Thursday, January 31, 2013

Time is running short - call national strike action!

The article below is from the latest Classroom Teacher bulletin. A copy can be downloaded from:

UNLESS WE TAKE NATIONAL STRIKE ACTION SOON, Gove will have won his ‘war’ on teachers without teaching unions even having put up a serious fight. Teachers face losing thousands of pounds from our pay, and from our career-average pensions, as cash-strapped schools refuse teachers pay-rises. Demoralisation will get even worse as managers pick-and-choose who gets what, and impose even harsher demands and targets on us.  

Keep up the pressure on the Executive
Time is running dangerously short to force Gove back. That’s why the NUT National Executive’s decision NOT to call a first day of national strike action on 13 March will have been a disappointment to many teachers. But the narrow margin of the vote – with 20 votes in favour and just 22 against – shows that the pressure from classroom teachers IS having an effect. It’s now vital that, in every region of the country, NUT members apply even more pressure on their Executive members to vote for the urgent campaign of strike action that we need. That same pressure also needs to be applied inside the NASUWT too.


“The time to sit back has to end”
The official NUT press release following the National Executive meeting rightly stated that “Michael Gove must understand that unless this onslaught against teachers’ pay, pensions and working conditions stops then strike action is inevitable. Teachers do not take strike action lightly but when the profession is being torn apart by a Government whose reforms have little to do with standards, or evidence, then the time to sit back has to end”. That’s true but, for now, teachers are still being told to sit back!”. The February NUT Executive MUST call action!  

National action needs to to start THIS term
A programme of national action really needs to start before Easter. Action at the end of the summer term alone will surely be too late to force Gove into retreating from his damaging threats, or, at the very least, into making some concessions to teaching unions. By then, the legislation will have already been agreed by Parliament. Governing Bodies will already be meeting to discuss how to implement the plans for September. By then, some schools will be deciding which teachers will receive a 1% annual increase, and who will receive nothing at all. Some will start to make pay decisions based on THIS year’s appraisal targets – blocking pay progression for teachers from September 2013. If we’re not careful, teachers will have concluded that the battle’s over before it’s really started !

Follow action in March with further strikes 
Teachers are practical people. It will be tough to lose pay on strike days but, if we can force Gove back, we’ll save so much more! But, a one-day ‘protest’ strike won’t be enough; we need an ongoing programme of action. At school meetings, Reps’ Briefings, and NUT Conference, teachers will want to debate what, when and ‘how often?’ At the 300-strong London NUT Briefing, there was a lot of applause given to reps who proposed escalating from an initial one-day action to a further 48-hour strike next term. Whatever is agreed, teachers need to start preparing now by putting away some cash to pay for the strikes to come and building hardship funds to help those who can’t do so.

Teachers will support action - if unions give a lead
The London NUT Briefing voted unanimously for national strike action. Last year’s legal ballot - and subsequent internal surveys - have also backed national action. Of course, the mood isn’t even across all schools and all regions; that’s inevitable. But we have no shortage of arguments to give to both teachers and parents to explain why Gove, in general, and PRP, in particular, has to be opposed. It’s high time unions started getting those arguments out to their members and building for action!  

How long can we wait for the NASUWT?
By that narrow majority, the NUT Executive voted to delay calling action and to wait to see if further discussions with the NASUWT could produce a joint plan of action. But how much longer can the NUT wait? And are the NASUWT prepared to sanction more than just a one-day protest? If the NASUWT won’t act quickly enough, then the NUT will have to act without them to start with - just as happened in June 2011 over pensions. If the NUT calls action on March 20, then it’s very likely that, as in 2011, it can co-ordinate with PCS members taking national action too.

NUT Executive meets again on February 28
Time is now dangerously short, but pressure from below has been having an effect. Further pressure can make sure that the next NUT National Executive meeting on February 28 finally calls national action. The future of education, and of union organisation, is at stake. Gove is out to wreck education and rip apart our national pay and conditions. But the stakes are too high to get downhearted by the continued delays. NUT members, reps and Local Associations must demand that a serious programme of action is called before it is too late.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

New tricks from the old guard

It had been many years since I tasted any beer from  3 Fonteinen. Once upon a time it was one of the top lambic houses in Belgium and then in 2009 disaster struck when a faulty thermostat destroyed about a year's worth of stock. And unlike most beers, with lambic you can't simply throw together a replacement batch and have it on sale in a few weeks. The company became a blendery, though plans have been hatched to start distilling and brewing once again.

Recently, the missus brought a bottle of 3 Fonteinen Doesjel back from Brussels. This is a blend of 1, 2 and 3-year old lambic and I'm guessing it dates from the post-catastrophe era. It's 6% ABV and a lovely orange-gold colour. The first surprise is in the aroma: sour, of course, but there's a distinct and intriguing sweetness too. On tasting this unfolds into a juicy, pithy jaffa flavour backed by a mild, short-lived, tang of sour funkiness. An odd combination for an old lambic and one that left me feeling something was missing. I expected bigger sourness and perhaps some old wood. Instead, the fruit flavours put me in mind of Cantillon's Iris, except it's nowhere near as good as Cantillon's Iris. Disappointing, in short.

