Promoted by David Beale, 36 Pleasant View, Withnell, Chorley PR6 8SE on behalf of Martin Powell-Davies of TUSC.

Sunday 24 November 2019

Ofsted try to ignore teachers' contracts (again!) - vote to scrap Ofsted on 12 December!

A very useful set of advice on the latest Ofsted inspection framework has been circulated to NEU members this weekend. The advice reminds members of their contractual rights - rights which Ofsted either don't understand or, more to the point, want Heads to ignore.

The advice follows reports of the difficult experiences suffered by NEU members during Ofsted inspections since the new framework was introduced earlier this year. 

As the NEU advice explains, under the new arrangements "inspectors are doing ‘deep dives’ into subjects, agreed in the pre-inspection phone call with the head teacher … and, as part of the ‘deep dive’, inspectors meet with subject leaders". 

The problem with this structure is that it's based on the assumption that staff are being paid and contracted to carry out those roles as subject leaders. However, especially in primary schools, that often isn't the case. 

Many primary staff - and sometimes experienced 'Upper Pay Range' staff in secondary schools as well - have been pressurised into leading on subject areas without any additional responsibility payment (TLR). Just as significantly given the intolerable workload on staff, many have also not been given any additional non-contact time to carry out these additional responsibilities. 

If left unchallenged, Ofsted's new framework will make these abuses become even more common than they are already.

Ofsted - trying to override teachers' contractual conditions

The statutory conditions set out in the School Teachers Pay and Conditions' Document (and a very similar document applying in Wales) leave a lot to be desired, failing in particular to clearly limit teachers' overall working hours. 

However, on this issue they are crystal clear: “Teachers are expected to contribute ... to curriculum development by sharing their professional expertise with colleagues and advising on effective practice. This does not mean that they can be expected to take on the responsibility of, and accountability for, a subject area or to manage other teachers without appropriate additional payment. Responsibilities of this nature should be part of a post that is in the leadership group or linked to a post which attracts a TLR [payment]” (2019 STPCD Section 3 para 48).

Paragraph 52.6 of Section 2 on "Management Time" states that such a teacher with leadership or management responsibilities is also entitled to additional time for discharging those responsibilities.

NEU advice - "Act now, and act together!"

The NEU, correctly, is advising members to stand together as a union group and refuse to be bullied by management and/or Ofsted into overriding their contractual rights. 

The NEU advises that, during Ofsted inspections:

  • If you have not been given the necessary non-contact time and other support to undertake the responsibilities of subject leader, you should not attend meetings with inspectors without the presence of a senior member of staff who will contribute to the discussion of the curriculum, its delivery and monitoring, throughout the school.
  • If you do attend a meeting with inspectors, with or without a senior member of staff present, you should make it clear to inspectors that the NEU, your union, has advised you that you cannot be held responsible for the quality of the curriculum in the subject deep dive, because your school has been unable to give you additional time or to pay you for that responsibility. 
  • If you are in a small school where there is no-one else who could take on the responsibility of, and accountability for, a subject area or to manage other teachers, the school leader should write to the lead inspector in the region to state that the school cannot implement a part, or parts of the Quality of Education judgment requirements, because it does not have the resources necessary to provide staff with the time and payment to undertake those responsibilities fully.

Time to abolish these Ofsted bullies!

From Labour's Manifesto for 'Real Change'
Unfortunately, Ofsted, and the threat of Ofsted 'failure', has been used to bully school staff into taking on unreasonable workload for far too long. 

That's why teachers will be heartened to see Labour's General Election manifesto saying the following:

"Schools are being subjected to intensified testing, inspection, league tables and competition. These aren’t improving pupil achievement or narrowing the attainment gap, but are contributing to a growing teacher recruitment and retention crisis" … " We will replace Ofsted and transfer responsibility for inspections to a new body, designed to drive school improvement". 

Every NEU member needs to make sure that this latest bullying behaviour is the impetus we need to say "enough is enough". Act together to stand up to the bullies and Vote together for the abolition of Ofsted on 12 December! 

Saturday 9 November 2019

Cuts and crisis: stop Tory school havoc!

Tory austerity and education policies have damaged the education of millions of young people. This General Election gives young voters, their parents and school staff a chance to throw Boris Johnson and his Government out of office.

This article has been written for the next issue of 'The Socialist', the weekly newspaper of the Socialist Party. You can also read it here

Significant damage has been inflicted by school spending cuts. UK Education spending in 2020 is projected to be as low as 4% of national wealth (or GDP). That would be the lowest figure on record since 1959.

Courtesy of
The Conservatives have utterly failed to keep the promise in their 2015 manifesto “to protect school funding”. In reality, funding per pupil has fallen at the same time as the demands on school budgets have grown. Figures from the trade-union backed ‘School Cuts’ campaign show that rises in pupil numbers alongside the extra costs of pensions, pay and inflation have left an annual shortfall of over £2billion in English schools alone. Schools in Wales, although funded separately to England, face significant financial pressures as well.

