools are transferred from one provider to another as if they were retail units. This is no way to run a school system - it has got to change”.
 Kevin Courtney, NEU joint General Secretary, November 2017

Download this post as a leaflet to print for your use via:
or as a word document for you to edit for your own use via:

Sunday 26 November 2017

Academies - NUT Privatisation Update uncovers more scandal

"Academy status, we were repeatedly told, was a mechanism for raising standards in schools. Multi-academy trusts, we were assured, were structures to ensure that individual academies did not work in isolation and so stronger schools could provide support to weaker counterparts ... But it isn’t happening. It hasn’t worked. Instead, we have a chaotic education market where schools are transferred from one provider to another as if they were retail units". 
Kevin Courtney, NEU Joint General Secretary, writing for the TES, 22.11.17.

Every week, more revelations come out exposing the scandalous truth of the failings of academisation and how it has been used to break-up state education and transfer control of schools into unaccountable private hands. 

Even more scandalously, some Governors and Councillors continue to push academisation, despite all the evidence that shows they provide no educational benefit.  In the video below, angry parents at Avenue School in Newham make their views crystal clear to Governors intent on trying to convert their primary school into an academy. NEU members are due to strike there on Wednesday against the threat of a transfer to a new employer - likely to be the EKO Academy Trust.

The NUT's latest Privatisation Update summarises some of the latest news on academies and free schools. The report is worth reading in full but here are some of the key revelations:

Wakefield City Academies Trust - NEU demands return to LA control

The NEU has called on the Government to allow the 21 schools which were part of the now collapsed Wakefield City Academies Trust (WCAT) to return to maintained status if the local authority is willing to take them back. Wakefield Council has indeed now voted that no transfer to alternative Trusts should take place without full and active consultation with all parties and resolution of outstanding issues. 

Those issues include the transfer of millions of pounds of money from individual school budgets into the WCAT central accounts, a move which the council leader has said should be investigated by the police

Under present legislation, academisation is a 'one-way street' - once a transfer takes place academies cannot be returned to the Local Authority, merely handed on to other private providers. But, significantly, learning from their experience of the WCAT debacle, Wakefield Council have also voted that "in the medium-term, the rules for academies should be changed so that schools can choose to return to local authority support" and "in the longer term full transparency and democratic accountability must be restored to the whole of the education service of this country".

MAT CEOs cost eight times more per pupil than a LA Director

A new blog by the education journalist Warwick Mansell on the NEU (NUT section) website reveals that, far from being more 'efficient', Multi Academy Trusts are using funds that most of us would think were better spent on children's education to pay their CEOs disproportionately high salaries.

As the latest Privatisation Update explains, "Looking at a representative sample of local authorities from before the academies programme, Mansell found that each council area had one children’s services director paid on average £132,000, who was responsible for schools which typically had 49,000 pupils between them. But by 2015-2016, even though their organisations were responsible for an average of just 6,200 pupils between them, the leaders of 127 of the largest MATs were being paid £142,559 on average. In other words, while the average LA director in 2010 was costing £2.67 per pupil, the figure for a MAT CEO in 2015-16 was over eight times higher at £23 per pupil".
So who does benefit from academisation? - Boom in 'related party transactions'

Privatisation Update also reports on the boom in the number of  payments made every year by academies to individuals or organisations with which Directors or senior employees or their families are connected. Government figures show that the overall number of “related party transactions” rose from 2,005 in 2014-15 to 3,033 in 2015-16 – a 50% increase which outstrips the 16% growth in the number of academies, from 4,722 in 2015 to 5,474 in 2016.

Meg Hillier, chair of the Commons Public Accounts Select Committee, said: “Despite previous warnings, it seems that too many still think it’s OK to do business with relatives or businesses with whom the staff or governors have personal connections. It’s not acceptable. Schools aren’t personal fiefdoms”. 