From one first-string gueuzerie to another. You wouldn't have thought one of the most po-faced and serious of the lambic breweries might produce something as frivilous as this garishly-labelled beer. Yet here it is: Framboise Girardin. Proper grown-up lambic, with raspberries.

From the half champagne bottle it looks gorgeous, a crystalline blood red. The aroma is pure raspberry: sweet without a hint of sourness. Nothing sugary when you taste it, though. The raspberry is still present in a big way, but it's the dry crispness of raspberry seeds. You can just about tell there's a sour beer underneath -- a bit of an acid burn in the nostrils and the faintest catch at the back of the palate -- but otherwise it's all about the raspberries, while avoiding any trace of sugary sickliness. It's the sort of beer that reminds me why people thought of putting fruit in lambic in the first place, and makes me wonder why more of them aren't better at achieving this kind of balance.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Lobby the NUT Executive on February 27

At a General Meeting held last night, described by Betty Joseph, the NUT Executive member present, as "very angry indeed", Hackney NUT became the fourth London NUT Association, so far, to back the call for a Lobby of the NUT Executive on Wednesday, February 27th - the evening before the full National Executive meets again to discuss the action we will be taking to stop Gove's Performance Pay plans. 

To download a copy of the leaflet, go to the Lewisham NUT website,

Monday, January 28, 2013

Can't see the sap for the trees

The claim on the back to be brewed with "a glimmer of Canadian maple" is a bit of an enigmatic one. I can't help thinking that the word "syrup" got cut from the copy at the last minute. As is, Holt's of Manchester leave it up to us to decide whether it's twigs, bark or something else in their Maplemoon "mystical maple ale".

It looks lovely: a deep clear amber. The aroma is less impressive, vaguely sticky smelling dark malt and a significant carbonic bite, made even more disappointing by the promise of Cascade on the label. Fortunately it's not overly sweet, sticky, heavy or fizzy on tasting, but it's not much else either. The flavour is a short-lived one-dimensional mix of biscuit and dark fruit -- think garibaldis or similar -- and there's nothing as exotic as maple syrup, or Cascade hops for that matter.

Perfectly drinkable, then, but not as interesting as Holt's would like you to think.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

London NUT members call for action

It needed to be an important event to pull a trade unionist away from Lewisham this weekend - but I left over 20,000 others to march to defend our hospital!

Young and old march to save the NHS in Lewisham
However, as an NUT Executive member facing a critical moment in our campaign to stop Gove's plans to rip apart our national pay scales, I had to be in Stoke Rochford for the NUT's London weekend, which gathered together around 70 local officers and reps to debate how to build the Union and its campaigns.

The original agenda of the weekend, now an annual event, was focused on how to strengthen our organisation of the 50,000-plus NUT members in the Union's strongest region. Important plans were developed to train and consolidate school reps, to make links to support Local Associations across the capital, to pursue Union recognition in Academies, to publicise the damage being caused by Tory education policies - including the free school plans of Mayor Johnson - and more. However, all of these discussions was understandably overshadowed by the debate around the PRP campaign - and the regrettable failure of the Executive to vote for strike action on March 13.

All six London NUT Executive members had voted for that March 13 action but strong criticism was voiced by many reps at the decision, by a small majority of the National Executive, to continue to delay setting a first date for national strike action. Other reps were less sure as to how their members would respond to the news from the Executive - but were left with a lot of food for thought to discuss back in their Local Associations.

Some reps were critical of the lack of information that was being circulated to members to explain Gove's attacks. Many took copies of the materials that had been produced and circulated by Lewisham NUT ( posted on the Lewisham NUT website: ).  

These Lewisham materials included a model leaflet for parents. Plans were proposed for joint days of action where we circulate materials to the public of London - both at the school-gates and in our local shopping areas.

A few reps were hopeful that the NASUWT would agree to joint action and our campaign could then be put back on track. However, I warned that a joint one-day strike late in the summer term could too easily be seen by teachers as 'too little, too late'. If we were to show teachers that we were seriously seeking to force Gove back, it was vital to take action THIS term. 

I called on London Associations to back the call for the National Executive meeting on February 28th to call a national strike on Budget Day, March 20th, hopefully co-ordinating with the PCS union who may also take national action on the day.

This was backed by several other Local Association officers. For example, Kash Mallick from Redbridge, making clear that he had no affiliation to any party or 'bloc' within the Union, angrily questioned why the National Executive couldn't see that all these plans for Union organisation would be ripped to shreds if teachers were divided and beaten down by performance-pay.

London teachers are obviously not alone in expressing this anger. A report posted on the LANAC website ( ) confirms that NUT reps at the Regional briefing in Leeds on Saturday voted unanimously to ask the National Executive to overturn their decision and call a national strike on March 20.

In discussions with me, some questioned whether I could seriously expect the Executive to vote for action on March 20 when they had just voted down action on March 13 ? However, I explained that pressure from classroom teachers was already having an effect, and we had to keep up that pressure between now and the next Executive. We had no choice but to demand that the Union enacts the campaign that was needed to defend pay, conditions and education - before it was too late.

