Friday, 10 September 2021

Why Martin for DGS?

I am standing to be NEU Deputy General Secretary because our Union needs clear and determined leadership if we are going to withstand the serious challenges ahead of us. 

More than any other DGS candidate, I believe that I have the  skills, experience, and campaigning record that can make us a stronger team.

Here's a video that gives just a flavour of the campaigns I have been involved in over many years:

If you'd like to listen to a longer interview, here's one I gave for a recent podcast for 'Lay Led Unions':


In order to 'declutter' my DGS campaign website, some of its extensive content needed to be removed but, to show that I have remained consistent, I've pasted below the text that I posted when we first launched the site in January. I think it still holds true now, as we prepare for the members' ballot in October that will decide who is the first ever elected DGS of the NEU:

 Years of funding cuts, pressure from Ofsted/Estyn and ‘exam factory’ conditions have already taken their toll. Now teachers and support staff face further attacks from a Government hoping to make us pay for their failures.

As DGS, I will work to build a Union that has the confidence, strength and organisation to defend the pay, jobs, safety and working conditions of education staff and, in doing so, defends education as whole.

Use union strength to defend staff and community safety.

Throughout the pandemic, I have consistently provided analysis explaining why we need to use our collective strength to defend safety.

The successful use of Section 44 in January showed what could be done when a clear national lead is given, giving confidence to members to act together. I will be a DGS that calls and organises for that collective approach to be followed in future too.

Where do the main differences lie in this election? 

Every candidate will propose changes that could improve our conditions, and pupils’ learning conditions. But the key question is, how can they be won?

The NEU has not been slow to make demands. Our problem has been that they have too often been ignored by employers and Ministers:

Our ‘5 tests’ for Covid Safety were not met - putting our health and safety at risk.

For years, we’ve complained about unreasonable workload - but it keeps getting worse.

Now we face a ‘pay freeze’ - are our demands for improved salaries going to be ignored too?

We need a clear national strategy. My ten campaign points set out what we need to organise and win.

A genuinely ‘lay-led’ democratic union.

Many are concerned that the Union is becoming too ‘top-down’ in its decision-making. I’ll be a DGS that says we must be “a lay-led Union” in practice, not just on paper.

I will strengthen our efforts to have trained, confident reps in every workplace, but I also know that reps need well-supported Districts to back them up. We need to better defend NEU Reps and Local Officers and their rights to facility time.

I will be a DGS that works to bring our union together in our workplace groups, Districts and Branches – alongside NEU staff  – with a belief that we can, and must, succeed in winning our demands.

A Deputy General Secretary you can trust to turn words into action

As a member of the NUT National Executive from 2010-15 and then as a successful NEU London Regional Secretary from 2016-19, I have worked within the Union at its highest levels.

I also have long experience of working at a local and workplace level too.

As Lewisham NUT Secretary for over 20 years,  I doubled local membership and supported hundreds of colleagues. I have organised many successful campaigns, opposing cuts and academisation, defending pay, jobs and workload, challenging racism.

I am still a teacher and local NEU officer today, now in the North-West, experiencing the pressures on members at first hand. I am regularly invited to put our case across to the press and media. 

The clear, determined leadership we need.

In short, my record shows that I can be a DGS that you can rely on to provide clear leadership.

I will listen and consult, keeping up a dialogue with Reps and Local Officers.

I will be a DGS that proudly builds our Union, that works as a full part of the NEU leadership team – as I did as Regional Secretary – but I will also be a DGS of independent mind, ready to question decisions and speak out when necessary.


Thursday, 26 August 2021

NEU officers and reps need firm advice on Covid-19 for the new term

National NEU too slow in issuing updated advice for reps

In July, the NEU issued a Covid-19 update, assuring members and leaders that new advice would be published before the start of the new term. Reps were also advised to remind their leadership that risk assessments will need to be revised in time for the new year. But, with some schools and colleges already open after the summer, as yet no new advice has been issued. Instead, the latest NEU press releases lack the clarity and firmness that its reps and members need.

Today's National Union’s “Back to School” press release rightly states that the Government’s announcement of £25 million to procure CO2 monitors for schools is an admission that risks remain, but that they “will not arrive soon enough, and only diagnose problems not solve them”. But, if that’s the case, then NEU reps need clear advice on actions their schools should be taking right now.

Scotland already shows that infection rates will rise once schools reopen

Staff, school students, and their families understandably want the new academic year to be a return to ‘normality’ without the stress and disruption of the last eighteen months. But the transmissibility of the Delta variant, and the failure of Government to invest, means that sadly won’t be the case. Just as in September 2020, we will be returning to the same poorly ventilated, closely packed classrooms operating throughout the day, prime conditions for spreading an airborne virus”. (Why union groups must insist that schools reduce Covid risk’, 20/8/21) 

Since I posted that warning last week, news from Scotland has confirmed how the reopening of schools after the summer break is inevitably going to drive up infection rates again. In July, Independent SAGE had linked a decline in Scottish infection rates to the earlier start to their school holidays. But now, young people are mixing in schools again, 'fuelling' record case numbers according to BBC Scotland. Tellingly, around a third of the new cases have been in the under-19s age group.

Does this matter when so many adults are vaccinated? Absolutely it does. Yes, vaccinations have helped ensure that hospitalisation and death rates are much lower than they would have been, but protection is not guaranteed. A proportion of our diverse population will still suffer serious illness, and more again from long Covid, especially those who have existing conditions that leave them at greater risk. Even a small percentage of a large population of vaccinated adults - or unvaccinated children – still equates to significant numbers.

