Friday, 30 October 2015

Ballot Papers now out- vote Dave Brinson #1

Ballot papers were dispatched on Wednesday, and have begun arriving on members' doormats this morning. Please take a minute to fill in your ballot form, and return it: it's YOUR union, make your voice heard !

Thursday, 29 October 2015

Supply Teachers- next steps in the Agency campaign- and a reminder of how we actually got here !

NUT members staged a great lobby of the main supply teachers' agencies yesterday. While I couldn't be there in person, I am proud that East Sussex was represented.  I have long campaigned for supply members' rights (even before it became "mainstream" in the Union...) and my Division was one of the first to hold Supply Teacher training, which I organised.  (OK, end of own-trumpet-blowing...)

East Sussex NUT Postcard 2007
One of the first campaigns I had to fight on becoming Division Secretary was to try and save the supply pool in the local authority. This had already been semi-outsourced: an agency (Hays) had a contract to manage the list placing of supply staff for which they received a commission. The staff were still employed on the County payroll, at the appropriate rate and pension contribution.

Hays wanted to get out of this arrangement- presumably to have the ability to pay teachers less, and, in particular, not to have to include pension contributions. East Sussex NUT lobbied council officers and elected members- with hundreds of postcards proclaiming "Teachers' Pay for a Teacher's Day"

We didn't persuade the Authority to keep the supply arrangement.  They maintained that staff could still be on LA payroll and approach schools direct, but there would be no pool or list.  Clearly the other Agencies were already muscling in....

I LIKE LUCY (...but....)
I have been a Labour Party supporter for over 20 years, and it heartens me that the  front bench is finally saying many of the same things as the NUT.  Lucy Powell is potentially the best Labour education spokesperson we have had since before the Blair era- certainly in terms of agreeing with the Union on policy.  She gave support to the Lobby yesterday, linking it with the campaign on teacher recruitment saying:
"Supply teachers play an important role in our education system. However, we are seeing a teacher shortage crisis in our schools which means that head teachers are turning to agencies in desperation to fill the gap...."
Unfortunately, she's wrong.... on at least one thing:

The move towards using expensive agencies is not the result of head teachers "turning [to agencies] in desperation"   Head Teachers and local authorities were complicit- intentionally or otherwise-  in the takeover of supply by the agencies, when there were still many established supply lists and pools. 

My East Sussex colleagues and I were campaigning on supply years ago, and we well remember when the Agencies started to get a grip.  Schools were visited by sales reps, promising them all manner of support and services, but the bottom line of this was that it would be cheaper than paying supply teachers through payroll.  Glossy brochures, mugs, pens, coasters-  all branded with the agency's corporate colours and logos became commonplace in every school office.

Many East Sussex supply colleagues found that their supply work dried up. I know of a number of supply teachers who stopped getting supply, practically overnight,  from schools that had used them for years. They were now deemed  too expensive.  Some were told that the school was "only going through the agency"  Those that did eventually succumb to signing with the agency often found that their daily rate dropped- in some cases by in the region of 50%.   Many others left supply teaching altogether- especially those who were UPS teachers, and brought years of experience to the classroom. Gone.

So why am I singling those words of Lucy's comment out ? Why (as a VP candidate who wants to improve communication with our NUT Heads and leaders) am I seemingly having a go at Head Teachers ?

No head teacher had to use agencies when this began: but there is still no reason why supply staff cannot be given a payroll number and paid properly, with pension contributions, by schools. We need to campaign to change the assumption at school leadership level, that agencies are where supply cover has to come from.

And I'm sorry to those who are members, but Head Teachers who were in post ten, eight, even five years ago who took the agency shilling were not just complicit, but to some degree driving the Agency rip-off, on the promise of a few quid off the daily rate and a glossy mug.  Our members lost money and  blocks of pensionable service as a result of those decisions. Many have been lost to the supply teacher workforce forever as a result of those decisions.