To help keep up that pressure, Lewisham NUT are calling for support for a Lobby of the NUT Executive, meeting outside NUT HQ in Hamilton House, WC1H 9BD, on Wednesday February 27th at 5pm. 

'Outstanding' teachers speak:

Tim Woodcock, Greenwich NUT Secretary, read out some comments from his colleagues that reveal the low morale of teachers - before Gove's plans make things even worse:

"If your card is marked they will find fault with your lessons. This is not fair but I have seen it happen. We would not treat children with such a lack of respect".

"I love teaching and the pupils are great. I am prepared to work hard but I no longer have a life outside school. I cannot see how I can do this much longer. I have been a teacher for four years".

"I used to walk into every class in my department most days to talk to teachers and the pupils, check how they were doing. I have stopped because it is seriously affecting my relationship with teachers who are constantly worried they are being mentored or judged. Yet all of their lessons are good or outstanding"

"I do not know what outstanding means anymore; it does not mean to innovate, because to innovate you need to take risks. I can no longer take risks because I need to follow the OFSTED criteria".

... and finally,

"I wanted to be a teacher all my life. I am leaving at the end of term. I have no job!"

.. and before any critics wonder if these are teachers that are just 'not up to the job', Tim pointed out, these quotes all come from teachers deemed to be 'outstanding' ...   

Friday, January 25, 2013

Act before disappointment washes away determination

I was in a Lewisham school all day today to support NUT members going through a restructuring. One of them, Alanna, before discussing her own individual position, wanted me to know that she had sent a letter to the NUT Executive on Wednesday to call on us to support strike action.

The letter's copied below. It's not in the language of an 'activist' - Alanna isn't one. She's just a typically dedicated teacher expecting her Union to give a lead to defend education.

On hearing the news from yesterday's NUT Executive, Alanna is a deeply disappointed teacher. 

Time is running very short to mount a serious fight against Gove and his PRP plans - if we leave it much longer, that disappointment will wash away teachers' determination to defend education. No more delays - we have to take action!

" I was taught to teach by many wonderful and brilliant people. All were different and from many walks of life, from old to young; teacher to learner. I chose to become a teacher myself because I wanted to inspire and encourage young people to utilise or even exceed their potential.

The jaded and overwhelmed youth of South East London often, on their own, cannot see past the ends of their noses. The moment is magical when eyes open to appreciate and understand the world that surrounds them. The essential approach to achieving this moment is that this inspiration and motivation is delivered from a relaxed and secure educator who is able to themselves be inspired.

I strongly believe, because of pressures and regimes placed upon our educators of today, these wonderful and brilliant people are often too preoccupied with stress, feelings of insecurity and thoughts of an unstable future to be able to focus upon their priorities as educators.

Therefore, I offer my whole-hearted support for the continuing action against the damaging, uneducated and poorly thought-out whims that this Government spews.

We must continue the fight for our educators. After all, this is the fight for our learners too ".

Thursday, January 24, 2013

NUT Executive narrowly votes against strike action in March

This report will meet with considerable disappointment – and not a little anger – from NUT members waiting to hear the outcome of the discussions at today’s National Executive. Regrettably, and after a long debate, the Executive voted narrowly against a proposal to call a first day of national strike action, to oppose Gove’s plans to impose performance-related pay, on Wednesday March 13.

Keep up the pressure  on the Executive !

The 300 London teachers that packed into the vibrant meeting in the same Mander Hall at NUT Headquarters just a few days ago would have been taken aback by some of the pessimism permeating some of the speeches opposing the call for action this term. However, the narrow margin of the vote – with 20 votes in favour and just 22 against – shows that the pressure from classroom teachers IS having an effect. Rather than getting downhearted, it’s now time to apply even more pressure on National Executive members to vote for the campaign of strike action that we need.

The official NUT press release following the meeting rightly states that “Michael Gove must understand that unless this onslaught against teachers’ pay, pensions and working conditions stops then strike action is inevitable. Teachers do not take strike action lightly but when the profession is being torn apart by a Government whose reforms have little to do with standards, or evidence, then the time to sit back has to end”. Unfortunately, teachers may well say after today, “but we’re still being told to sit back!”.

Go for March 13 - or delay once again?

The timing of action was at the centre of today’s debate. Those of us supporting a national strike on March 13, which would have allowed the NUT to take action as part of the European TUC’s day of international action against austerity, tried to explain why we had to start action THIS term. After all, December’s NUT Executive had voted unanimously to build for strike action in this spring term!

Action at the end of the summer term alone will be too late to force Gove into retreating from his damaging threats, or, at the very least, into making some concessions to teaching unions. By then, the final legislation will have already been agreed by Parliament. Governing Bodies will already be meeting to discuss how to implement the plans for September. 

By then, some schools, as NEOST, the employers’ organisation have mooted, will be deciding which teachers will receive a 1% annual increase, and which will receive nothing at all. NEOST also makes clear that they think Gove may insist that governors start to make pay decisions based on THIS year’s appraisal targets – blocking pay progression for teachers from September 2013. If we’re not careful, teachers will have concluded that the battle’s over before it’s really started!

