Thursday, December 13, 2012

NUT Executive calls for action on pay - but no firm strike plans agreed

Today's meeting of the NUT National Executive met to discuss how we respond to Michael Gove's threats to make all teachers' pay rates dependent on performance.

From the beginning of our dispute over Teachers’ Pay and Working Conditions - with our ballot results clearly supporting both strike action and non-strike action - we knew that the School Teacher’s Review Body was likely to worsen arrangements for teachers’ pay. That's why this term's campaign to get the best possible appraisal and observation policies in place has been so important - because, it's now clear that, from next September, Gove wants those often harsh and arbitrary 'performance' gradings to be used to limit teachers' pay.

Now we know that, not only has Michael Gove and the Review Body failed to address our demand that there should not be “any further restriction on increases in the pay of school teachers”, he has accepted a series of proposals that threaten the pay progression and pay levels of every teacher. In fact, he has threatened 'war' on teachers in a clear attempt to take on, and undermine, the teaching unions in order to push through cuts and privatisation. 

Given the seriousness of these attacks, and the damage that they will inflict on education, I argued strongly that the Executive had a responsibility to organise an urgent and significant campaign of publicity and action to defeat these proposals. The campaign would require a careful explanation of these threats to both our members and the public. However, we could be confident that we will generate strong support for the Union’s clear case against the injustice and division caused by performance pay and in defence of national pay scales.

Today’s Executive agreed that we had to oppose Gove’s attacks on pay, backed up by a survey of NUT members that already showed an overwhelming rejection of his proposals.

We agreed to hold protests, meetings and rallies to build the campaign against these attacks. But, although we agreed to continue to talk with the NASUWT about the need for strike action next term, no firm plans were suggested and, for now, we are still just ‘building towards’ that action. I think that this lack of urgency was a mistake and, unless corrected quickly, it could be a very serious one.

When you’re being attacked and having to decide under pressure how best to force back your opponent, then there are bound to be disagreements about the best strategy to employ. There were certainly some clear differences of opinion voiced in the debate about how to respond to Gove’s attacks.

A majority on the Executive were wary about committing to calling strike action at this stage, arguing that we shouldn’t rush into a ‘knee-jerk’ response. It was argued that, if we couldn’t yet be sure of members’ views, we shouldn’t be provoked by Gove into hasty action.

I argued that we needed to have a much greater sense of urgency and needed to call on the NASUWT to work with us in calling action in the first half-term after Christmas. After all, we have a live ballot that can sanction strike action and our survey results didn’t only show opposition to Gove - they also showed overwhelming support for strike action too.

My proposal, seconded by Heather McKenzie from Hertfordshire, called on the Executive to go beyond just ‘building towards strike action in the Spring Term’ but to:

* instruct our negotiating team to urgently approach the NASUWT to seek their agreement for both unions to give notice for a first day of national strike action to take place no later than the first week of February 2013.

* call a special meeting of the Executive on January 10 2013 to agree on the date that will be called for a first day of national strike action and to consider further dates that could form part of our calendar of action.

In proposing, I made clear that, yes, we needed to go out and explain our case to the public, but that we should be confident that, in a choice between Gove and teachers, most of the public will back our campaign. I agreed that, yes, we had to go all out to visit schools and hold rallies to build support for action. But, I argued, timing was critical.

We need time to go out and explain our case, but we haven’t got unlimited time. Gove wants to complete initial consultation by January 5th (!) and then rush through legislative changes to impose these changes in time for September. If we wait too long, members will lose heart and think that, together with pensions, this is a ‘done deal’ that unions cannot defeat.

But there’s no reason to delay or to lack confidence in our ability to defeat these proposals. There is already seething anger against these attacks. From their own experience of bullying, targets and observations, teachers know only too well how Gove’s plans will demoralise and divide schools. If we simply retreat to fight localised battles to try and win acceptable pay policies school-by-school, as some seemed to be suggesting, then we will leave most teachers isolated and bullied and union reps drowning in pay appeals and grievances.

Under perhaps Gove’s most unpopular proposal, those teachers who are bullied out of their posts will now probably find that they have to accept a substantial pay cut to get a new job.

Of course, our battle will be easier to fight if we have others unions as allies. The PCS will be hoping to co-ordinate national action nearer Easter but we need to get our action underway before then. Joint strike action alongside the NASUWT will certainly strengthen our campaign – but are the NASUWT leadership prepared to call action before it is too late?

While some argued that we were rashly writing-off the NASUWT, what we were actually proposing was simply that we concretely approach the NASUWT with the suggestion of action next half-term and then return to an emergency NUT National Executive to discuss if there was a real prospect of joint action. If not, then we would then have to decide whether we called action alone this side of the half-term break. We could also then have continued the urgent discussion of what programme of action should follow an initial day’s strike.

Regrettably, after debate, my proposal was lost by 28 votes to 13*. 

Many NUT members will be disappointed and angered that no firmer plans have yet been set. School groups and Local Associations will now need to urgently step up the pressure so that the next meeting of the NUT National Executive on January 24th can be in no doubt about the demands from teachers for a firm programme of strike action. The Local Associations National Action Campaign will need to play an important role in co-ordinating that grass-roots campaign.

Gove’s attacks can – and must – be defeated. If union Executives can’t act to give confidence to their members to fight, then union members will need to act to give confidence to their Executives – both in the NUT and NASUWT.

* The 13 votes in favour were: Bater, Bowser, Grant, Harvey, Hudson, King, Leaver, Lemon, Lyon-Taylor, McKenzie, Murphy, Powell-Davies and Pryce with Alex Kenny abstaining and Joseph and Frost absent from the meeting.

Support our campaign to defend education

A firm campaign is vital to defend teachers from bullying attacks on their pay, morale and workload - but it is also vital to defend education. Performance pay will damage education, dividing and bullying staff and enforcing even more 'teaching to the test'.

But this isn't the only attack from Gove that we are opposing. These are some of the other campaigns that the National Executive discussed ( see further information on NUT website ):

Give Every Child a Chance - Don’t rush to the English Baccalaureate – NUT/NAHT joint campaign

To sign our joint petition go to The campaign petition was launched on Friday 7 December with NAHT colleagues. It is also supported by the Musicians' Union and Equity and key political and academic figures.

GCSE grading case at the High Court

On Tuesday 11 December the NUT joined head teachers, councils and members of the other leading teaching unions outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London, for the start of the judicial review of the decisions of exam boards AQA and Edexcel and the exam regulator Ofqual. An outcome is expected next week.

Watering down of School Premises Regulations

A significant deregulation of protection for teachers’ working conditions - and pupils' learning conditions - took place at the end of October 2012.  

This is of particular concern in London, where these changes will aid Mayor Boris Johnson's plans to solve the pupil place shortage by opening privatised 'free schools' in unsuitable premises.

The changes include:
  • Removal of the regulation specifying that staff toilets must be separate from pupil toilets.
  • No requirement for a room in which staff can gather ‘for work and social purposes’. 
  • No minimum ratios of toilets to pupils based on age. 
  • Removal of minimum temperature requirements for classrooms (18°C), sick rooms (21°C) and gymnasia (15°C).  
  • UPDATE: It is also worth noting that academies and free schools are not covered by the new School Premises (England) Regulations 2012.  This was due to change in January 2013, but as of December 2012, there has been no DfE announcement.  Currently, academies are covered by the Education (Independent School Standards) (England) Regulations) 2003, which, on the subject of toilet provision, state only that there must be “sufficient washrooms for staff and pupils, including facilities for pupils with special needs, taking account of the Education (School Premises) Regulations 1999”, which, of course, are no longer in force.

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