Monday 17 December 2018

Teachers speak out on the poverty blighting Britain this Christmas

As schools reach the end of term, and schools and families alike prepare for Christmas, the National Education Union has released the results of a distressing survey into child poverty.

Over half of teachers answering the survey believed there are young people in their school who will go hungry over Christmas. Nearly two-thirds said that more families are unable to afford adequate shoes or clothing this winter compared to three years ago.

In terms of the impact of poverty on the education of children, teachers identified:
· 85% behavioural issues
· 83% absences from school
· 81% lack of concentration
· 79% lateness to school
· 59% impacts on children’s health
· only 3% have observed none of these consequences

However, it's the quotes that speak more than figures ever can:

“I see children with dirty clothes. Wearing canvas shoes in wet and cold weather, not having a decent winter coat, wearing clothes that clearly aren't theirs and being bought shoes that are too big for them so they will last longer.

“Good shoes are too expensive so students are coming to school in cheap shoes that lasts a few weeks at most. I often have students asking me if I can glue their shoes back together because the sole has fallen off. Some students smell as they are in the same shirt/ uniform all week.

“Mute students going cold, making excuses, feeling ashamed.

“Period poverty causing absence. We now have a box from Red Box project and the impact was almost instant for a small number of girls.

“Our school experienced whole school attendance of 86% after heavy rain because students' shoes are damaged.

“Summer dresses, ankle socks, poor quality shoes, we have a ‘help yourself to clothes’ rail and the stuff flies off every week.

“Some students whose families have been placed in temporary accommodation are having to travel huge distances across London. 

"The increase in mental health issues in families directly related to poverty is another one of the pastoral issues which are taking up vast amounts of time and resources at the same time that budget pressures are forcing both in-house and external support to be cut to the bone.

“Breakfast club snacks in my drawer, bus fares for pupils whose parents are hit by universal credit, tights for pupil in temporary accommodation.

A Government that presides over such a disgraceful situation is a failing government. Instead of a Government that blames schools and families, we need one that will take the urgent steps needed to end poverty and inequality, including funding schools so that they have the resources and staffing to meet every child's needs.

Sunday 23 September 2018

If you know your history ... building a National Education Service

Anger is growing at the failure of the May Government to fund schools adequately, at the unhappiness of both staff and children in our ‘exam factory’ schools, at the increasingly obvious failings of thirty years of market-driven education policy. Parents and school staff alike will be hoping for news from this week’s Labour Party Conference in Liverpool that the promised ‘National Education Service’ will offer the radical change of direction that is so desperately needed.

As Kevin Courtney has written in an article for the Conference bulletin of the Socialist Educational Association, ‘For Socialism and Education’, “These are not accidental failures. They are the products of austerity, and of an educational programme based on the core principles of neoliberalism – a marketised system, policed by a strong state”.

Kevin continues, “We need a change on the scale of the 1944 Education Act to put right the failures of the 1988 [Education Reform] Act. They cannot be ended without investment, and without a bold redesign. Here the Party proposals have some way to go. The NES will need to be based on concrete proposals, as well as good intentions”.

He goes on to list a number of proposals, including to “Restore the cuts made by Coalition and Conservative governments”, “Commit to ending the current system of testing in primary schools in its entirety … introduce the better systems of assessment for learning that we see in other countries” and “Take bold first steps to re-integrating all schools into a unified, democratically accountable system … including by allowing LAs to open new community schools”.

These proposals (listed in full in the SEA article) – and others - are part of a growing debate within the Labour Party, and beyond, about a new direction for education. As I found when I spoke for the NEU at my local ward Labour Party, the debate will also open up discussion on long-standing contradictions within our school systems, including the place of faith, grammar and private schools.

Education and the Labour Movement

This is not a new debate but one that has been held throughout the history of our Labour Movement. Educational advances have been driven, in essence, by two sets of interests. On the one hand, employers and their political parties recognised that state expenditure on education would be necessary to produce a sufficiently educated and ordered workforce and electorate. On the other, the Labour Movement has sought to win educational change for workers' own advancement. At times those interests have coincided but tensions over the level of state funding available, and the breadth of the education to be provided, have never been reconciled. Those tensions are, of course, to the fore again today.