How long can we wait for the NASUWT?

Another point of difference was around how much longer we could wait for the NASUWT to confirm that they would be prepared to take national strike action alongside us. Max Hyde, proposing the unsuccessful objection, with Heather McKenzie from Hertfordshire seconding, argued that we couldn’t delay further when we still had no firm commitment from the NASUWT. After all, as Max’s proposal stated, our membership surveys suggest that NUT members were – give or take a few percentage points - as ready to act alone as with the NASUWT. However, by that narrow majority, the Executive voted to wait to see what further discussions could bring and, as the NUT press release states, “We expect to make further announcements on our next course of action next month.”

Regrettably, that means that, for now, another opportunity has been lost to build the kind of pressure that could still force Gove to retreat.
Mandy Hudson, the Executive member elected from the Disabled Member Constituency, pointed out that "it's true that getting the NUT and NASUWT out together would mean 9 out of every 10 teachers on strike, but, right now, we've got 0 / 10 teachers taking action!". As Ian Leaver from Leicester asked, “what are the reps’ briefings over the next few weeks going to be for? They should be used to mobilise for action, not just canvass opinion”. 

Time for the Executive to give a lead

The final main issue in the debate was that judgement about member ‘opinion’. All of the six London Executive members, reflecting the mood of that London rally, voted for the March action. Others, including some elected from the ‘Left’ in the CDFU group, struck a far more pessimistic tone, arguing that there was little mood for action. Jerry Glazier, from the ‘Broadly Speaking’ group argued that we must prepare for a long battle with strikes up to the general election. But, as I countered, this sounded like some kind of ‘political strike’ to support the Labour Party (and what difference will Twigg really make?). Teachers aren’t making those kind of political calculations, they want to know what’s going to happen to their pay and conditions by this September!

The evidence from the internal surveys and from most members’ meetings simply doesn’t justify this pessimism. Of course, the mood isn’t even across all schools and all regions; that’s inevitable. But, as I argued, a serious leadership should be confident that, in six weeks, we could build a strong national strike in March. We had no shortage of arguments to give to both teachers and parents to explain why Gove, in general, and PRP, in particular, had to be opposed. Instead of further delay, we had to go out and make those arguments and build action in March! 

As after December’s Executive, the conclusion NUT members need to draw from today’s debate is that, if the Executive haven’t got the confidence to give a lead to NUT members, then NUT members will have to give confidence to the NUT Executive to give that lead and call national action!

Time is dangerously short - pile pressure on the NUT Executive before we meet again on Feb 28

Time is now dangerously short, but pressure from below has been having an effect. Further pressure can make sure that the next NUT National Executive meeting on February 28th finally calls national action. That action could still start this term, perhaps even on the same day that the PCS are considering taking national action if their ballot is successful, around March 20th. Today’s close vote will also send a signal to the NASUWT that they cannot continue to prevaricate either and that, unless they want to haemorrhage support, they must also come out in support of national strike action.

The future of education, and of trade union organisation, is at stake. Gove is out to wreck education and rip apart our national pay and conditions. Today’s vote is a setback. Time is running short. But the stakes are too high to get downhearted. NUT members, reps and Local Associations - supported by LANAC, the Local Associations National Action Campaign, must pile on the pressure on their Executive members, particularly on those who voted against action in March today, and demand that a serious programme of action is called before it is too late. 

UPDATE: A London NUT member has created an online petition calling on the Executive to vote for action. You can sign via:

Canal hopping

One of the things that makes Amsterdam a great place for drinking beer is its compactness. Time it right and you can do a very efficient pub crawl through the western city centre with minimal walking between top quality beers. I had a couple of days of bimbling on my last visit so didn't hit all of what follows in one session. But if I had, it would have looked like this:

Starting off at the top of the town and In De Wildeman, the charmingly down-at-heel hostelry famed for the variety of its beer offerings. Left Hand's Stranger was a new one on me: a decent fist of an American pale ale, being quite heavy and possessing a solid, toffeeish malt backbone. The flavour begins with a firm bitter smack, then introduces some lovely oily orange notes. It's a beer with a big flavour, but deftly balanced. For something a bit more outré, there was Sauer Power, a Germano-American collaboration between Freigeist and Jester King. It's the cloudy gold of a witbier and mixes in some quite acrid smoke with saisonish yeast spice and a mouth-watering, tongue-pinching sourness. Interesting up to a point, but the aftertaste leaves a burnt plastic residue which spoiled the experiment for me.

Another round? All right then. The missus opted for Samaranth 12, a very strong dark one by Urthel. This wears its 11.5% ABV right up front, with heady boozy vapours winding seductively out of it. The flavour has a little of the sweet honey of Irish whiskey and even sweeter amaretti biscuits. It's smooth and amazingly not overly hot, but one glass is plenty. More or less randomly, I chose Troubadour Westkust, a 9.2% ABV black IPA. Wow. The nose is pure Fry's Turkish Delight, starting with milk chocolate then adding floral rosewater. It tasted very porterish to me, with coffee and cocoa dominating the flavour and the hops adding a pot pourri element without any real bitterness. Not really the sort of thing I'd expect under the black IPA flag, but as a beer it's flawless.