Stop School Cuts 

Those cuts mean schools have fewer teachers, fewer teaching assistants and larger class sizes. Staff cuts have particularly hit music, design, arts and language posts in secondary schools, contributing to a further narrowing of the curriculum.

Cuts mean thousands of youngsters with special educational needs and disabilities are not having their needs adequately met. Schools are catering for complex needs without adequate staffing and resources.

Rising child poverty, a direct result of Tory austerity, also has inevitable emotional and behavioural consequences. Yet, with budgets for youth, child and adolescent mental health services all being slashed, underfunded schools are being left to somehow pick up the pieces.

Sixth Form class sizes are mushrooming in a sector that traditionally always had smaller student numbers per teacher. Of course, those students won’t escape the funding crisis if they continue to higher education. However, they’ll have to pay for the privilege by racking up tens of thousands of pounds of debt for huge tuition fees and rising living costs.

Toll on staff
Underfunding is also exacting a terrible toll on staff. Salaries for teachers have fallen by over 15% in real-terms since 2010. That’s been made worse by schools trying to limit their pay bill by refusing annual progression up their pay scales, further adding to staff demoralisation.

Support staff and teaching posts have been cut, adding to the demands on the staff remaining. Government promises to act on teacher workload have proven to be worthless. The average working week for a teacher in England remains a staggering 50 hours, with a quarter working more than 60 hours a week.

Those pressures are deepening the ongoing crisis in teacher retention, with the Government’s own figures confirming that a THIRD of newly qualified staff now leave teaching within the first five years. Small wonder that schools continue to be blighted by constant staff turnover, especially those supporting the most disadvantaged communities where pressure on staff is greatest.

In short, the Tories have wreaked havoc on our schools, staff and education. They have to go!

Corbyn Promises Change: building a ‘National Education Service’

On becoming Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn pledged to transform education through a ‘National Education Service’. The General Election gives him the chance to carry out this vital transformation.

Corbyn’s initial proposals highlighted genuine ‘lifelong learning’, including scrapping tuition fees, investing in Early Years ‘Sure Start’ centre provision and reversing cuts to the adult skills budget.

There was a welcome confirmation at September’s 2019 Labour Party Conference that a Corbyn government would indeed abolish tuition fees, cap the cost of school uniforms and provide free nursery education for all two to four year olds.

Shadow Education Secretary Angela Rayner also committed to ending the Ofsted school inspection regime, replacing their reports with “health checks” organised through local authorities.

Jeremy Corbyn had also previously announced that Labour would scrap ‘Sats’ exams in English primary schools, including the new baseline assessments for four year olds. Correctly, Corbyn has criticised the pressure Sats put on young children and the way they narrow the primary curriculum as schools concentrate on boosting the test scores on which they will be judged. Of course teachers would continue to rely on assessment to inform their work – and to inform, children, their parents and carers – but the failing of children through high-stakes testing would cease.

Reversing Blair’s Marketisation
Abolishing Ofsted and SATs - and their Welsh counterparts Estyn and National Testing in Wales - would be significant first steps towards ending the pro-market consensus that existed between all the main parties under the capitalist Labour leadership of Tony Blair.

Under ‘New Labour’, neo-liberal education policies were imposed, as they were across the globe at that time. They were designed to cut costs by making schools compete in an education marketplace.

Schools ‘failed’ by Ofsted or found at the bottom of SAT League Tables could then be blamed for their poor performance – rather than putting the blame where it really lies, on government failure to tackle poverty and fund schools properly.

Ofsted outcomes have been used to bully staff and undermine schools. After receiving ‘inadequate’ ratings, over 500 primary schools have been forced out of local authority control into the hands of unaccountable, publicly funded but privately run ‘multi-academy trusts’.

This has accelerated the fragmentation of education in England. Of course, academisation hasn't improved education - only the bank balances of those private profiteers who control them.

In reality, SATs results and Ofsted gradings have always owed more to child poverty than teacher performance.

Recent research has confirmed that schools where a high number of pupils are entitled to free school meals are far more likely to be deemed ‘inadequate’ than schools without those levels of poverty. Reversing austerity more generally is essential to improve educational outcomes too.

Reversing Tory Cuts
With polling showing that school cuts are an important issue for voters, it’s not surprising that all the main parties are promising more money for schools. But who can be believed?

The Conservative / Liberal Democrat coalition was responsible for year-on-year cuts in the proportion of UK GDP spent on education from 2010 onwards. Until recently, the Tories largely denied that school cuts were an issue. In 2018, the then Tory Education Secretary, Damian Hinds, had to apologise when he was reported to the UK Statistics Authority for making false claims about government school spending!