As the quote from Tom Mann, one of the socialist leaders of the victorious London Docks' strike of 1889 makes clear, trade unionists weren't just struggling to improve their children's life chances, they also wanted something more for their lives: "We claim now material necessities to lift us above worrying for food and shelter – but we claim more – we yearn for culture, we openly and fearlessly declare war against all that tends to keep us riveted to earth

Caught between these two pressures, middle-class efforts were often directed into maintaining their own educational privileges, particularly through the development of selective grammar schools and fee-paying public schools. Unfortunately, some Labour politicians, like Fabian Sidney Webb, set their sights on simply trying to help a minority of working-class children up into those middle-class ranks, rather than seeking genuine equality for all young people.

It would take the 1944 Act and the later development of comprehensive education to extend the rights of all children to a genuine secondary education. However, as the post-war boom turned to downturn and neo-liberalism, those efforts were strangled by cuts and the ongoing marketisation of education introduced through the 1988 Education Reform Act.

As Kevin Courtney argues above, a radical change is needed to repair the damage inflicted since 1988. In looking forward, then it's worth looking at the past. It's certainly worth reading through the history of the NUT "The Struggle for Education 1870-1970, given to delegates at the final NUT Conference held earlier this year, to learn lessons from our history. Below, are just three points which are relevant today:

Underpaid and Underappreciated - twas ever thus

It was the 1870 Education Act that first started to properly legislate for elementary schooling, although only through a compromise allowing for both voluntary Church schools and fully maintained schools that continues to this day. Then, as now, there was a sad lack of recognition of a teacher's skills.

An 1847 inquiry into Welsh education complained that: "No person , really qualified for the office by moral character, mental energy, amiability of temper, and proficiency in all the elementary branches of education, together with aptitude in imparting knowledge, will doom himself to the worst paid labour and almost the least appreciated office to be met with in the country".  Sounds familiar?

'Payment by Results' damages education - then and now

Sadly, if Government has learnt nothing about teacher morale and retention in over a century, the same can certainly be said when it comes to the damaging effects of compulsory testing and performance pay.

The 1870 Act followed the introduction of the 'Revised Code', a device introduced to drive down costs by tying school funding - and hence teachers' pay - to the success rates in exams. Again, just as now, 'payments by results' led to  enormous pressure on students and teachers to get the results required - by any means necessary.

The newly-formed NUT summarised its objections as follows: "it had failed to provide the children with a good education; it had set up a false gauge of efficiency; it had necessitated a 'system of cram which encourages mechanical rather than intellectual methods of teaching', it had hurt both the bright and the slow; it had created suspicion between inspectors, managers and teachers; it condemned poor schools to continued inefficiency; and it had forced the same curriculum on all schools irrespectively".

"Under the management of the elected representatives of the people"

If those two examples only show how little has been learnt from the past, then the final one listed here could yet be a solution for the future - the elected School Boards introduced under the 1870 Act.

School marketisation, made worse by the expansion of unaccountable Academy Trusts, has created a broken system that urgently needs a radical overhaul. The model of elected School Boards, whose well-constructed school buildings still remain in many London boroughs, could be a way to repair the damage. Rather than just returning to Local Authority oversight, what about re-organising them under elected Boards that had direct responsibility for education? What about having a proportion of seats elected by different sections, representing, for example, unions, parents and the wider community?
All 15 votes could be 'plumped' on one favoured candidate

The School Boards set up after 1870 were no perfect solution. Depending on their make-up, they could run schools well or badly. However, particularly in the cities, they allowed pioneering candidates to be elected that introduced vital reforms, expanding education for working-class families, widening the curriculum and also introducing medical inspection and school meals.

Socialist pioneers like Annie Besant in London, Margaret McMillan in Bradford and Keir Hardie in Scotland were some of the first Labour candidates elected. Though always in a minority, their achievements were impressive. For example, alongside educational reforms, Annie Besant made sure the London School Board introduced a minimum wage in all their contracts. Campaigns were also waged for secular education and the abolition of school fees while Margaret McMillan became renowned for the introduction of school meals and child welfare services in Bradford. Those campaigns are going to have to be waged again in today's austerity Britain where cuts to social services leave too many schools picking up the pieces where nobody else is left to step in.

It was the very success of the School Boards that led to their abolition in the 1902 Education Act. The divergence between the differing interests of the employers and the Labour Movement came to the fore. The elected Boards were making reforms beyond the limits originally intended!