In the absence of National NEU advice (*see update below), here’s some suggested advice for risk assessments

Just as previously in the pandemic, schools have a responsibility to assess the ongoing risks from Covid-19, and then to take steps to mitigate them. In my earlier post, I outlined three key areas to consider for the new term:

(1) - Ventilation and Face Coverings

(2) - Isolation, Outbreaks and Contact Tracing

(3) - Staff and families at greatest risk

I have now compiled more detail on the above as suggestions for NEU Officers and Reps to raise urgently with their schools and employers. The advice - posted below - can be downloaded as a double-sided A4 briefing here.

Together with the workplace representatives of recognised trade unions, schools and colleges must act to reduce the ongoing risks from Covid-19:

(1) - Ventilation and Face Coverings

“Good ventilation is now widely accepted as being key to preventing the spread of Covid” (Paul Whiteman, General Secretary of the NAHT, joint union press release, 17 August 2021)

The DfE have belatedly announced that they will be procuring £25million of CO2 monitors over the next term but, for now, few schools and colleges will have them in place. Even then, monitoring is only the start. Action then needs to be taken where poor ventilation is identified:

1.    Conduct an immediate audit of all classrooms and workspaces to assess the adequacy of ventilation and to set out the steps that can be taken to improve air flow in each case based on the HSE advice on ventilation & air conditioning during the Covid-19 pandemic.

2.    To assist this urgent risk assessment, rather than waiting solely for DfE promises, an initial supply of portable CO2 monitors should be purchased immediately by LAs/MATs.

3.    As was mandated for the start of term in Scotland, face coverings must similarly be worn by staff and students in secondary classrooms.

4.    Staff working in circumstances where there are particular risks, such as from children known to spit or bite, where children require intimate care or where staff may need to administer first aid, must be provided with appropriate PPE, including correctly graded face masks.

5.    Across all sectors, an assessment of other transmission risks, such as in corridors and communal areas, staffrooms, and at lunch and break times, should also be made, and steps taken to mitigate risks. Staff meetings should continue to be held online at present.

(2) - Isolation, Outbreaks and Contact Tracing

“[DfE guidance] appears to suggest that everyday contact in education settings …  is not going to be deemed close contact. This increases the risk that infections will go undetected, subsequently leading to more disruption and illness with the virus spreading more widely across schools”. (Letter from UNISON to Gavin Williamson, 18 August 2021)

If settings and employers only put in place the steps set out in the DfE’s latest operational guidance and contingency framework, Covid transmission will inevitably occur, leading to more disruption to education and infections amongst staff, students and our wider communities.

1.    The PHE guidance on actions to be taken by a ‘close contact’ should also be applied to unvaccinated young people who are below the age of 18 years 6 months in educational settings. They should NOT “continue to attend school as normal” as the DfE guidance advises but should “stay at home and self-isolate” as with other unvaccinated persons.

2.    Schools/Colleges should NOT rely only on a positive case or their parent to specifically identify close contacts as suggested in the DfE guidance. Instead, they should continue to identify close contacts on the following basis:

    anyone who lives in the same household as another person who has COVID-19 symptoms or has tested positive for COVID-19

    anyone who has had any of the following types of contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19:

o   face-to-face contact including being coughed on or having a face-to-face conversation within one metre

o   been within one metre for one minute or longer without face-to-face contact

o   been within 2 metres of someone for more than 15 minutes (either as a one-off contact, or added up together over one day)

    A person may also be a close contact if they have travelled in the same vehicle as a person who has tested positive for COVID-19.

3. Schools/Colleges SHOULD make plans to take “extra action if the number of positive cases substantially increases” as the DfE guidance suggests but SHOULD NOT wait for the DfE’s suggested thresholds – such as 10% of pupils and staff in a class – to do so. Those plans should include remote learning with funding to cover additional staffing/supply costs in order to manage the resulting workload. These are costs we must also all demand the DfE meets.

(3) - Staff and families at greatest risk

“School staff, some of whom will not be double vaccinated, or are in a vulnerable group, are also in some cases still at risk of serious illness”. (Joint Union letter to Gavin Williamson, 17 August 2021)

The absence of mitigations and the DfE’s reckless guidance will be causing real concern to staff and students who are at greater risk to serious illness, as well as to those who live with family members who face those risks too.

1.    Every member of staff who believes they, or a person they live with, are at a higher risk of illness from Covid-19 should be provided with an individual risk assessment.

2.    Individual risk assessments should list the protective measures that will be put in place to address those risks. These should include being able to work from home and funds should be set aside to cover for additional staffing/supply costs required to meet those needs.

3.    Schools/Colleges and employers should advocate the benefits to 16-17 year olds, as well as to adults, of getting vaccinated and drive for the widest uptake of vaccinations as possible.

4.    All children aged 12 to 15 years eligible for a vaccine – either those with a condition that means they’re at high risk or who live with someone who is more likely to get infections should be included in this drive too.

*Update: National NEU advice

After this post was published, offical joint union advice was issued on the NEU website - you can read it here.

I remain concerned that the advice lacks the firmness and clarity needed. For example, rather than clearly stating that unions are calling for face coverings to still be worn by staff and students in secondary classrooms, it only states that "secondary settings should ... urgently consider the case for continuing to require their wearing". It also fails to recommend that 'close contacts' isolate, as I have done above.