And with that we leave In De Wildeman, though not before downloading On Tapp in De Wildeman, its wonderful smartphone app, for future vicarious drinking. I'd love more pubs to have something like this.

Southwards we go, feeling a little guilty for passing Café Belgique and trying not to get drawn in by the siren song of De Bierkoning. Just on the far side of Dam Square we reach Beer Temple. I'm keeping to style and order a Mikkeller Sort Gul, a black IPA, this time with a mere 7.5% ABV. No doubt about the hops here: it's danker than a rasta's basement, crammed with funky, oily, herbal flavours and smells. I couldn't decide if I could taste any dry roast or chocolate in it: maybe there was a trace of it, or maybe it was an illusion caused by the colour. Regardless, this is very much a hop-forward beer and gorgeous to boot.

Perfect Crime is one of a growing number of odd transatlantic brewing arrangements being a joint venture by the people behind Evil Twin and Stillwater -- themselves odd transatlantic brewing arrangements in their own right. The beers are brewed in Belgium and on tap at Beer Temple was Smoking Gun, an imperial stout. It's a little on the light side for the style and not all that strongly flavoured, with just some dry smokiness contrasting with pleasant sweet floral flavours. Decent, but there's something wrong when the beer's pedigree is more complex than its taste. There was much more happening in Dark Horse's Double Crooked tree, an innocent pale amber ale that's hiding over 13% ABV. The aroma is wonderful: intensely sweet and citric like dry-hopped cough mixture. There's a tangy sharpness in the flavour at first, but it mellows out into a smooth, manadrin-laced sipper. It's just as well the measures tend to be small in Beer Temple or we'd be here all night. Let's get moving.

A couple of blocks further down and one street over, we reach Gollem. It's packed, but there's just room for us to squeeze in on the mezzanine. A quick headcount reveals that "packed" in Gollem's case means 27 people. From the modest but well-chosen tap line-up one particular beer leaps out at me: St. Feuillien's Black Saison, brewed in collaboration with Green Flash of San Diego. It's a crazy concoction with the typical peppery nose of a good saison but then a bizarre herb garden of a flavour profile, full of sweet and floral botanicals: menthol, eucalyptus, caraway seeds and other flavours I've forgotten the names of but are more often found in nordic aquavit than low countries beer. Strange, but quite wonderful in its own way. Appropriate for Gollem, then.

A U-turn across Singel brings us onto Herengracht and we follow the canal north, counting down the house numbers from the 200s until we reach the magic 90: home of Café Arendsnest and the place where all my Amsterdam pub crawls seem to end. Habitually, I scan the tap list for anything unfamiliar from De Molen. Dol & Dwaas? That'll do. It's an odd orange-red colour with a bit of a haze but doesn't have much to say for itself, really: a bit of smoke and a little hoppy funk, but nothing especially distinctive. A much more interesting smoked experience came from SNAB's Roock, a black beer which mixes fig and plum notes with salty seaweed and iodine. Delicious and thoroughly defiant of style rules and categories.

Phew. Anyone fancy a coffee? There's Emelisse Espressostout: it's 10% ABV and nicely sweet and unctuous, but the coffee does little other than add a dryness to it. I need a bigger jolt than that. Rooie Dop's Daily Grind provides just the hit needed. First there's that faintly sweaty smell of strong hot coffee and a major hit of freshly ground coffee flavour on tasting. There's the dry roast finish again, though here I think it's the beer's underlying stout nature peeking through; the same goes for the heavy texture. Mostly, however, Daily Grind is all about the coffee, as a coffee stout should be, in my opinion.

And we're done! Time to leave the beer specialists behind and drift back into normality. A nightcap, you say? Well OK. The pubs where the normal people drink have a few winter seasonals in from the bigger brewers. Brand, for instance, have Sylvester: red and sweet, though not in a warming toffee way, but rather a disappointing fake-fruit bubblegum thing plus a bit of nasty brown apple. I'd pass if I were you. De Koninck are offering Winter Koninck and that's much more like it: a lovely warming Christmas cake nose and lots of dubbelish dark fruits. A chewy, warming finish to the session.

Until next time, Amsterdam.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Dutch masters

Eight whole years had managed to fly by since I'd last visited Brouwerij 't IJ. I've no idea how I let that happen. I used to love coming to the quirky little tap room under the windmill: very much a neighbourhood pub for a few convivial after-work drinks rather than an attraction for tourists or beer geeks (what are they?) So, a couple of days into 2013, we set off on a brisk walk through eastern Amsterdam to the brewery.

As we walked through the onion-skin city, the 17th century core gave way to 19th century splendour by the zoo and the neighbourhood was altogether more modern by the time the windmill was in sight. I had heard that the pub, too, had undergone a transformation in recent years and sure enough it has almost doubled in size, turning an L-shape with a new 18-tap bar running the whole way along. And yet they've still managed to retain a lot of the old poky character. It still has a watering-hole feel and the locals are still drinking in it, though they're now outnumbered by the backpackers and international students. Opening time has moved a whole hour forward to accommodate the newcomers, and the doors were unlocked at 2pm. Closing remains a strict, civilised, 8pm. So still very much my kind of place.