Although the struggle to remove the Boards was more complex than can be explained here*, county and borough councils were to be given the role of local education authorities and the elected School Boards were abolished. However, rather than leaving them in the history books, why not return to elected School Boards as part of a new radical step forward in advancing education in the twentieth-first century?

*For a more detailed analysis of the period, I recommend Brian Simon's "Education and the Labour Movement 1870-1920" 

Tuesday 24 July 2018

Five things we learned today about the School Teachers' Review Body Report

"To support an effective career pathway for school leaders, the level of pay on offer must be sufficient that people stepping up to such leadership positions feel that they are being fairly remunerated for the additional responsibilities and pressures they are taking on", (para 4.17, STRB Report, July 2018)

1. The Government have refused to accept the STRB recommendations in full

In this statement, Damian Hinds makes clear that he has “decided to accept in full the STRB’s recommendation for a 3.5% uplift to the minima and maxima of the main pay range, building on last year’s 2% uplift to the main pay range”.

But 60% of teachers are paid on higher scales. Damian Hinds is recommending they receive less than the 3.5% uplift recommended by the STRB – and less than the current rates of inflation (CPIH 2.3%, RPI 3.4%). Instead, Damian Hinds announced that “the minima and maxima of the upper pay range will be uplifted by 2% and on the leadership pay range by 1.5%”.

Warning: As teachers in East Sussex have recently had to strike to expose, last year’s 2% uplift was only statutorily applicable to the minimum and maximum points of the range. Some academies are not bound by the STPCD in any case. Even some maintained schools didn’t pay 2% to teachers on the intermediate points M2-M5. Could this happen again with the 3.5% uplift?

2. The Pay Award will NOT be fully-funded by the DfE – and certainly not by the Treasury

Damian Hinds’ statement went on to say: “We will be supporting schools in England to implement the award with an investment of £508 million through a new teachers’ pay grant of £187 million in 2018-19 and £321 million in 2019-20 from the existing Department for Education budget. This will cover, in full, the difference between this award and the cost of the 1% award that schools would have anticipated under the previous public sector pay cap”.

“In reaching a final position for 2018/19 public sector pay awards, we have balanced a need to recognise the value and dedication of our hard-working public servants whilst ensuring that our public services remain affordable in the long term, to contribute to our objective of reducing public sector debt ... It is vital that we consider all pay awards in light of wider pressures on public spending. Public sector pay needs to be fair both for public sector workers and the taxpayer. Around a quarter of all public spending is spent on pay and we need to ensure that our public services remain affordable for the future”.

Warning: Even if the pay grant announced is really sufficient to pay for the DfE recommendations, already overstretched school budgets will have to fund the costs of the 1% portion of the award.  But there might be more to pay. The Treasury has made clear it is not paying the DfE bill for the additional £508m but this will have to be found from elsewhere within DfE resources. That could mean schools then having to pay for vital services that are cut from other parts of the education budget which schools rely upon.

3. The STRB wanted 3.5% across the board for a good reason – for teacher retention

The Government haven’t just ignored the STRB’s recommendation of 3.5% across the board increases; they have also ignored the evidence behind that recommendation of increasing difficulties in retaining experienced teachers.

This is what the STRB had to say about ‘Career progression and school leadership’: “In addition to ensuring that a sufficient number of good teachers can be recruited and retained in the profession, the teachers’ pay structure must also provide the right incentives for suitable teachers to progress to middle and senior leadership roles”.

“On our school visits, few of the classroom teachers we speak to aspire to become senior leaders, and few of the deputy or assistant heads we speak to wish to become head teachers. Many are put off by the responsibility and accountability that comes with such roles. To support an effective career pathway for school leaders, the level of pay on offer must be sufficient that people stepping up to such leadership positions feel that they are being fairly remunerated for the additional responsibilities and pressures they are taking on. We see evidence of emerging problems in recruiting and retaining school leaders, which indicates that this may not be the case”.

4. The STRB Report contains clear evidence as to why teachers’ pay needs a substantial increase

Here are just some of the charts within the Report that speak for themselves:

Figure 8 shows that the relative position of classroom teachers’ median earnings has continued to deteriorate. “All regions have seen a worsening position over the period from 2011/12 to 2016/17. In the last year, large drops were seen in the North East, West Midlands and Outer London. For the first time classroom teachers in the North East had median earnings below that for other professional occupations”. (That now means that in every region, median earnings are beneath those for other professional occupations).