The joint union advice also links to some useful detailed guidance on ventilation and on individual risk assessments for those at higher risk.

Friday, 20 August 2021

Why union groups must insist that schools reduce Covid risk

Please also read further updated advice from 26 August on this blog here: 

We all want ‘normality’ but Covid risks are still far from ‘normal’

“We are heading into a new school year with infection rates 25 times higher, and hospitalisation rates 10 times higher, than this point last year and with most mitigations removed” (Letter from UNISON to Gavin Williamson, 18 August 2021)

Staff, school students, and their families understandably want the new academic year to be a return to ‘normality’ without the stress and disruption of the last eighteen months. But the transmissibility of the Delta variant, and the failure of Government to invest, means that sadly won’t be the case.

Just as in September 2020, we will be returning to the same poorly ventilated, closely packed classrooms operating throughout the day, prime conditions for spreading an airborne virus. Few young people have been vaccinated. Without mitigations in place, an acceleration of transmission in schools, and then back into school communities, is inevitable.

Relying on vaccinations alone is not a sufficient strategy

“Staff who are fully vaccinated are still at risk of catching the virus and potentially developing Long Covid, which is already afflicting tens of thousands of school staff” (Joint Union letter to Gavin Williamson, 17 August 2021)

Yes, vaccinations are certainly making a difference. They have helped make sure that hospitalisation and death rates are much lower than they would have been given our ongoing high infection rates. But protection is not guaranteed. A proportion of our diverse population will still suffer serious illness, especially those who have existing conditions that leave them at greater risk. 

Death and hospitalisation numbers have been rising since June. Even a small percentage of a large population of vaccinated adults - or unvaccinated children – still equates to significant numbers. These are risks that schools have a responsibility to assess – and then to seek to mitigate.

Insist on reducing risk (1) - Ventilation and Face Coverings

“Good ventilation is now widely accepted as being key to preventing the spread of Covid” (Paul Whiteman, General Secretary of the NAHT, joint union press release, 17 August 2021)

Education unions have called on the DfE to urgently invest in ventilation measures in our schools, just like education authorities in countries like Germany and the USA have already done. The DfE have since belatedly announced that they will be procuring £25million of CO2 monitors over the next term but, for now, few schools and colleges will have them in place. Even then, monitoring is only the start. Action then needs to be taken where poor ventilation is identified. 

Having correctly identified the risk, unions now need to insist schools act to protect against airborne transmission. If CO2 monitors and air filters are not in place, the simplest and most effective mitigation is the wearing of face coverings in classrooms. As US ventilation expert Professor Shelly Miller advises “universal masking without portable HEPA air cleaners will do more to slow the spread of Delta variant than portable HEPA air cleaners without universal masking”.

Insist on reducing risk (2) - Isolation, Outbreaks and Contact Tracing

“[DfE guidance] appears to suggest that everyday contact in education settings – even when sitting alongside a positive case – is not going to be deemed close contact. This increases the risk that infections will go undetected, subsequently leading to more disruption and illness with the virus spreading more widely across schools”. (Letter from UNISON to Gavin Williamson, 18 August 2021)

Everyone wants disruption to education to stop. But declaring that close contacts under 18½ don’t have to self-isolate won’t stop disruption. Nor will failing to carry out contact tracing in schools, and nor will waiting until 5 individuals in a class test positive for COVID-19 before taking any action. Yet this is exactly what the latest DfE guidance advises, without providing any scientific justification.

As Unison’s letter to Gavin Williamson correctly warns, following DfE guidance simply means that infections will go undetected and transmission will spread, leading to more disruption and illness.  But again, having correctly identified the risk, unions now need to insist schools have in place safe systems for isolation, contact tracing and, when necessary, staffing to support online learning.

Insist on reducing risk (3) - Staff and families at greatest risk

“School staff, some of whom will not be double vaccinated, or are in a vulnerable group, are also in some cases still at risk of serious illness”. (Joint Union letter to Gavin Williamson, 17 August 2021)

The absence of mitigations and the DfE’s reckless ‘schools COVID-19 operational guidance’ will be causing real concern to staff and students who are at greater risk to serious illness, as well as to those who live with family members who face those risks too. The guidance does at least state that “no pupil should be denied education on the grounds of whether they are, or are not, wearing a face covering” and certainly no school management should prevent the voluntary wearing of masks.

Unions have made clear throughout the pandemic that high risk or vulnerable staff have a right to an individual risk assessment and protective measures being put in place to address those risks, including being able to work from home. But individual union members can best be backed by the strength of the collective union group insisting on an overall risk assessment that protects both individuals at greater risk as well as the health, safety and welfare of staff and students as a whole.

Download this advice as an A4 double-sided document here.

Tuesday, 17 August 2021

Oppose the Pay Freeze - but with action, not just words

After all that educators have done throughout the pandemic, the ‘reward’ that we have received from this Government has been a pay freeze for teachers and a miserly 1.75% for support staff. When inflation is heading towards 4%, these are real-terms pay cuts.

If we fail to respond to this insult with action, we will only be inviting more attacks - like a lengthening of the school day and yet further cuts being made to school and college funding.

Letters and petitions are not enough. We need to learn the lessons of how we forced a U-turn over Covid safety - by using the collective strength of the whole union acting together.