For a summary of some of the arguments against academisation, download this London Region NUT Section newsletter:

Tuesday 24 October 2017

Making plans to win a London Workload Charter

At the recent NEU (NUT Section) Divisional Secretaries Briefing meeting in Leeds, there was widespread agreement that London NUT should draft a 'London Workload Charter' for consultation with members - before then seeking its adoption by schools across the London Region.

The proposal is based on successful work already done in areas such as Nottingham and Coventry, where Local Authority backing has been won for local workload charters. 

This is to be welcomed, although it is surely a common sense approach for any employer to take given:
1) their responsibilities to act in line with both relevant legislation and DfE advice on teacher workload;
2) the damaging effects of excessive workload on the ability of staff to teach and support pupils effectively;
3) the recruitment and retention advantages it presents, particularly given the staffing difficulties in many London schools.

To help NEU members discuss what a 'London Workload Charter' should include, here is an initial draft for discussion:

A) Our school will fully abide by the provisions of the School Teachers' Pay and Conditions Document, in particular by having:
  • An agreed weekly and annual directed time budget ensuring that the maximum limit of 1265 hours directed time over 195 days is not exceeded;
  • An agreed lunch break of reasonable length free from any supervision or other duties;
  • Guaranteed, and clearly timetabled, Planning, Preparation & Assessment Time and additional Management Time for those with additional responsibilities;
  • Cover for absence only rarely required, and only in circumstances that are not foreseeable;
  • No teacher required routinely to participate in any administrative, clerical and organisational tasks which do not call for their professional skills and judgement.

B) Our school will implement our legal responsibility to ensure that  staff are led and managed "with a proper regard for their well-being and legitimate expectations, including the expectation of a healthy balance between work and other commitments" by making sure that, for teachers, all policies should be reasonably deliverable within an additional ten hours per week beyond directed time. For those with additional leadership responsibilities, a further one hour a day may be required. For staff other than teachers, their duties should be deliverable entirely within contractual hours.

C) Our school management will negotiate with union representatives at regular meetings of a school negotiating committee to ensure all school policies are consistent with the commitments set out above, in particular with regard to:
  • Working Time (ensuring that any additional workload created by new initiatives, policies or practices is compensated for by a reduction in workload elsewhere)
  • Marking Policy (in line with DfE advice and the limits sets out above)
  • Planning Policy (in line with DfE advice and the limits sets out above)
  • Data Policy (in line with DfE advice and the limits sets out above)
  • Class Size policy (setting out limits on class sizes and staffing provision for different age groups and pupil needs)
  • Timetabling policy (setting out maximum teaching loadings for teachers with and without additional responsibilities)
  • Pay Policy (ensuring it does not place demands on teachers which would require them to breach the workload limits set out in this Charter).
If you'd like to comment on these suggestions, especially if you and your NEU members want to hold a meeting to discuss how they could be won in your school, email

Download a copy of this draft charter here

Sunday 22 October 2017

London NEU organising - and winning - against academisation

Academies - no serious arguments left in their favour

For years, the proponents of school privatisation have tried to put together an educational  justification for academisation. They have failed.

The results of this imposed experiment in applying the 'free-market' to schools are now all too clear. Academies have not improved education. School students, their families and their teachers have not benefited from academisation. However some of the Executive Heads and CEOs put in charge of Multi Academy Trusts (MATs) certainly have profited.

Ealing NUT (now NEU) members striking to oppose an academy transfer earlier this year

If you need convincing - here's some more research

As the 'EduFacts' on the NUT website puts it "there is no credible evidence that conversion to academy status improves pupil attainment in national tests and exams, supports pupil progress or leads to school improvement. Even Schools Minister Nick Gibb has conceded that: 'This government does not believe that all academies and free schools are necessarily better than maintained schools.' "  