What next ?
  • On top of the excellent lobbying and political work, the Union needs to make quite clear to our leadership members themselves,  school reps and NUT members who are school governors, that schools are not required to use Supply Agencies. Schools should be encouraged to build relationships with good supply teachers and to pay them directly.
  • We need to use the Freedom of Information Act, not just to expose the scale  of Agency costs to individual schools, and also to identify schools that are using high levels of unqualified staff to cover absence- another threat to our supply members. 
  • We need to look at how we can support and resource our supply members who want to approach schools directly.  We should also explore how we could  provide practical support to NUT heads who would like to engage more direct supply 
  • Also- although it is a legal minefield- we need to be willing to look at legal cases we can take on for Supply members who are being "tied" to an agency, for instance where they are prevented from working directly in schools if they have previously been on an agency's books.  The agencies are massive companies with lots of resources and clever lawyers, but the NUT is a massive union with clever lawyers too.  
  • The NAHT is now a member of the TUC.  They should be invited to give guidance to their head teacher members about their options in engaging supply members, and as our TUC sister union, the ethical and moral implications of choosing rip-off agencies. 

There are a number of motions being considered on Supply teachers for next year's Annual Conference- please support these in your Associations.

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Time for a national 'Dignity at Work' policy- with teeth ! End workplace bullying.

As every caseworker will tell you, many of our colleagues are treated appallingly in their workplace.  It is sad to note that there are bullying managers in many schools (often themselves victims of bullying from employers, government or Ofsted.)  Many schools take a "zero tolerance approach" to pupil bullying- it's time for the same approach towards bullying of teachers. 

Recently we have heard stories of a teacher being given a performance management target "not to cry in the staffroom".  I have personally supported members who had been shouted at, belittled and humiliated in front of colleagues or parents. I had to support a pregnant teacher who was criticised- in writing- for being "unacceptably emotional," and another who was warned not to let the fact that she was in a same-sex relationship become known as it would "damage the standing of the school in the community." 

In my Local Authority area, the previous Dignity at Work policy was- without the support of the Unions- withdrawn and instead partially included in a new, supposedly "streamlined" Grievance policy.  This has clearly not been to the advantage of staff, which is why my Division is campaigning for the restoration of a stronger and specific Dignity at Work policy in our area.

This needs to become a national campaign.  Every school should have a Dignity at Work policy. Many already have, but they are often vague and unspecific.  They need to be tightened up, given teeth, and seen as a part of staff members' contracts- from heads and SLT right throughto everybody working in a school. 

Let's put an end to workplace bullying in our schools!

Time for common sense, not spot-fines nonsense.

The requirement of parents to ensure that their children attend school "regularly" is nothing new: it isn't a Blair-era piece of government control, it dates back to the 1944 Education Act. This was successfully used recently by a parent in the Isle of Wight to challenge fines issued for a term-time holiday.  However, the debate has gone way beyond family holidays, with the schools minister suggesting that it was unacceptable for pupils to miss school due to a family bereavement.

Nick Gibb, parrot-like schools minister trots out the "evidence" that any missed schooling- even a day, even through illness- has a negative effect on children's education. Like many in the DfE, he is selective about which "evidence" he quotes word-for-word: evidence that shows, say, community schools improving faster than academies is not used.  What his selective and out of context data does not take into account is that the whole circumstances of family circumstances, and children's physical and mental health and wellbeing are unique to every child, and do not fit in a crude table.

Privately-educated Tory MP Gibb told Radio 4: "If it’s something like a funeral or something, then the head teacher would be able to give permission to attend the funeral, but not to have an extended holiday on the back of that funeral or other compassionate circumstances." (See also Daily Telegraph here

Yep- you've got it. Grieving for the loss of a parent, sibling or other close person isn't an excuse for giving a child compassionate time to come to terms with the situation.  It's not bereavement time- it's "an extended holiday."

Perhaps Nick Gibb and his DfE colleagues think that these children would be able to access help in school via those specialist children's mental health services such as CAHMS... Oh wait- that would be the CAHMS service that is facing massive cuts, on top of the nearly £600 million real terms cut it faced under the coalition government. (If you haven't signed the petition against CAHMS cuts, please do so here

The thorny issue of students being taken out of school for family holidays is an issue that often divides staffrooms. I know of colleagues who support the zero-tolerance approach, and many others who see it as a nonsense.  The NUT does not appear to have clear policy on this- I certainly don't recall it being debated at annual conference recently.  I hope that when it does, the Union will call for an end to the 2013 blanket ban on term-time leave, allowing some common sense to be applied, and, in particular end the role of schools in the issuing of fines to parents.  The Local Government Association recently called for a common sense approach, and this was supported by the Union, through Deputy General Secretary, Kevin Courtney, who said:
"The LGA is right to highlight the problems that occur as a result of Government and Ofsted’s policy to fine parents who request permission to take children out of school during term time. It has caused great irritation amongst parents and is not supported by the majority of teachers.
“There are many reasons why families on occasions have to request leave during term time, not least the huge hike in prices for holidays during school breaks. What has to be remembered is requested leave is not the same as truancy and should not be viewed as such. Of course children’s education is very important but adopting a common sense approach as advocated by the LGA will ensure that unnecessary tensions between schools and parents/ carers do not arise.  
“The NUT will be working with other unions and parent groups to try and resolve this unsatisfactory situation.” (Source: NUT Press Release 21.10.15)