Figure 9 confirms that, “while the value of points in the teachers’ pay framework grew by between 3% and 5% over the period (2010/11 to 2016/17), growth in the corresponding points in the whole economy earnings distribution was between 8% and 11%, and between 4% and 9% for the corresponding points in the earnings distribution for those in other professional occupations” or, in summary, “The value of key points in the teachers’ pay framework have deteriorated markedly in relation to the earnings distribution of those in other professional occupations across the wider economy”.

Given the Government’s decision to only recommend a lower increase on the Upper Pay Range, it’s worth noting that the biggest gap in the growth in pay between teachers and other professionals is at the Upper range!

Figure 21 shows how that deteriorating pay contributes to an ever increasing ‘wastage rate’ – just at a time when pupil numbers, and so demand for teachers, is increasing.Between 2011 and 2016, the percentage of teachers leaving within three years’ service increased from 20% to 26%, while the percentage leaving within their first five years increased from 27% to 31% over the same period”.

5. You will now earn more as a M6 teacher in Inner London than a U1 teacher in Outer London

STRB recommendations - NOT fully agreed by the DfE
The agreed STRB recommended award brings an M6 teacher’s salary in an Inner London Pay area borough to £40,372, an increase of 3.5% from £39,006.
If that 3.5% had been also applied to a U1 teacher in a neighbouring Outer London Pay area borough, the difference would have been slim – but at least they would still have earned more (£40,903). 

However, a 2% increase on the existing £39,519 U1 salary in Outer London raises their annual pay to just £40,309.  

Given the hoops that too many teachers have to go through to 'cross the threshold', many Outer London teachers will wonder whether it's worth the hassle and will look to move to an Inner London paying school instead. Even more Outer London schools will be struggling to retain their experienced staff.

Friday 18 May 2018

London teachers discuss action on pay and housing to stop a growing recruitment crisis

Research released today by the NFER confirms what teachers in London schools already know - that the recruitment and retention crisis is getting worse.

Their key findings are:
  • London has a higher rate of young teachers leaving the profession than other large cities and the rest of England. It also has a steady outflow of teachers in their thirties and forties to teach elsewhere. The most important factor driving low teacher retention in London is higher housing costs.
  • London has more new entrants to its teacher workforce each year than in other large cities and the rest of England, driven by a greater proportion of newly qualified teachers (NQTs). But these new teachers are not enough to replace the many teachers who leave teaching in London each year.
  • Higher proportions of schools with vacancies and of unqualified teachers employed in London, compared to other areas, suggests that the labour market is already experiencing significant shortages in many areas.
  • Early-career teachers are accelerated into middle leadership positions more quickly in London than they are in other areas, due to a lack of more experienced teachers to fill the roles.
Here is just a selection of the graphs produced in the NFER Report that make the issues very clear:

This recruitment and retention crisis is putting London’s educational successes at risk.

For most school staff, the higher costs of living in London far exceed the additional salary they receive for working in a London school. Housing costs, particularly for the majority of younger staff who have to rely on private rented accommodation, eat up an increasing chunk of their take-home pay.

Childcare, student loan repayments and travel costs cut further into their income, especially for those teachers having to travel across central London to get to work. Taking long working hours into account too, the net hourly pay rate for London teachers after they’ve paid their essential bills is miserly.

That's why 2018 NUT Conference agreed that, alongside national campaigning, we should develop a Greater London Pay campaign. A meeting is being called on June 30 at NUT HQ to discuss what needs to be done:

Places at the meeting can also be confirmed via:

The meeting will also be hearing about the results of a survey of London teachers about their pay, travel and housing costs and their views on recruitment and retention in London:

Thursday 10 May 2018

Taking action to stop teacher shortages in London

Every parent, every member of staff already knows that Government cuts are damaging our schools.

£2.8 BN has been stolen nationally since 2015. A borough like Waltham Forest is set to lose nearly £10M alone in real terms cuts by 2020.

Cuts mean fewer resources and fewer staff. That means worse education for children and greater workload for teachers. But it also means lower pay.