That's why I say:

Download and share as a leaflet
BRING UNIONS TOGETHER in a joint campaign to defend pay and public services

ORGANISE at every level of the Union so we are ready to win A NATIONAL BALLOT 

SUBMIT A CLAIM FOR A NEW NATIONAL CONTRACT for all staff - with binding pay scales, no performance pay, legal limits on overall working hours and class sizes

FULLY FUND SCHOOLS to meet needs

Accepting these pay cuts will only invite further attacks

The Government left it to the very end of last term to confirm that their ‘thank-you’ for all of the exhausting work we carried out throughout the pandemic would be to impose a 0% pay freeze on teacher salaries. 

Support staff had already been offered just 1.75% and teachers in Wales 1.75% too. Even NHS staff have only been awarded 3%. With the Bank of England predicting inflation at 4% by the end of the year, these are all actually pay cuts. 

But this pay injustice should come as no surprise. The pay freeze was first announced last November. Ministers waited to see what response they would get from the NEU and other unions. They obviously concluded that they could get away with it. We need to prove them wrong!

We are facing a callous, conniving Government that, having looked after their friends during the pandemic, now wants school and college staff, and the communities we support, to foot the bill through cuts to our pay and conditions - and to the learning conditions for our students.

If they succeed with imposing pay cuts, Ministers will only gain in confidence to deal us another blow. They are already threatening to extend the school day, worsening our contracts and workload yet further.

Letters and petitions alone will have no real effect. Instead, we need to learn the lessons from last January when, faced with NEU members invoking their Section 44 Health and Safety rights union-wide, Boris Johnson was forced into a U-turn over his unsafe school opening plans.

That’s why I believe we now need to act with confidence and determination and prepare for national action.

Organise to win a national ballot

The NEU rightly stresses the importance of building workplace strength. Important victories have been won by individual school and college groups taking strike action over the last year. But when we face a national attack, as we do over pay, then winning at a workplace level is not enough. We need to organise together nationally.

Of course, the Government has deliberately put a significant hurdle in the way of unions by imposing a 50% postal ballot turnout threshold for industrial action to proceed. But, if the NEU is going to be able to defend educators and education, it has to overcome that barrier. The job of a union leadership is to work out a plan to make sure we can do so. I am standing as NEU Deputy General Secretary to provide such a lead.

Martin’s strategy to win

Immediately, we need to make clear to both Ministers and educators that we aren’t accepting this attack lying down. Meetings and rallies need to be organised to explain and to convince NEU members of the need to act. They should be backed up with campaign materials for colleagues - and for parents and the public too.

Locally and nationally, we need to bring colleagues together from other unions, including in the NHS, to build a co-ordinated campaign of action, starting with  setting a date for a national demo.

We need to organise meticulously at every level of the Union to put in place the steps needed to ensure we are ready to proceed with a successful ballot, learning from NEU groups and other unions who have successfully met the thresholds.

If we are going to build for national action, we should also widen our demands beyond just the pay award. We should submit a claim for a new National Contract for all staff that includes binding pay scales on all employers and an end to performance pay. But our working conditions are just as important - perhaps more so for many staff given levels of workload. Our claim should also include a call for legal limits on both class sizes and on overall working hours, not just on teachers’ ‘1265’ directed hours. 

Finally, for schools to be able to both pay us properly and employ sufficient staff to meet pupil needs, our action needs to be part of a campaign to reverse cuts and win the funding that our schools and colleges need.


Turn words into action - Build for a national ballot

Sunday September 26th - 16.00

Meeting ID: 890 2272 9469

Monday, 9 August 2021

IPCC issues "Code Red" for Humanity. We need global planning, not politicians' hot air

Today, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its latest report confirming the disastrous damage that has already been done to the world's climate - and that the ongoing failure to seriously tackle global emissions means that the climate crisis is going to get worse.

Sadly, nothing in the Report should come as any surprise. But it is further evidence, if any is needed, that tackling climate change needs more than politicians' hot air, it requires rapid action to cooperatively plan global resources. As a socialist, I believe that means taking those resources out of the hands of big business who, in their drive for short-term profit, will never be able to act globally in the long-term interests of humanity.

Climate change was one of the topics I was asked to discuss as a guest on Nottingham's local Radio Dawn last week - here's what I had to say:

Saturday, 31 July 2021

Schools and Covid: Government needs to act to reduce risk, not ignore it.

The summer school holidays are providing a much needed break for staff and students alike from the stressful conditions of teaching and learning in the midst of a pandemic. The fact that school communities, not least unvaccinated young people, are no longer closely mixing in poorly ventilated classroom spaces, is also likely to be a significant factor in the drop in reported Covid cases over the last fortnight. 

But the current prevalence of the Covid virus, even without any new variants developing, remains a serious threat to health. While vaccination of much of the UK's older population has certainly helped reduce the risk of death, a proportion of a diverse population will inevitably still face hospitalisation, particularly those who have existing conditions that leave them at greater risk. Many more again will join the hundreds of thousands already reported in the Government's own data as suffering from the debilitating effects of "Long Covid" many months after their likely date of original infection.

A Government that was serious about protecting communities, and to stop the disruption to lives and livelihoods caused when outbreaks occur, would be taking the opportunity offered by the school holidays to make sure measures were in place to reduce the airborne spread of the virus in schools at the start of the new academic year. 