Nick Gibb and the exclusively privately educated and wealthy ministers at DfE miss one important fact when they try to defend their policy through sterile number-crunching. Whatever the impact of missing a few days schooling is on a child's attainment, the relationship of support and trust between school and home is far, far more important.  For many of our children, from ordinary backgrounds in ordinary schools,  the school itself is the most consistent and safe space in their young lives- it needs to be a place that stands up for children and stands alongside parents who trust it, not somewhere that hands out fines like an educational traffic warden.

Monday, 19 October 2015

Who cares for the Caseworkers ?

Che Guevara said: "If you tremble with indignation at any injustice, then you are a comrade of mine."

If you tremble with indignation at injustices on a regular basis, chances are you are an NUT caseworker, and one of the most important people in our union.  Lay caseworkers accompany thousands of our members to attendance management, capability, pay appeals, investigations and any other one-to-one meetings where a representative is asked for.   It is one of the great strengths of our union: our members can be supported and advised by a trained caseworker who is also a teacher- they are a peer who understands how schools work, and what our job really entails.

I was able to ask a question of Kevin Courtney at the Division Secretaries' Briefing last week, on the subject of supporting the mental health and well-being of our lay secretaries and caseworkers.

The Union's recent Casework Survey showed that most caseworkers sometimes find that the pressures of casework become a problem; a small group have reported that this is often the case. I was able to give personal experience of this issue- several years ago, I had to take time off work, owing to depressive illness caused, at least in part, by the weight of casework alongside my  teaching responsibilities.  I was lucky in being able to get back to work relatively quickly, although I still have to take care.  When I tremble with indignation at an injustice, I have a tablet I can take, but this is hardly ideal...

My GP asked me why I didn't raise the pressure of casework in my "supervision meetings" (any caseworker will smile ironically at this!)  While I don't believe that formal "supervision" meetings are necessarily needed for lay caseworkers, we do need to ensure that we have mechanisms in place to support each other- whether it is Regional Officials making time available to talk through caseload with lay caseworkers, or if it is a purely mutual set-up: one London Div. Sec told me that he and half a dozen other local secretaries meet up regularly for an informal lunchtime discussion purely focusing on caseload.

In my Vice Presidential campaign, I have very much focused on the need to build capacity in the union to take on the range of challenges we face as a Union and as a profession.  This includes training up additional lay members to take on small casework loads. But- as Annual Conference has discussed on several occasions, there are a number of actions that the Union can take centrally:
  • There is now guidance on which levels of casework should be referred to, and dealt with by, Regional Office staff. This should be circulated to Divisions, and kept to !  If there is a lack of capacity at Regional Offices, we need to re-allocate resources to expand it.
  • The programme of Rep Training needs to be stepped up a gear: we should set ambitious goals for  rep recruitment- NOT because school reps should take on additional casework themselves, but they are well placed to support caseworkers in giving initial advice to members, and in collecting information relating to casework.
  • We have been told that the promised Casework Software is still not ready, because it wasn't a priority. It needs to be a priority !
  • The Union's ASOS programme called for all school initiatives to be "Workload Tested". We need to apply the same principle to our own casework and organising. Who is monitoring the workload of lay caseworkers- not just in terms of hours but in terms of the emotionally draining toll of some of the more complex casework.  

·         Our caseworkers are teachers too- and teacher health, especially mental health, should be at the heart of our Union work. 

Asbestos: Remove it NOW.

We've been saying it for years, and finally an All-Party Parliamentary Group agrees we're right. Asbestos must be removed from schools.

More than 90% of schools in my Division have asbestos present. The official line from East Sussex County Council has been that it is better to "safely contain" asbestos, rather than "disturbing" it by removal.  The NUT and other teachers' unions do not believe that there is a "safe" level of containment: the material must be removed expertly and safely.