There's now volumes of research backing up this conclusion. The 'EduFacts' signposts anyone who wants to read more to some key articles but some headlines from the July 2017 study from the Education Policy Institute (EPI) and the London School of Economics (LSE) makes the case against academisation pretty clear:
  • In relation to primary converter academies it concluded that “there is no real change to the primary school test scores of incoming pupils once the schools become converter academies.”
  • The LSE research for the report found “no evidence of a positive effect on GCSE attainments of converter academies which were rated as ‘good’ or ‘satisfactory / requires improvement’” prior to conversion.
  • The study was unable to identify any improvement related to schools becoming sponsored academies since 2010.
  • The report also compared the performance of local authorities and MATs. It concluded that “the variation within MATs and local authorities is far greater than the variation between the two groups” but also that MATs are “over-represented amongst the lowest performing school groups.”
  • A longer NUT document explaining why 'a move to a MAT is not the answer' can be downloaded here.

So who has benefited from academisation?

The Government stopped short of full-scale privatisation, never going so far as to allow private businesses to openly declare profits from their running of academies. However, as the latest revelations in The Guardian from the collapsing Wakefield City Academies Trust (WCAT) show, even where there is no evidence of fraud, the unaccountable nature of MAT Governance leaves plenty of scope for what are, at best, dubious practices. 

The Guardian reports that WCAT "stands accused of 'asset stripping' after it transferred millions of pounds of the schools’ savings to its own accounts before collapsing". WCAT is alleged to have taken control of funds raised by parents and surplus funds in individual school budgets. 

Was the money well spent? The article states that a draft DfE report "raised concerns that the chief executive, Mike Ramsay, had been paid more than £82,000 for 15 weeks’ work, despite the fact that the trust was facing a large budget deficit ... The previous month, it had emerged that the trust had paid almost £440,000 to IT and clerking companies owned by Ramsay and his daughter". Who benefited - the students or the CEO?

Of course, this is far from an isolated story.  The latest NUT Privatisation Update lists a number of similar stories, including:
  • The Government has warned academy chains about “ratcheting up” MAT Executive pay. Sir Dan Moynihan, chief executive of the Harris Group, was awarded the largest salary of £420,000, with Toby Salt of Ormiston Academies Trust the next biggest earner on £205,000. 
  • Durand Academy Trust has appointed two new directors following the resignation of its controversial former head teacher Sir Greg Martin. The school was criticised by MPs in 2015 after it emerged that a proportion of Sir Greg’s £400,000 salary was made up of management fees from the company that runs school’s leisure facilities on a commercial basis. 
  •  Swale Academies Trust, which runs 10 schools in Kent, Bromley and East Sussex, has defended its decision to provide its senior leaders with company BMWs costing tens of thousands of pounds. 
  •  A Government review has found that the Enquire Learning Trust, which runs 27 academies in the North East, Yorkshire and the Humber and the North West, ran up “high costs for hotels and overnight stays relating to school improvement and residential events”, and the four SMT members all held a trust credit card despite only being employed as contractors.
  •  The DRB Ignite MAT, which operates eight schools in the West Midlands, has received a financial notice to improve ... In 2015-16, £310,000 of the trust’s £372,000 central office costs went to other DRB group companies, and in 2016-2017 the figure was £109,000. The ESFA found that no formal procurement process had been followed.

It's no surprise that these stories - and many other similar tales - exist. It's a danger that is unavoidable because academies are unaccountable to their local communities.

So why are schools still academising? 

Despite all the evidence of the damage being caused by academisation, some Heads, Governors and local Councillors  are still arguing that schools have to academise. It's just not true!

There is absolutely no requirement on most schools to convert to an academy. The last Government was forced back from its plans to try and academise every school. Only a small number of schools - those deemed by Ofsted to be ‘inadequate' - have no way to avoid 'forced academisation' under the latest legislation.

Far from full academisation being inevitable, there is the prospect that a future Labour Government night reverse existing legislation and allow schools to be returned to local democratic control.  A 'reference back' was overwhelmingly carried at the 2017 Annual Conference asking the National Policy Forum to make this Labour Party policy.

It's also false to argue that academisation is a way to avoid the school funding crisis. A search through the school cuts website will confirm that many academies are facing significant cuts. Conversion to an academy offers no protection against financial austerity.