For example, they could be following the example of New York, where "to help curb the spread of COVID, all 56,000 New York City public school classrooms will be equipped with two air purifiers by September" ... "In addition, custodians have been given monitors to measure carbon dioxide levels, an indicator of how much fresh air is circulating". They could also extend the vaccination program to children over 12, for whom the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has been authorised for use.

Instead of acting to reduce risk, the Conservative Government is removing what limited mitigations have been in place in schools. In May, they removed the requirement for face coverings in secondary classrooms. They have now said that there will no longer be any requirement to teach pupils in consistent 'bubbles', and that pupils will no longer be required to self-isolate if they are 'close contacts' of a positive COVID-19 case. 

Of course, especially when the levels of infections and school outbreaks were as high as they were at the end of last term, isolation requirements have severely disrupted education. However, the steps taken by schools will also have helped contribute to the fall in infection rates now being seen:

Slide taken from independent SAGE weekly update, 30.07.21

Removing isolation requirements alongside other protective steps in schools won't prevent disruption to education when outbreaks inevitably occur. Instead, they risk making those outbreaks more likely, accelerating the spread of infection, and put at risk the falls in infection rates that will hopefully be sustained over the summer. These rash steps will also endanger the health of students, staff and the wider school community, particularly those medically at the greatest risk.

Instead of demanding Ministers invest in ventilation measures in our schools, or exposing their failure to provide workers with full pay when they have to isolate, or the ongoing lack of  properly functioning community test-and-trace schemes, sadly Labour leader Keir Starmer seems more interested in criticising Ministers for not acting fast enough to remove measures that can help protect against Covid transmission.

Once again, the responsibility will fall on school unions to use our collective strength to defend health and safety. We will need to insist that risk assessments are in place that ensure a safe environment for staff and the students we teach. If those steps are not in place then, once again, unions must advise members accordingly not to work in an unsafe environment.

Why the risks are far from over - iSAGE 30.07.21

As an addendum to my post, I am posting some of the key slides taken from the analysis from this week's briefing  by Professor Christina Pagel on behalf of independent SAGE:

1) Yes, vaccination has made a massive difference:

2) But we are still far from having a fully vaccinated population, especially when around 20% of the population are children:

3) Vaccination greatly reduces the risk of death and hospitalisation - but doesn't eliminate the risk entirely:

4) Encouragingly, the reported numbers of cases is falling - with one cause of the more prolonged decline in Scotland likely to be their earlier start to the school holidays:

5) However, although this PCR based survey can show a lag behind reported infections, the latest ONS Infection Survey does not yet confirm any overall decline in England, with rates still rising amongst younger unvaccinated age groups in particular:

6) Another factor in increasing rates in June/July may have been mixing - particularly of young men - during the Euros:

7) There is a danger that the further lifting of restrictions may cut across the gains made from schools being on holiday. However, surveys show that most people are cautious and appreciate that risks remain. It is Government failures that are to blame, not the public:

UPDATE: I was able to make many of these points - and more besides (!) - as a guest on this week's "Safe Education for All" broadcast on 'Socialist Telly'. Have a look here:

Sunday, 25 July 2021

Prepare for action to oppose the pay freeze!

Here is the video statement that I released on my Martin4DGS campaign Facebook page, immediately after the STRB confirmed a pay freeze was to be imposed on teachers for 2021/22 (with a paltry 1.5% award already separately imposed on support staff). You can watch it here on YouTube.

The school teachers' review body (STRB) report was finally released, predictably late at the end of term, and predictably inflicting a pay freeze on the vast majority of school teachers.

And we knew that was coming. Because the government has made absolutely clear that it wants us to pay for the crisis that it has created. This is despite all the work we have done throughout the pandemic, alongside our colleagues in the rest of the public and private sector.

And so the NEU's press release is absolutely correct to say that it is unacceptable to be imposing a pay freeze. When inflation is rising, it is, in reality, a pay cut. But it's going to need more than a press release to stop these kinds of attacks.

We need to learn the lessons of how we forced the prime minister into a U-turn over Covid-related health and safety, and that's by using our collective strength and using it nationally.

That's why in November, when the pay freeze was first mooted, I called for unions to call a joint conference to put together a plan of action, of meetings, rallies, demonstrations and industrial action, to oppose the attacks that were coming on pay.

In the hustings for the NEU deputy general secretary election similarly I've consistently explained that we need to organise that kind of a plan. To go out to inspire and explain to our members the action that's going to need to be taken. To make sure that we put in place the steps that can help us to meet the ballot thresholds, with addresses being checked, so that we can return those ballot papers with the maximum turnout that we can.

And I've also said that we need to produce materials for parents and the public to explain why, when the review body says that already a fifth of teachers are leaving the job within the first two years, a third within the first five years, a pay freeze like this will make things even worse and create even more instability in the classroom.

But some of my opponents say: the problem is that Martin underestimates the difficulties ahead of us. He thinks we can win a national ballot very easily. Well actually no, the opposite is the case. I know the hard work that is required to win a national ballot and that's why I'm so frustrated that the preparations haven't been done.

And we cannot delay now. The preparations have to be made so that we can defeat the pay cuts and win the demands that we also have to get rid of performance-related pay; and also to win on workload, a limit on overall hours - all things that are covered by the remit of the STRB and the School Teachers' Pay and Conditions Document.

And last but not least, we also need urgently to bring the unions together to work out a joint plan of action so that we can work together to defend our conditions and our pay and also defend the services that we work in. Let's get on with it, let's not delay.

