Monday 26 March 2018

Organising action, winning for education

Over the last few months, some tremendous campaigns - and some important victories - have been organised across the London Region by the National Education Union.

Some campaigns can be won just by organisation and good arguments - but it sometimes needs the threat of collective industrial action to make sure those arguments are heard! Here are a few examples:

The year began with an important victory at Charlton Park academy in Greenwich. Six days of GMB/NEU strikes led to talks at ACAS that secured an agreement that nationally negotiated Burgundy and Green Book rights would apply for all staff. 

The campaigns against academisation in Newham have been building ever since Avenue Primary School took its first day of strike action last year. Since then, NEU colleagues at Cumberland and Keir Hardie schools have also taken strike action.

They have been backed by a vigorous community campaign that has seen dozens of parents support NEU picket lines.

Now, that campaigning is beginning to win!

Avenue Primary was meant to have been converted this Easter - but Governors were unable to do so after a local parent won the first stage of their legal challenge at the High Court. The challenge, that the school had not carried out meaningful consultation, could go all the way to a full Judicial Review. If won, that could have significant consequences nationally.

It looked as if Governors at Keir Hardie Primary were going to vote for conversion on 19 April but, in the last week of term before Easter, parents were sent a letter saying they were not going to convert after all ! Newham’s campaign has also won support from local councillors, including the Labour Party’s new candidate for the Mayor and a motion was passed at the Full Council meeting that ‘strongly discourages’ schools from considering academisation and calls for binding parental and staff ballots in schools that still plan to academise. 

Even where our action could not stop transfer, like at Village School in Brent, the solid support for action has shown the strength of the Union and of the campaigns we are able to organise.

That may have helped contribute to another victory, at Leopold School in Brent, in a dispute over ‘unacceptable management style’. A last-minute deal secured in negotiations meant members were able to meet at the school-gates on the day of a planned strike, vote that they were happy with the outcome, and all go into work together!

Members at COLA Southwark look to have achieved important gains in a dispute over appraisal after taking strike action in March.

Meanwhile, members in a number of schools managed to resolve disputes before needing to go as far as taking strike action, sometimes just by applying pressure through calling for an indicative ballot. These included Nightingale in Enfield over workload, Haverstock in Camden and St Edwards in Havering over redundancies, Oaklands in Tower Hamlets over leave of absence policies, and St. Aloysius in Islington, over appraisal/performance management.

A number of disputes are ongoing, with some schools preparing for ballots or balloting over the Easter break. We’ve not got room to list them all, but two that should be highlighted are Acton High in Ealing (over a number of issues, including the threat of transfer to a new academy employer) and Connaught in Waltham Forest (seeking additional salary in this Outer London school). In both cases, more action is planned at the start of next term.

Look out for more updates and more victories. Let’s build members’ confidence to win more successes!

Sunday 11 March 2018

Get organised to turn workload pledges into reality in your school

“I want teachers to spend their working hours doing what’s right for children and to reduce the amount of time spent on unnecessary tasks”
Damian Hinds, Education Secretary

“I am committed to tackling workload, and supporting everyone in education to do the same”
Amanda Spielman, Ofsted Chief Inspector

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Let’s turn promises into reality

How did you feel when you heard that Ofsted and the DfE have released a video promising that they want to tackle teacher workload? 

Relief? - that the government finally realises they have to act on workload if they are going to stop the recruitment and retention crisis?
Cynicism? - that this is just another headline-grabbing announcement that will be ignored by your School Management Team?
Anger? - that they won’t act on the testing, league tables, budget cuts and performance pay that lie behind so much teacher workload?

All three of those reactions are justified but, as union members, our response has to be:

Determination! - that the government is under pressure and now we have to organise in our schools to turn promises into reality.

Organise in your school 

This video gives school staff a real opportunity to demand change on workload. However, the accountability regime that weighs down on schools could too easily mean that it changes nothing. The main factor that will decide is US! If NEU members organise, you can win change in your school. 

Here’s how Kevin Courtney, NEU Joint General Secretary, has suggested you can do it:

“Ofsted’s Amanda Spielman, backed by Secretary of State Damian Hind, says: “If the impact on pupil progress doesn’t match the hours you spend marking then stop it!”