London NEU members campaigning - and winning - against their employment being transferred to a MAT

Of course, as the NUT website page on academies explains, the National Education Union is  "committed to supporting and protecting its members who work in academies. However, we utterly oppose the Government’s aim that all schools in England should become academies. The academies programme has resulted in the fragmentation of the education system while undermining the local accountability of schools. It has also undermined the national pay and conditions framework for teachers as well as local collective agreements".

Conditions under threat in Charlton Park 
One clear example of this threat can be seen at the dispute over sickness policies between Charlton Park Academy in Greenwich and the NEU and GMB. 

Staff are often falsely assured by Heads looking to academise that TUPE legislation will protect them against harmful changes after academisation. However, TUPE doesn't apply to new staff or staff changing to new contracts - and the new contracts at Charlton Park Academy have removed the Burgundy Book and Green Book sick pay rights that most school staff are able to rely on, significantly cutting rights to sick pay for staff requiring a long-term absence. Both unions are due to give notice for further strike action on four separate days in November, starting on Tuesday 7th.

Winning Victories in Ealing
These threats to terms and conditions are why, alongside the educational arguments against academisation outlined above, the NEU is supporting members willing to campaign up to, and including, strike action to oppose their employment being transferred to a MAT. What's more, those campaigns are winning victories!

Stopping academy conversion is certainly not an unwinnable battle. In the last 6 months there have been 5 attempts by Governors at academy conversions in Ealing. The NEU (and previously as the NUT) has been successful in stopping four of these conversions and the campaign is continuing in the remaining school. The experience shows that given the right circumstances, and the right tactics, academy conversions can be stopped.

London NEU will be producing more detailed advice based on these successes but here are some of the key pointers:
  • Get in early - before conversion becomes a 'fait accompli'. Ealing NUT held members' meetings in each school as soon as there was a rumour of the Governing Body considering academisation, and before the start of formal consultation. 
  • The school rep is key. They are the people who can win the argument on the ground. Make sure that you know and can answer the specific arguments being put by Governors.
  • Argue for basic democratic demands. Firstly, that the NEU be invited to address Governors' meetings. Secondly, that there should be ballots of all staff and parents on any conversion proposal. 
  • Get parents on board. In most cases, most parents had not heard about the proposals, and were furious that decisions might be made with little or no consultation. In each case we held meetings which ranged in size from 30 to over 100. In primary schools it was simply a case of leafleting school gates. Secondary school parents can be harder to reach but leafleting the catchment area and  feeder primary schools proved to be successful tactics. 
  • The pressure exerted by parents on governors was a significant factor in getting them to reconsider decisions, as was the contact they made with councillors and MPs who, in turn, put pressure on Governors to reconsider. Most importantly the support from parents was key to giving members the confident to take action themselves. 
  • Divide the governors. Ealing NUT quickly discovered that it was usually one or two governors who were driving the academy agenda. When we engaged with the GBs as a whole we found that many governors had little concept of what conversion involved and in particular the downsides. 
  • Finally, and most importantly, the threat and reality of strike action works! Strikes, or the threat of strikes, were the catalyst for parental involvement and splits within Governors.     
Preparing for Action in Brent and Newham

Ealing is not the only borough where staff and parents are uniting in a campaign to oppose the threat of academisation.

Requests for strike ballots for action to oppose a change of employer have come in from NEU groups at Royal Docks in Newham and the Village School in Brent.

Indicative ballots have already been sanctioned by NEU Action Officers for members at Avenue Primary and Keir Hardie schools in Newham. Of those eligible to vote, a tremendous 81% voted YES to strike action at Keir Hardie School and 90% at the Avenue! Based on these excellent indicative results, requests for formal strike ballots are now being made by the London Regional Secretary.