Martin Powell-Davies, candidate for National Education Union Deputy General Secretary - 21 July 2021

Monday, 5 July 2021

An educators' DGS on an educator's salary

I am standing to be the first elected Deputy General Secretary of the NEU based on the ten clear campaign pledges that I made when I launched my campaign in January. As part of those pledges, I am committing that, if elected, I will accept no more than a teacher's salary for carrying out my role.

A commitment to show I am not standing for personal gain

I have not emphasised this commitment during the campaign so far. I understand that, above all, NEU members will elect a DGS that they believe best provides the clear leadership needed to help defend our jobs, pay and conditions, and education as a whole. Indeed, I am standing in this election because I, and those who have asked me to stand, absolutely believe that my proven record demonstrates that I am that candidate.

However, I have made a commitment to stand on a teacher's salary to demonstrate that I am not standing in this election for personal gain, but solely because I want to help lead this Union against the attacks we face from this Government. 

Staying in touch with the problems members are facing

The question about DGS salary has been asked of the three candidates in a number of recent hustings, particularly from supply members. That's no surprise because if you are a supply teacher being exploited by agency pay rates, a colleague who has perhaps struggled even to be furloughed, and now faces another summer without income, a certain suspicion faced with candidates standing to be paid £88,000 as a trade union leader is perhaps inevitable! 

I am standing to be a DGS on a teacher's salary because I want to be clear to the low-paid supply or support staff member, to the young teacher struggling to pay their rent, to the academy rep angered at the excessive salaries being paid to their CEO, that I am still being paid as I would be as a teacher, and not on what equates to a significant school leadership salary. Indeed, any pay rises I would take would only be the pay awards we manage to win as a Union as a whole under the School Teachers' Pay and Conditions Document.

Donating my additional salary back to the movement

In answer to the question about DGS salary, I have been the only candidate who has made the commitment to be paid on a teacher's salary. 

This is not a commitment that I have made lightly, nor without looking seriously at the financial implications for me personally. As someone with their family home in Kendal, as DGS I would probably need to meet the additional costs of renting somewhere to stay in London. That's important so I can then carry out my role at Union HQ, fully taking part in the informal as well as formal discussions with staff, Executive members and other colleagues. But, as a DGS also with my permanent home outside London, I hope I can also be someone who demonstrates that the Union is not only London-based. I will travel and speak to members across every region and nation.

However, I believe that the role can be - and should be - carried out on a teacher's salary. While the exact pay for the elected DGS post hasn't been released, the job advert for the equivalent appointed NEU DGS listed a salary of £88,000. After tax, NI and other deductions, that equates to a take-home pay of perhaps £4,500 a month. If that's the rate that the staff unions have negotiated for the posts, then I am not asking for that to be changed, meaning other staff colleagues' salaries might be cut. However, as an elected DGS, I pledge to accept only the teacher's salary that I would be entitled to as a UPS3 teacher, taking home perhaps around £2,900 a month. 

If there any unavoidable additional expenses that it turned out in practice could not be fully met within that, such as travel fares, then I would also declare those fully. Obviously, if I am elected to the post, the details can then be confirmed and I commit to publicly sharing the information so that members can see that I am carrying out my election pledge. My commitment is to use as much of the difference in take-home pay as I can - which my initial calculations suggest could be up to £1,600 a month - to donate back to the movement.

Rather than being for personal gain, I would use the difference to support solidarity campaigns and hardship funds and, at least in a small way, to support trade unionists and socialists to be able to counter the arguments put over by those so well-funded by big business who are seeking to cut and privatise education and the rest of our public services.

Friday, 2 July 2021

NAO report shows how Government school funding policies are widening education inequality

The "School Funding in England" Report published today by the National Audit Office (NAO) is further evidence, if it were needed, of the continued squeeze on education funding, particularly for those children and families with the greatest needs. 

Of course, it is exactly those communities that have been hardest hit by the pandemic. Far from helping children "catch up", the NAO Report confirms that Government policy on financing of schools is only widening inequalities in education.

"Funding cannot be 'fair' if it is not sufficient"

The NAO's 2021 Report follows five years on from another important Report that the NAO released in 2016 on the "Financial Sustainability of Schools", written at a time when the damage being caused by school cuts was being highlighted by the education unions. 

As I blogged at the time, "the attempts by the Tories to cover up these cuts by using a new 'National Funding Formula' to redistribute spending from some areas to others should fool nobody". As the NUT's Press Release stated, "far from being the levelling up that some councils and heads have demanded, this is a levelling down ... funding cannot be ‘fair’ if it is not sufficient". These warnings have been confirmed, five years on, by today's new National Audit Office report.

First of all, the NAO confirm that between 2014-15 and 2020-21, funding per pupil for schools was more or less frozen - increasing only by 0.4% overall in real terms. The funding per sixth-form student has been particularly severe, falling by 11.4% in real terms. 

But within that effectively standstill budget, the implementation of a "national funding formula" has, just as unions warned, meant a redistribution of an insufficient overall budget away from schools previously better funded on the basis of the greater needs of their school population.

The NAO Report finds that: "Between 2017-18 and 2020-21, average per-pupil funding for the most deprived fifth of schools fell in real terms by 1.2% to £5,177; over the same period, average per‑pupil funding for the least deprived fifth increased by 2.9% to £4,471".

The Report is also clear in its finding that "the Department has shifted the balance of funding from relatively deprived parts of the country towards less deprived areas".