Why? Because the Review Body that sets teachers' pay rates says it can’t afford to recommend pay rises that schools say they can’t afford – which is why teachers’ pay has fallen by over 15% in real terms since 2010. 

Some parents might say, well that’s hard on teachers but if money’s short, I want it spending on my children, not on teachers’ pay? That would be making a big mistake. Not only would they be falling for the Government’s ‘race-to-the-bottom’ agenda, instead of sticking together against cuts, it will be their children that will lose out too – because failing to pay staff properly is creating a recruitment and retention crisis that means schools will be without staff to support their children.

NEU calls for better pay for teachers

Don’t take my word for it – the Review Body concluded last year that “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 and targets for 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".

In short, it is in everyone’s interests to pay teachers and school staff properly.

If that’s true nationally, it's even more significant in an Outer London borough like Waltham Forest.

The employers’ organisation, NEOST, has said that a number of London boroughs have been reporting turnover rates of staff at being as high as 25% a year!

The DfE’s own figures show that the Region with the highest number of schools reporting vacancies and temporarily filled posts is Outer London.

Is it any surprise? Londoners face higher living costs than anywhere else – for childcare and transport but, above all, for housing.

Most teachers now have to rent property as they have so little chance of getting on the housing ladder. Yet the latest April 2018 figures show rents for a 1-bed flat in Waltham Forest are between £950 and 1100 pcm, for a 3-bed property between £1500 and £1700.

Average rental values in England outside London are £761, in London they stand at £1588 – over twice as much. Do London teachers get paid twice as much – not at all! 

An excellent turnout at a packed public meeting in Leytonstone on 10 May

An Inner London teacher with five years' experience gets an additional £5,182 in salary compared to a teacher outside London - earning £39,006 compared to £33,824. For an Outer London teacher it's just £3,821 more, at £37,645.

Does £3,821 make up for the extra costs of living and working in London? – certainly not.

There used to be London Allowances awarded on a clear analysis of additional costs carried out by the Pay Board. However, the Tory Government got rid of it when Norman Tebbit was Employment Secretary in 1982.
Recent research by Donald Hirsch for the Trust for London and Loughborough University has tried to reproduce what an average "minimum London Weighting" would be now. Hirsch estimates it would be around £7,700 for Inner London and £6,200 for Outer London. 

Apart from those older teachers on the Inner London Upper Pay Scale, most teachers receive far less additional pay than required to meet that added cost of living. No wonder many are looking to leave.

On the NEU picket line at Connaught School

Things are even worse for a Waltham Forest teacher – why? Because some Outer London boroughs count as Inner London when it comes to teachers’ pay.

If you’re a Waltham Forest teacher struggling with your bills, then you could go to teach In Ealing, Newham, Brent, Barking & Dagenham, Haringey or Merton – and you’ll be paid on the Inner London scales – if you’re a UPS teacher, you’ll be over £4,000 a year better paid!

Small wonder some Waltham Forest schools are already advertising posts as being paid on equivalent to Inner London Pay.

We of course understand that, to pay at inner London rates, schools need to be funded like other boroughs where Inner London pay rates apply. In fact, even better, we want to see all London boroughs being funded to pay a cross-London weighting that reflects the greater costs of living right across the capital.

However, where we know schools already have a budget that could at least help address some of that shortfall – e.g at Connaught School – they should already be taking steps to support their staff. When Governors have identified a budget of £40,000 that could be used to pay additional salary– but there is an obstinate refusal to do so - that helps nobody. I would appeal to everyone to call on the employer and the Council to make a salary offer that can settle the dispute.

Instead of being in dispute, we’d like to be working together to win funds that Waltham Forest schools need – for resources, for staffing – and for pay.

As part of that campaign, we will consider strike action, After all, some of us who have been in London for a while know it was NUT strike action in 1990s, at another time when teachers shortages were growing, that helped bring significant increases in London pay rates.

It is in all our interests, parents, staff, and councillors, to mount a joint campaign. We welcome the fact that, arising out of the Connaught dispute, Waltham Forest Council have suggested a ‘task force’ to look at the ‘challenges around recruitment and retention’. However, we need the Council to be clear and recognise that this means, above all, pay.

Teachers and school staff deserve better, parents and children in Waltham Forest deserve better. Let’s demand fair funding for our schools, fair pay for our school staff, and an end to teacher shortages and cuts for our children.