These ballots are part of growing community campaigns against academisation in these boroughs. For example, over 60 parents and staff attended a Lobby of the Avenue school Governing Body last week, following on from a successful public meeting building opposition to academisation threats  across Newham. After all, staff, students and parents all have good reason to prevent more schools being taken over by MATs!

In conclusion, there are no good arguments for academisation. However, regrettably, arguments alone are too often insufficient to oppose damaging academisation plans being voted through by Governing Bodies. That's why the NEU in London will be building on the successes shown in Ealing and elsewhere. We are determined to oppose any further damage being inflicted on NEU members, and on the children we support, through this failing Government policy.


Thursday 21 September 2017

Organise for October on Pay and Funding

Calling all parents, teachers, support staff, trade unionists - indeed everyone who is determined to defend our schools from damaging cuts and staff shortages:

We have two important events to build in London in October - the October 17 pay rally and the October 24 school funding lobby. The presentation below has been written to help you build the big turnout we need. 

Please download and Organise for October



Wednesday 6 September 2017

McStrikers - inspiring every worker to act against low pay and bullying management

It was a privilege to be able to listen to Lewis, one of the strikers at Crayford McDonalds, explaining about their dispute at a meeting hosted by Greenwich UNITE and the National Shop Stewards Network in South-East London this evening.

Lewis explained how the arrival of a new store manager at the Crayford branch had been the last straw for a workforce who, like most fast food workers, were already fed up with the low pay and working conditions that they were supposed to put up with. This bullying manger picked on vulnerable workers yet, despite numerous grievances taken out by staff, the company did nothing to address them. 

It's a tale that too many workers - including teachers - will recognise but the difference at Crayford McDonalds (and similarly at the Cambridge branch) is that the workers have stood up to the bullying and joined a union that is prepared to back them in action, the Bakers Food and Allied Workers' Union (BFAWU).

As Lewis explained, the workers at Crayford voted 96% for strike action and, together with their Cambridge colleagues, hit the headlines with their McStrike action on Monday. 

McDonalds tried to dismiss the action as being taken by an insignificant 0.01% of their workforce. However, they had better start worrying, because if these two workplace strikes can produce the amount of media coverage that Monday's action received, just think what further damage to their reputation will be done by further, and wider, strikes!

As the meeting discussed, Monday's strike is indeed just the beginning. As a UNITE member in the meeting tonight put it, "now it's going to be that manager who is the most frightened person in the building, because you've shown the power of a union when people stand up together"

As I said myself in congratulating Lewis and his colleagues, the strike hasn't just encouraged other young fast food workers, it's also inspired older trade unionists too. As teachers have said to me, 'if McDonalds workers can stand up for themselves, we should be too'. As one sign of that growing mood for action, one of the McDonalds strikers will be speaking at the pay rally being called by unions across the London Region on October 12.

Trade unionists can donate to help McDonalds strikers and, above all, encourage other young workers they know to get involved themselves. Just as with other disputes, we can also co-ordinate our campaigns together - and it was great to know that Lewis already knew about the strike action being taken in nearby Charlton Park Academy in a dispute over cuts to sickness entitlements which continues this term.

If you live locally, come and help support the campaign in Woolwich on Saturday September 16th. As it says on the Facebook event page, "we will be collecting funds for the strike and also talking to workers and the public on the high street about why we should all be in a trade union".

I'll leave the last word to Lewis: "McDonalds sets the benchmark for other companies setting poverty wages - if we can shift them, we can also help thousands more workers too". Let's make sure we help them, alongside the BFAWU and the Fast Food Rights campaign, to do exactly that!

Thursday 31 August 2017

London's educational success is being put at risk by teacher shortages

Evidence of London's educational success
Everyone agrees that, over the last two decades, London schools have been an educational success story - but that success is now being put at risk by teacher shortages and funding cuts. Above all, it will be London's young people who will lose out unless the Government acts to fully fund schools.

At the end of last term, the School Teachers' Review Body (STRB) produced its 27th annual report . The evidence within it makes crystal clear that salaries that fail to match the high cost of living in London are leading to a growing crisis in teacher recruitment and retention.