Even with all the new tap space, the selection is still mostly limited to the old IJ reliables. But among these there are a couple that have never made it to this blog so I started with the intention of putting that right. Plzeň is, as the name suggests, the house pale lager: arriving a misty yellow colour with the yeast discernible by taste as well as by sight. It's a pleasant beer, though: mildly spicy with hints of lemon; refreshing like a good witbier. I'd go as far as to say it's more like a wit than IJwit which is almost completely clear and incredibly sweet: bursting with bubblegum notes. I liked it, but it wouldn't be for everyone.

On to the newer stuff, and seasonal of the moment was WIJssenbock, a smooth dark amber Dutch-style bock of 7% ABV. There's an amazing balancing act going on here with a smooth and fruity raisin flavour contrasting with a light and zesty bitterness making for a strong beer that's very sinkable. At the same strength and a similar colour there was also Speciale Vlo, created in association with top Amsterdam off licence De Bierkoning. This is sharper, with a strong seam of pine resin hops running through it as well as a tannic quality, like some English bitters. I found it a bit too punchy to begin with, the intense hops giving it an air of floor cleaner, but my palate adjusted quickly and by the end I'd have happily ordered another, only it was time to move on.

Even greater than my surprise at not visiting 't IJ in so long was the discovery that in ten years of drinking in Amsterdam I had completely missed a central brewpub. Bier Fabriek isn't exactly a new arrival, so I guess the reason I'd never heard of it before was partly because it's in a bit of a commercial black hole, fronting onto the everlasting building works on Rokin, and partly because it's not really worth talking about.

For one thing, it's dark. They've gone with low light and bare concrete I suppose for an industrial look, but it just ends up feeling oppressive. The staff were cheery enough and the supply of peanuts was a nice touch: throw your shells on the floor to add character. But the beer really wasn't up to much. Three offerings, namely Alfa Puur, a sickeningly sweet, diacetyl-laden pils; Rosso, a strawberryish red with lots of earthy woody funk, indicating to me that Dr Brett has paid a visit, most likely without an invitation; and Nero, a strong black beer -- a lager, I would guess -- that has overdone the dry roast flavours. These don't taste like the work of someone who loves making beer. I find it hard to believe the brewer even enjoys drinking the stuff.

In one of Europe's top beer cities, Beer Fabriek is eminently skippable.

Top of my agenda for this quick excursion to the Netherlands was a trip out of the city to Haarlem, and a visit to the Jopenkerk. Jopen is a fairly big, well established, Dutch brewery but the range and quality of their beer is impressive. Information on where the main brewing happens is hard come by, but the Jopenkerk is their brewing showroom: a roomy brewpub in a converted church set up more to help show the process to the punters than as a serious production facility.

We were there early on a Sunday afternoon. Most of Haarlem doesn't open until 4 on a Sunday and this is one of the rare exceptions. Only a handful of people were in before us and almost on the dot of 4pm it became instantly packed, largely with families. Haarlem is a town set in its ways, it seems.

I kicked off with one of their flagships: Hoppenbier, a hazy golden affair brewed to a local recipe from 1501, they say. There's a candy fruit aroma, like rhubarb and custard sweets, and the flavour is full of juicy satsuma zest, plus a little bit of incense spice. The Hoppenbier hops haven't been sitting around since 1501 anyway. Commemorating the centenary of the Jopenkerk building in 2011, there's Jacobus, a 5.3% ABV pale ale made with rye. Not too much rye, I think, as there's only a mild hint of the sharp grassiness I dislike in these beers. It's mostly quite smooth, with toffee and caramel, balanced against lightly lemony hops.

Herself, meanwhile, opted for 4-Granen Bok, a dark red beer of 6.5% ABV with a sweet pipesmoke aroma and bucket loads of chocolate in the flavour, turning dry and a little astringent. Overall it's a rounded warming beer, which is just what you want from a winter bock, regardless of the number of different grains in it. This was followed by the powerhouse blackcurrant beer Johannieter, at 9% ABV. Pitch black, it's sticky and Christmassy but the fruit isn't laid on too thick, successfully avoiding Ribenafication.

From these four it should be apparent that Jopen like mucking about with beer and using odd ingredients and recipes. A black IPA seems almost pedestrian in this context, but there it was: Grateful Deaf, brewed in collaboration with Ken Fisher, a gypsy brewer from Oregon and utilising the Zythos hop blend. It's very much on the "hoppy stout" end of the spectrum, with the dark sticky liquorice flavours to the fore, and a creamy texture. The hops mostly provide bitterness, giving the same intense, almost acrid, sensation you get with Porterhouse Wrassler's XXXX. It's a flavour profile that seems to pull in too many directions at once.

Time was beginning to run short and the pub getting uncomfortably full but I wasn't going to miss Jopen's Grätzer and Grodziskie, historical recreations of smoked beer from recipe research by Ron Pattinson and Evan Rail. The Grätzer is made from 100% smoked wheat malt and pours a cloudy yellow, like an innocent weizen. But raising it to the nose induces a blast of hospital corridor phenols. A burnt element comes in on tasting: embers and iodine, with a sour tang around the edge of the tongue. Hard work, but at 4% ABV it's manageable; any stronger and I think it would be a struggle. The Grodziskie is a little more refined with less heavy smoke and more of an exotic whiff of the thurible about it.