So who is to judge the match between the hours you spend and progress made?

Surely this should be a professional judgement for the teacher? It is potentially a complicated judgement. The teachers’ own level of fatigue comes into it as well as the suitability or otherwise of any marking scheme the head insists on. The vast majority of the profession know, for example, that the dialogue, triple marking schemes lead to standardised comments from the pupil and pro-forma responses from the teacher. Almost no learning takes place but huge numbers of hours are consumed.

However in the current climate of Ofsted and accountability fear many heads don’t allow teachers this level of professional judgement.

This is undoubtedly bad for our children’s education. The more downtrodden and alienated a teacher feels, the more likely to leave the profession for example.

That’s why professional judgement must be supported, bolstered, by collective action.

The key thing with this new Government/Ofsted video is that staff (union members) discuss it collectively. They decide what changes they want the head to make - then they elect some people (union reps) to tell the head.

The video can support that process. It can’t replace that process.

If the head doesn’t move then the union members have to decide their next steps. Do they let it lie? Do they leave the school? Or do they approach the union for help?

In these circumstances the local union reps would approach the head, along with school reps, and again make the case, perhaps bringing in other local examples of where change has already taken place.

If that still doesn’t work then the staff have the same decisions to make. But in many situations like this staff ask for an “indicative ballot”. This tests the strength of feeling without formally calling a strike and oftentimes the head will see that they really should change their position.

As our final step we would ballot for sustained (that is paid) strike action. There are very many examples where staff have won agreements like this which have reduced their workload, increased their scope for making their own judgements as to what helps their pupils learn, and in so doing has improved education.

Professional judgement and collective action go hand-in-hand. 

Join the National Education Union to boost both

Get in touch to get organised

In the last few months, schools across the London Region have taken these steps and over 20 have asked for an indicative ballot - sometimes then a formal ballot - on workload and other demands like over pay, job cuts, or opposing bullying or academy transfers. Most have achieved gains as a result.

So get in touch with the NEU - either through your Local NUT Division or the London Regional Office - and get organised to win change in your school.

What needs to change?
In response to NEU posts about the video, teachers have been posting on social media about what has to change if workload is going to be cut.

Here are just a few of the suggestions posted:
●    Excessive monitoring requirements such as planning submitted in advance;
●    Filling in forms for monitoring, rather than trusting to people's professionalism;
●    Lots of extra SEND paperwork because LAs are refusing to assess due to funding cuts;
●    Repeating the same data in different formats;
●    Too great an amount of contact time, or number of classes, that a teacher is expected to teach;
●    Contacting parents by ‘phone and having to record the results of such calls;
●    Excessive data entry and analysis;
●    Observations, book scrutiny, learning walks, planning scrutiny and pupil progress meetings;
●    Schools are cutting back on support staff  - e.g. so teachers have no-one to do bulk copying;
●    Schools need to apply “rarely cover” properly;
●    Email overload.... and the expectation that you'll read and respond before the end of the day. 

Discuss what needs to be changed in your school - and decide what needs to be done to win change.

What changes can be won?

All schools are under pressure from budget cuts and the government’s punitive accountability regime but, despite this, some schools have taken action to significantly reduce staff workload.

Some of these changes have been won through union groups getting organised and negotiating change, sometimes backed up by action ballots. In London, schools have won changes such as limits on contact time and observations, or reduced workload through winning a work/life balance policy or improved performance management policies. 

Nationally, some employers, like Nottingham and Coventry, have agreed ‘workload charters’ with unions that place a limit on overall working hours - not just teachers’ 1265 hours ‘directed time’.

The DfE/Ofsted video includes examples of schools that have cut workload through changing their marking policy (with no effect on pupil outcomes!) or data collection requirements.

As one of the Heads featured in the video says, “it can take brave leadership to tackle existing orthodoxies in schools and get rid of routines that are sometimes established and expected”. Indeed, and perhaps NEU members can encourage a few more school leaders to be brave and cut workload!

If you have good examples of improved policies or other changes that you have won, tell the NEU!