NEOST, the 
National Employers’ Organisation, reported that every London local authority giving evidence for their STRB submission reported difficulties with teacher recruitment and retention and blamed the high cost of living, particularly housing, for driving teachers out of the area.
From the STRB's 27th Report - July 2017

The STRB report itself confirmed that London has the highest numbers of schools reporting classroom teacher vacancies or temporarily-filled posts. That is a direct consequence of the fact that the STRB also reports that classroom teachers’ median earnings trail the estimated median earnings of other professionals in London by a significant margin (over £7,000 in Inner London).
From the STRB's 27th Report - July 2017

The STRB complains that, in its previous 2016 report "we said that, based on our assessment of recruitment and retention alone, there was a case for a higher than 1% uplift to the national pay framework ... Our analysis of the evidence for the current pay round shows that the trends in recruitment and retention evident last year have continued – teacher retention rates continued to fall, particularly for those in the early stages of their career, and targets for ITT recruitment continue to be missed. We are deeply concerned about the cumulative effect of these trends on teacher supply. We consider that this presents a substantial risk to the functioning of an effective education system".

Yet, despite this damning indictment of Government policy, the STRB went on to recommend an annual pay award to most teachers of .... another 1%! (although they did recommend a 2% increase for the bottom and top of the Main Pay Range - an increase which all teacher unions agree should at least be applied to all teachers on that scale).

The STRB blame 'restricted school budgets' for going any further - but that is just accepting that school funding cuts have to be swallowed, along with the damage they are doing to education through teacher shortages, rising class sizes and job cuts. Why should we accept the unacceptable?

To make matters worse, there is a real risk that, when the Government finally soon confirms its decisions on a new school funding formula, London schools will be particularly badly hit. 

The capital's educational success is in real danger. Londoners need to keep up the campaign to defend it.

Public sector unions are coming together across London to say 'end the pay cap now' on October 12

Thursday 24 August 2017

Should you be getting furious about 'furious cycling' ?

As I cycled back from work tonight along the South Circular Road, I decided I should post some thoughts about some of the 'anti-cyclist' prejudice that seems to have been whipped up as a consequence of the conviction of Charlie Alliston

Let me say at the outset, that I am certainly not automatically jumping to the defence of the convicted cyclist. There can only be heartfelt sympathy for Kim Briggs' husband and family who have suffered such a sudden and tragic loss.

The trial and verdict have also been hotly debated amongst regular cyclists like myself. We all know that, just like car drivers, there are people who drive badly and that they can give other drivers a bad name. However, we also know that, when you crash on two wheels rather than four (as I have just witnessed this evening with a motorbike in Sydenham), it is the bike rider who is likely to come off far worst. That includes crashes with pedestrians, as my brother-in-law can vouch for when he ended up hospitalised when someone stepped off the pavement into his path as he was riding (slowly) past.

Regrettably, the consequence of some of the 'anti-cyclist' press coverage could all too easily be even more dangerous 'anti-cyclist' behaviour by those car drivers who already give cyclists a hard time - and put our health and safety at risk.

The reason why a 'healthy' majority of cyclists ride with plenty of care and attention is that we know from experience that if a car - or indeed a pedestrian - collides with us, then we're likely to be the ones who end up with, at best, a graze and a buckled wheel, but too often with both bones and bike broken. 

The fatal injuries sustained by Kim Briggs were just one of the many deaths and serious injuries that have resulted from cycling accidents. RoSPA reported 100 cyclists dying in 2015 alone, many at roundabouts and road junctions when either the car or cyclist 'failed to look properly'.

Commuting on a bike in London is certainly not just physical exercise but also an exercise in constant concentration - looking out for the driver who is about to turn in front of you without indicating, the pedestrian about to walk off the kerb, the erratic driving of those texting in the traffic or even under the influence of one substance or another (you can smell the smoke as you cycle past the open window) ...