The Jopen supping didn't end with Sunday service, however. We picked up an unseasonal bottle of their Lentebier in De Bierkoning, finding it still marvellously fresh and zingy with lots of lemon zest. And later in Beer Temple had a go at Mashing Pumpkins, a collaboration with SNAB. This is another 9%-er, a dark red-amber and, while showing lovely cinnamon spicing in the aroma, lacks the flavour to back it up. There's also a weird sourness from the smoked malt which they added for some reason.

I'll allow Jopen the occasional dud as long as they keep the odd stuff coming.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Packed London NUT Briefing calls for strike action against PRP

Nearly 300 NUT Representatives from schools right across the London area packed into the NUT's national headquarters at Hamilton House this morning (Jan 19) for the London Regional Briefing about our campaign to oppose Gove's Performance Related Pay plans.

The huge turnout on a wintry Saturday spoke volumes about the determination of teachers to fight Gove's attacks. The frequent applause for reps calling for national strike action also made clear what the meeting wanted the National Executive to vote for when we meet again this Thursday (Jan 24).

Big Brother Gove was watching

Standing room only in NUT HQ

Teachers packing into the Mander Hall were met by the 'Big Brother' face of Michael Gove staring down at them. As NUT General Secretary Christine Blower introduced the discussion, reps were still arriving, with yesterday's snow causing some transport disruptions. More chairs had to be found and, when they were filled, it became 'standing room only' !

Christine went through the detail of Gove's attacks, pointing out that incremental pay progression had been a feature of teachers' pay structures since the 1920s. Now Gove wants to make all progression dependent on 'performance'. Linking the two main battles we are engaged in, she also pointed out that slower progression up the pay scale through PRP would also mean a lower career average pension on retirement.

Most of the two-hour meeting was then thrown over to the floor and, in a broad and open discussion, rep after rep had the chance to explain their views. 

No return to 'Victorian values' ! 

Many speakers pointed out the damage that PRP would cause to education, and how we had to get that message out to parents. For example, one rep warned that performance-pay would drive even more qualified teachers out of the profession - allowing Gove to get away with his plans to allow schools to employ lower-paid non-teacher qualified staff instead.

Kevin Courtney and others on the STOPP protest against PRP in 2000

To huge applause, Cleo, a Greenwich teacher, echoing the disastrous 'payment-by-results' schemes of the Victorian era, summed up the realities of Gove's plans - "I'll need my 7 year-olds to understand every lesson - because if they don't understand, I won't be able to afford to eat"

Louise Cuffaro from Newham was one of a number of reps who explained how the 'brutality' of management in some schools was fuelling teachers' anger. Another speaker proposed that the Union gather together compelling accounts to explain to parents and the press what PRP would mean for schools.

Not just protest action - what about escalating to a 48-hour strike?

Louise, like many other reps, concluded their remarks by calling on the National Executive to vote for national strike action - and not just for a one-day 'protest' but for an ongoing programme of action.

There was a clear understanding that one-day's action would not be enough. Some reps proposed calling rolling regional strike action but others argued against, pointing out that it was national strike action that really grabbed the headlines. In choosing between those options, most applause was given to reps who proposed escalating from an initial one-day action to a further 48-hour strike.

While most speakers explained that they were confident of members' support for action, a couple of reps spoke to explain that they were finding it harder to engage members in their school . The facts and arguments from the briefing will certainly need to be taken out to members in every school, in every Association and Region. One rep spoke to say he'd be doing exactly that, having been "inspired" by the mood of the meeting - and he won't have been alone.

The NUT Executive must vote for action on Thursday!

Hands-up in support of national strike action !
National Executive members were invited to speak at the end of the meeting. I took the opportunity to respond to two issues that had been raised. 

Firstly, I agreed that reps had been right to say that we needed to go out and explain our case to the public. I pointed to the 'message to parents' on the latest Classroom Teacher ( ) as one example of what we could be distributing. However,  I, and other NEC colleagues, called on reps to approach the public with confidence, remembering the support our pensions action in 2011 had received from most parents. After all, opinion polls show the public trust teachers a lot more than they trust politicians!

Secondly, I responded to the understandable disappointment from some reps that the NASUWT had made clear that they were not prepared to take strike action at this stage. Regrettably, I explained that we had to recognise that their leadership seem unlikely to shift that position at present. However, if we give a lead, as we did over pensions in June 2011, they may be forced to reconsider. As we were already finding in Lewisham, some NASUWT members may well vote with their feet and join the NUT. Outer London NUT Executive member, Dave Harvey, made a similar point and also spelt out that the Executive were considering calling action on March 13, to coincide with a Europe-wide Day of Action against Austerity.

Finally, and above all, I thanked reps for turning out and making their voices clear. Today's turnout will send an important message to National Union Officers and the National Executive teachers ARE ready to act !