Knowing a General Election was on the cards, Johnson promised schools would have “£14 billion additional funding over the next three years”. However, once inflation and triple-counting is taken into account, the pledge is actually more like £4.3 billion a year.

That’s not even enough to reverse the cuts suffered since 2010, let alone to increase spending to genuinely improve education. 83% of schools would still have less money per pupil in real terms next year than they had in 2015.

Angela Rayner has promised that “A Labour government will fully reverse Tory cuts and give our schools the funding they need to ensure every child gets a good education”. Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell has pledged that schools will receive some of Labour’s proposed £150 billion ‘social transformation fund’ for upgrade work.

These are policies which every parent, school student and member of staff will be hoping – and expecting – a Labour government to carry out.

Standing Firm for Education: how to defend reforms

Education will be one of the key issues that could determine the outcome of the General Election. If Labour boldly campaigns to reverse school cuts and end tuition fees, SATs and Ofsted, it could help convince both working-class and middle-class voters to back a Corbyn government. 

But the real test would then follow – to stand up to big business and implement Corbyn’s manifesto commitments.

Where’s the money?
Corbyn’s has previously proposed to pay for greater education spending through a small increase in corporation tax from its present very low 19%. It’s not a radical step. Even back in 2010, the standard rate was 28%. In 1979, it was 52%!

Nevertheless, any attempt to divert more wealth towards “the many not the few” will be resisted by the capitalist class. Already, financial institutions - who will be piling on the pressure against the background of a likely world recession - are saying it would result in lower investment in Britain, and so fewer jobs and lower growth.

Increased tax rates would also be met with further tax avoidance and evasion by big business. Of course, the best way to combat that, and to genuinely control the economy, would be to nationalise the main firms and financial institutions under democratic workers’ control and management.

It seems likely that the Labour election manifesto will pledge to end fee-paying 'independent' schools’ spurious 'charitable status'. A further route to provide additional resources for state education would be to implement the policy also agreed by Labour Party Conference to redistribute their resources across state education.

To be carried out successfully, a Labour government would need to assure staff in independent schools that their jobs and conditions were secure.

However, as it provides such a challenge to the privileges so fiercely guarded by the wealthy, it may well remain just a paper policy unless the workers’ movement pushes for its implementation.

If Corbyn is serious about introducing a genuinely transformative ‘National Education Service’, he will need to ensure that, as with the NHS, it is not continually undermined by the existence of a parallel private sector available only to those who can afford it.

Local democracy, not academies
A more immediately pressing education policy agreed by Labour’s 2019 Conference is also facing resistance from the right of the Party. This called for an end to academy schools, with all publicly funded schools to be placed under the control of their local authority through "reformed, democratically accountable local education committees with stakeholder representation". 

Without this urgent step being taken, ensuring control lies with school staff, parents, students and the local community, any ‘National Education Service’ will fail. A national system can’t operate if half of England’s pupils continue to be educated in schools controlled by over 1000 different unaccountable Multi Academy Trusts, with their own policies and competing interests.

The struggle to reverse academisation is part of the struggle to make sure Labour becomes truly a party that acts reliably in workers’ interests. Shamefully, too many Labour MPs and Councillors still share Blair’s ideological support for the marketisation of schools. 

Parents and trade unionists must demand that Labour’s Conference policy is put into practice and fiercely campaign against any further attempts to widen academisation if any new administration seeks to implement such a policy after the Election.

Trade Unions decisive
Whoever wins on 12 December, school staff unions need to organise to demand a National Contract that guarantees improved pay, working and learning conditions. That’s essential if we are to reverse the damage done by years of staff turnover and start to provide the stability and resources needed to meet every student’s needs.

The best result for education would clearly be a Corbyn-led majority Labour government. However, even in that best case scenario, mass pressure will be needed to counteract the pressures that will be put on a Labour government to accept the diktats of big business – not least via the Blairites in his own party. If it’s a Tory-led administration, then there will be no choice but to fight - and to fight hard.

Already around half of academies are in deficit, and about a quarter of local authority secondary schools are too. Even more will follow once they have spent their remaining reserves.

Labour councillors and school governors should stand with parents and staff and refuse to implement any more cuts, backing unions taking strike action to defend education. They should follow the successful example of Valentine School where a campaign led by the National Education Union (NEU) won a two year cuts freeze.

Resistance is already growing. Strong campaigns based on strike action, such as those in Newham, East London, have shown academisation can be defeated. 

This month will see NEU members in sixth forms and University and College Union (UCU) members in higher education taking strike action in separate disputes over pay, working conditions and other concerns. Earlier this year, Scottish teachers organised by the EIS union were successful in winning significant pay rises through the threat of national strike action.

Whatever the result of the General Election, trade unions need to prepare for decisive action, linking up with parents and school communities, to defend education.