Schools have been forced to cut posts

And the NAO confirms that over the five years since their last Report, schools have been forced by inadequate funding to make cuts. With staff costs being by far the greatest call on any school budget, those "savings" have inevitably been made through jobs being cut. Job losses also inevitably mean more pressure on those staff remaining and more children without their needs being fully met.

The NAO Report that the DfE's own estimates show that, "between 2015-16 and 2019-20, cost pressures on mainstream schools exceeded funding increases by £2.2 billion, mainly because of rising staff costs. Teaching staff costs increased by an estimated £3.6 billion (17%) between 2015-16 and 2020-21, because of rises in teachers’ pay costs and higher pension and national insurance costs". This, of course, at a time when real-terms pay was being cut for staff!

The Report also highlights the particular pressure on the lack of adequate funding for SEND, reporting that "Another significant cost pressure on mainstream schools is supporting the increased proportion of pupils with education, health and care plans. This cost grew by around £650 million between 2015-16 and 2020-21". Again, of course, this is a pressure that will fall unevenly on schools, and Local Authorities, serving pupils with the greatest needs.

The cuts will continue - unless we organise

The NAO Report does suggest that, based on reported DfE plans, there could finally be real-terms increases in school budgets between 2020-21 and 2022‑23. However, there is every reason to expect that this austerity-minded Government will seek to continue the funding squeeze, particularly given the costs that have fallen on the Treasury as a result of the Covid crisis.

For example, the Report points out how the change in calculating 'pupil premium' allocations, basing them on the preceding October census instead of the January figures, has also meant that "stakeholders have highlighted that ... schools will receive less pupil premium than they would have done, directly affecting disadvantaged pupils".

It's also worth noting that the Report states that "self-generated income has amounted to around £3 billion per year (equivalent to around 7% of core funding)". This again shows how schools are being forced by an "education market" to sell services and rent facilities - rather than being a free resource for their local community.  The pandemic has also left sectors particularly reliant on funding generation, such as Early Years, particularly exposed. 

The NAO also cast considerable doubt on the Government's claims that schools have had the funding needed to meet the additional costs of trying to make schools and students "Covid-safe". They point out that "the stakeholders we consulted told us, based on the Education Policy Institute’s work and their own research, that the funding provided by the Department
was insufficient to meet the costs arising from the pandemic".

As it is, it's worth remembering that the UK has some of the largest numbers in school classes globally, especially in primary schools. That is bound to have been a contributory factor to the rate of viral transmission in our schools. It will remain a significant factor in undermining education in future. We need a major investment in education, not just a minor temporary increase in real-terms funding.

In conclusion, the NAO Report shows again that the issue of school funding is a critical one for the NEU and the parents and students in our school communities. We will need to go out once again to our communities, on stalls and on the school gates, to explain to parents and fellow trade unionists why this Government threatens all of our children's futures - but particularly those with the greatest needs.

Monday, 28 June 2021

Some more questions to a DGS candidate - support staff and the voice of members in the NEU

Following a further hustings for NEU members in Wales, held on 23 June, I have been asked to respond to two additional questions. For transparency, I am sharing my responses below.

If you are interested in watching the speeches and responses from all three DGS candidates at the 23 June meetings, the Zoom recording has been posted here:

Q: Where do you think Support staff fit into the educational landscape in the future? Do you think that Support staff are viewed differently since the pandemic and not as previously described as "paint pot washers" or "playtime helpers"? Do you feel proud to have support staff stand beside you as members of the NEU?

Firstly, I would want every NEU member to strongly challenge any colleague who demonstrates such an insulting attitude to Support Staff colleagues. Support Staff play an essential role in the work of every classroom and every educational institution, as essential a role as all other members of the staff team. Sadly, however, it is these members who suffer the lowest pay-rates, including too often term-time only pay, are pressurised into taking on duties outside their contracted duties, and are often the first to be targeted when schools look to 'restructure' in order to meet the demands of the education cuts being imposed by the Westminster Government.

If anyone doubts the role of support staff, I would draw their attention to the April 2021 Report published by the UCL/Institute of Education about the "unsung heroes of the pandemic". It focussed on the work of TAs, although, of course, support staff posts encompass a much wider range of roles as well.

The UCL report concluded that "our research reveals how essential TAs are to the day-to-day running of schools. This is true in more normal times as well as during a pandemic. If we are to build a more resilient education system going forward, then their voices need to be heard. The unique understanding and clear view of what matters most within their communities, which they have gained from working on the frontline, should be respected and recognised". While this was research funded by Unison, it's a message that should be emphasised across the education unions.

Increasing numbers of support staff members are choosing to join the NEU because they believe we can provide the campaigning strength to represent their needs. I certainly feel proud to have them alongside me, and all colleagues, as members of the NEU. One of the chief strengths of coming together as the NEU is that we could then start to build a stronger, genuinely all-educator Union, bringing together all staff across the workplace. However, as things stand, the TUC Agreement means that we still can’t ‘actively’ recruit support staff – nor are we recognised for collective bargaining purposes at local nor national level.

NEU Conference agreed to instruct the Executive to review this Agreement and, as DGS, I’d want to make sure that was done with urgency. We need to say to our UNISON, GMB and UNITE colleagues that having our voice at the table will strengthen all our hands – and that support staff colleagues need to be able to openly choose the union that they think fights best for them – whichever it is – and that we work jointly as unions to protect education and Support Staff pay, jobs and conditions together.