As the meeting drew to a close, Marilyn Bater from the Chair asked those in support of national strike action to raise their hands. The vote seemed to be unanimous! Surely everyone on the NUT National Executive will now take note and vote for national strike action when we meet on Thursday?!

YES to national strike action to stop Gove !
Make sure to contact your National Executive members before Thursday's meeting and tell them you're expecting them to vote for national strike action to start in March!

Thursday, January 17, 2013


As I mentioned last week, I managed to sneak in a quick north London pub crawl on my last visit to England. From that I brought away a bottle of Cigar City's Jai Alai IPA. This Florida brewery has been top of my must-try list for a while so I wasn't going to pass up the opportunity to grab one of theirs while I could.

I opened the bottle on Christmas morning. Foolishly I'd crammed it into the over-laden fridge sideways, not suspecting bottle-conditioning, so what I got was a rather murky amber affair. First impressions were of a sweet and fruity beer, with that orange-flavoured hard candy effect. As it warmed, however, the full 7.5% ABV came into play and it turned much more full-bodied with a bigger, more complex flavour. There's a burn from both the bitter but not harsh hops and the alcoholic heat. Not a show-stopper, but a perfectly good beer to start the day with.

A week later I had my first beer of 2013 in an Amsterdam hotel room. I'd picked it up the previous day from the shelves in Bierkoning. It came from Pretty Things in Massachusetts: Once Upon A Time 1838 X. As the name suggests, it's an historical recreation of a nineteenth century mild from a Barclay Perkins recipe supplied, obviously, by Ron Pattinson. You can read his account of drinking it here.

I very carefully kept this one upright, but it still tasted quite dreggy to me, a hazy yellow-orange with lots of fizz streaming upwards through the murk. And yet the texture remains smooth, with no significant amount of foam forming. The flavour is sharply bitter to the point of being saison-like with loads of lemon rind and grapefruit. There are some lighter fruit notes behind this: some peach or similar soft stonefruit as well as a blast of heat from the 7.4% ABV. Overall, between the citrus and the alcohol, this beer tasted very modern, and I suppose that's the point.

More from my quick stay in the Netherlands next week.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Gove pushes ahead - we have to strike back!

Having laughably 'consulted' on his performance-pay (PRP) plans over the Christmas holidays, Education Secretary Michael Gove today confirmed that he intends to introduce performance related pay for all teachers from September.

PRP helps Ministers cut budgets but does 'close to zero' to help education

The NUT's official press release correctly sums up why this attack has to be defeated:

“Teachers will be dismayed that Michael Gove is pressing ahead with his plans to dismantle the national teacher pay structure. It will certainly worsen teacher morale which, as shown in a recent YouGov survey commissioned by the NUT, is already low. ( )

“Some 25,000 schools deciding their own pay structures is a real distraction from the teaching and learning that should be the focus of schools’ work. Individual pay decisions will result in unfairness and less mobility in the teacher job market. 

“PRP is fundamentally inappropriate for teaching, where educational outcomes are based on teamwork and the cumulative contribution of a number of teachers. The national pay structure provides a coherent framework for career progression and is essential to attract graduates into the profession. To get rid of it will certainly have an impact on recruitment and retention. 

“At a time of significant funding pressure on schools individual pay decisions will result in many teachers having their pay and career progression unjustifiably blocked. Contrary to DfE claims, there is no evidence that linking pay to performance increases results. The Education Endowment Foundation – part-funded by the DfE itself – argues that the difference is “closer to zero” and it would be a folly to waste money pursuing PRP in order to drive up standards ( ".

For a plan of escalating action, not a one-day protest strike

But, as the leaflet also circulated by the Local Associations National Action Campaign (LANAC) today ( download via ) explains, 

"All teacher Unions agree that the latest proposals on our pay are very bad news for teachers. The question is - how do we stop them?"

"Our choice is whether to embark on a plan of action by NUT members, while working to involve the NASUWT and other unions at every stage, or to admit defeat.There are no other choices and we shouldn't pretend that there are".

"Taking as long as it needs to assemble the perfect coalition of unions and ensure that every member is ready is a luxury we do not have. Preparing new guidelines for school-by-school action is a policy for managing our defeat not a strategy for defending national pay".

"The message that needs to be heard at pay rallies, briefings and meetings across England and Wales is that the NUT must launch industrial action in defence of national pay as soon as possible - and that it must be a plan of escalating action, not a one-day protest strike".

Lobby for the Executive to call the first day of national action on March 13

After the setback of the December NUT Executive, when any decision on calling action was put off until the next National Executive in January, pressure has been building for national strike action to at least start on a date later this term.

There is now a serious discussion being had about the NUT calling a first national day of strike action on Wednesday March 13, a day that coincides with a European TUC Day of Action. The NUT Executive will be meeting on Thursday 24 January to make that decision - one way or the other.

After today's announcement by Gove, surely the NUT Executive needs to agree that any further delay would signal to Ministers, and to teachers, that the NUT was simply retreating in the face of these attacks. Instead, we need to vote together to start national action in March, go out to teachers to explain the seriousness of Gove’s attacks, and turn the undoubted anger in schools into determined national strike action.