Of course, nobody but Charlie Alliston knows exactly what the circumstances were when he collided with Kim Briggs. He certainly didn't do himself any favours through the insensitive comments he posted after the crash. However, many cyclists have questioned the attempts by the prosecution to demonise him and the debatable 'expert witness' claims about stopping distances. 

Alliston should certainly have had a front-brake fitted but, without knowing more about how much time he had to react, it's hard to know whether or not that brake would have actually avoided the collision. Unfortunately, press reporting of trials rarely gives a balanced account (as the Jobstown defendants discovered in Ireland!) and so we will have to trust that the jury who heard the whole evidence reached the right conclusion, rejecting the manslaughter charge.

Certainly, some cyclists have complained that there appeared to be double-standards at work, asking whether a car-driver would have been prosecuted if a pedestrian had walked out in front of a car without looking (if that was in fact the case with Kim Briggs).  On the other hand, and I may be being unfair to 'fixie' riders, I do wonder whether the real issue here was whether Alliston (without being able to change down to a lower gear) was too concerned about maintaining his speed and not enough about slowing down, until it was too late (*see update below).

Having said that, it's important to stress that riding at a good speed does not imply riding dangerously. In fact, statistics suggest that slower riders are often the most vulnerable because "faster cyclists may be treated with more respect by drivers and subjected to fewer overtaking manoeuvres". So when cyclists ride fast enough to keep up with the traffic, and go to the front of traffic queues so that cars can't then turn left across their path, they are riding safely, not dangerously.

Rather than allowing the press to whip up division between pedestrians, cyclists and car drivers, we should be united together in demanding the urgent investment that is needed - particularly in London - to provide a safe, affordable, efficient and sustainable public transport system that allows everyone to get where they need to without the stress, danger and expense that our crumbling rail and road networks guarantee every commuter at present. That needs to include investment in cycling infrastructure to provide for the increasing numbers of commuting cyclists who rightly see it as a healthy, cheaper and non-polluting way of getting to work, but want to make sure that it is also a safe way of doing so as well. 

Update - 25 August
Having posted links to this blog in a couple of places and looked elsewhere on social media, it's been interesting to see the range of opinions  - although the fact that the press are succeeding in dividing people on the issue has also been evident. I can't update with all those comments but here's three points of view that I want to add:

1) From another Penge CC member
I was wary about saying anything too definitive about riding fixies and track bikes in London as I cannot speak from personal experience (there's been enough of that in the press already) but this informed comment from another London rider gives an opinion on Alliston's actions that many other cycling commuters would share: 
"I have the same track bike as the one involved in the crash. A fixed gear drivetrain is absolutely no substitute for a brake. I have no idea what gear he had fitted, and it is easier to slow the bike down when you have an easier gear, but 18mph is not a cautious speed in the context of having no brakes in an urban area. People involved in an accident riding an unroadworthy bike should expect to be prosecuted".

2) From a Socialist Party member
A number of people have commented about how the aggressive and unthinking behaviour of a minority of road users is part of a wider alienation in a society that functions by dividing people against each other: 
"We should be discussing how the pressures of this cut-throat business model which pits workers against each other to compete for jobs breeds and encourages precisely the kind of ignorant, anti-social, alienated and alienating attitude towards other workers and road users manifested in the obnoxious behaviour displayed by Alliston. The main culprit is not 'drivers', 'pedestrians' or 'cyclists' but capitalism which fails to invest in safe road infrastructure and public transport with the result that all of us are taking unnecessary risks every time we venture onto the highway".

3) From West Midlands Traffic Police
This might seem like an unusual source for me to draw on, but perhaps their sense of humour reflects the fact that these are presumably people who sometimes have to literally pick up the pieces after a road accident. The key to me is the hashtag in the tweet: #infrastructure. That's where all the anger washing around this discussion needs to be directed - to win investment in the decent cycling infrastructure and reliable cheap public transport that would really address road safety and help protect all of us trying to get around London on roads that just can't cope with the volume of road-users.