Finally, their place in the educational landscape of the future depends on how strongly and successfully we can organise that fight. If we are to succeed in delivering our vision of fully-funded, genuinely comprehensive education that meets the needs of every learner, then support staff will very much be part of the future of education. 

Support staff will be vital as essential support to learners - and the teacher - in the classroom, as mentors and help to those with specific needs, as lunchtime supervisors, cleaners, catering and office staff and, of course, as staff carrying out a wide range of essential administrative and other functions within the workplace. However, if we fail to do so, then support staff will continue to face low pay, 'job creep' and job cuts.

That's why I am standing to be a DGS with the experience, commitment and campaigning record needed to strengthen our leadership team so that we can make sure it is our vision that is implemented, not that of the Westminster government.

Q: Since the amalgamation of ATL and NUT the voice of certain sections of education has diminished drastically: namely education leaders, post 16, especially FE, and the clear voice of Wales. What strategies would you implement to stop any further loss of voice, and possibly members for these sectors, and the needs of devolved nations, especially Wales.

I'd like to thank the member for raising their concern that they feel that the voice of these sections of the union has diminished. In a union the size of the NEU, covering members from different nations, regions, and educational sectors, there is inevitably a risk that some voices will feel they are not being heard. As DGS, I would remind both staff and Executive members that, in all our work, careful attention must be made to making sure that all voices feel they are being heard and included in the union's activities.

To make sure we are hearing the voice of different sectors, I pledged in my "Manifesto for Wales" that I will work to ensure that the whole Union is a genuinely “lay-led Union”, by encouraging thriving Local Districts, workplace rep and member networks. As DGS, I would provide committed leadership that emphasised the importance of building those thriving structures, rooted in the experiences and needs of NEU members in the workplace, but, just as importantly, I would be a DGS that ensured the issues and concerns being raised were heard and acted upon".

Similarly, I made the pledge at the June 23rd Wales hustings that "I would be a DGS who make sure the Union continues to build our networks of, for example, supply members, support staff and young educators - and acts on the specific concerns they face". I would, of course, extend that approach to the sectors referred to in the question. 

Specifically, as someone who has been working for the last year within the FE sector, I am aware of the particular pressures of funding and curriculum change, as well as the need to work collaboratively alongside other unions, notably the UCU, which the union needs to pay attention to by listening to the voice of post-16 members. 

In terms of NEU leadership members, as I have stated in a number of hustings, then they can play a very important role in arguing for and supporting the implementation of union policies - not least on curriculum. However, again, the particular pressures on them, not least when faced with managing funding cuts, needs to be better addressed, supporting Heads to work with the Union to campaign for Trusts and Local Authorities to work with us in demanding additional funding rather than putting pressure on Heads simply to manage unacceptable cuts.

In terms of the voice of members in Wales, I have written in an answer to a previous question from a NEU Cymru member that:

"In electing me, you will have a DGS who listens and takes account of different points of view and who recognises the need to go out to engage many members not involved in the Union. This commitment, of course, applies to educators across the Union but certainly to educators in Wales who are working in a devolved system which differs in some important ways from England. In listening to the experiences of educators in Wales, the Union also needs to ensure that it exchanges those experiences with colleagues from the rest of the Union, and, indeed, vice versa. In that way, lessons that may be learned on, say, curriculum changes in Wales, or, for example, on SEN/ALN issues in England, can be shared to best effect.

Fundamentally, of course, educators across the whole Union face the same pressures of funding cuts and excessive workload and these over-arching campaigns must be fought union-wide, bringing together educators from every nation. As DGS, I will strive to ensure that Union policy is written in a way that is applicable to educators across the Union to facilitate such united campaigning. I would also want to remind the various policy and campaigns teams at Head Office that the particular context of Wales is also always remembered in their work and proposals.

Practically, as a DGS committed to listening to the voices of members, it goes without saying that I will make myself available to speak to members in Wales both in person and through online conferencing. For example, I would be very happy to speak to, and discuss with, members at the Wales Council and NEU Cymru Conference. I would also hold regular "meet with Martin" calls where members could raise issues with me directly as DGS.

However, I believe that the key to making sure the voices of Welsh educators are heard, and, indeed, to ensure that the whole Union is genuinely “a lay-led Union” in practice, is to have thriving Local Districts, workplace rep and member networks. As DGS, my commitment would be, firstly, to provide leadership that emphasised the importance of building those structures, rooted in the experiences and needs of NEU members in the workplace, and, secondly, to make sure the issues and concerns being raised were heard and acted upon by the Union.

District meetings need to be well advertised, regularly held, and built for, with discussion topics that will attract members. The agendas should make sure workplace reps are given a voice and, at the same time, a direction to address the issues they are facing. For example, I would be keen to discuss further whether the possibility of a campaign around a "National Contract for Wales", seeking negotiations with the Welsh Government on key demands around pay, workload and staffing, might be one that would build interest and support.

I know that supply members have already done important work in Wales. This provides an example of how networks can be built bringing together educators facing particular issues for the Union, for example, as well as supply educators, support staff, women and young educators.

As DGS, I would commit to helping NEU Cymru in building in this way, and to discuss with Executive members and NEU Cymru what resources and staffing might be needed. Through such an approach, I hope NEU Cymru would grow and be strengthened and the voice of Welsh educators more clearly heard, not just by me as DGS, but within Local Districts, within the Union as a whole and, of course, by both the Welsh and Westminster governments"