I remember doing a health and safety tour of a school, where the asbestos register showed a small amount of material in the roof above the entrance doors from a playground.  The health and safety officer assured me that it was not likely to be disturbed.  I asked him if he would have any objections to standing underneath that bit of ceiling (which was just thin ceiling tiles) while I kicked a football through it. He got my point !

Last week, there was a tragic fire at a school in my Division.  Much of the building, including the roof, was destroyed in the blaze.  Regional Officer Nick Childs was in contact with the local authority the very same day, to check the asbestos information for the site. We were lucky that there was no asbestos in the roof space (although there is some in the below-ground boiler room, which thankfully was not damaged.)  Had that fire been in an older building with asbestos materials in the roof space, the whole site could have been contaminated.

Old warm-air heaters must be checked
for asbestos-containing material.
And asbestos takes teacher's  lives.  A former staff member at my own school, Clive Beck, died of mesothelioma. The shelves in his stock cupboard had been made of asbestos-containing material. Many other schools had asbestos in wall panels, that were unwittingly used to pin students' work- releasing the deadly fibres.  Warm air heaters were merrily blowing out asbestos dust as the insulating materials inside began to break down with age.  Such overt asbestos hazards should be long-gone from our schools.  But as the "safely" contained asbestos begins to age, it is time to implement NUT policy and see the wholesale removal of all asbestos material from our schools.

NUT Health and Safety Reps can play a vital role, in pressuring their school or LA to remove any remaining asbestos-containing material.  If there isn't an NUT H&S rep yet in your school, why not volunteer? Free training provided by the Union, and a right to paid time off to attend.

Responding to the All-Party Parliamentary Group report, Julie Winn, Chair of Joint Union Asbestos Committee said:

“JUAC welcomes the APPG Report as the first step in developing a national strategic plan to remove asbestos from the built environment. Too little is known about the dangers of the deteriorating asbestos in more than 75% of our schools and colleges; where it is, what condition it is in, how duty holders are managing the asbestos in their schools. What we do know is that staff and pupils are dying as a result of their exposure to asbestos in schools. Despite this there is still no national strategic plan for the prioritised removal of asbestos from our schools over the medium and long term. The APPG Report acknowledges the increased risk to children of airborne asbestos and calls for schools to be prioritised with the removal of asbestos from all schools by 2028. JUAC supports the APPG Report. JUAC calls on all political parties to support the proposal for a new law on asbestos with a clear timetable for the eradication of asbestos and for them to work together to make all UK schools and colleges safe from asbestos.” The report can be found here.

For more information about Asbestos in schools, and other Health and Safety advice and guidance, visit the East Sussex NUT Health and Safety site here.  The A-Z tab at the top contains a list of all NUT briefings on these issues.

The Asbestos in Schools Group (AiS) is a campaigning organisation with an overall aim of making schools safe from the dangers of asbestos. AiS is non-party political.  See or

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Workload: Hunt lets the cat out of the bag !

Tackling teacher workload has been a major campaign for the NUT for some years. We identified the growing problem during the Blair/Brown era, and saw this explode during Michael Gove's poisonous reign at the DfE.  Indeed, so shameful was the excessive workload burden during the Gove era, that the Government sat on their OWN statistics for over a year, until they were finally forced to release them by NUT and NASUWT strike action.

The DfE's own Workload Diary survey in 2013 revealed that the average primary teacher was working nearly 60 hours per week, only slightly behind the average primary head teacher at 60.2 hours, and an increase of 9 hours per week since 2010. Secondary head teachers average 63 hours and the average secondary classroom teacher is working nearly 56 hours a week, nearly 6 hours a week more than in 2010.

We are used to politicians paying lip service to Workload concerns. Under New Labour, the list of administrative tasks that teachers were not required to undertake was added to the STPCD.  A drop in the ocean, it nonetheless set down some red lines. At Gove's behest, this was removed from the conditions document.  Nicky Morgan promised a more conciliatory approach with her sham Workload Challenge. This produced some statements-of-the-bleeding-obvious, but no contractual protection for teachers, and failed entirely to recognise the impact of high-stakes testing (filling the pockets of a growing number of edu-business providers,) as a cause of workload and stress.  (Incidentally, the NUT could have saved Nicky the time and effort of the Workload Challenge. We KNOW how to tackle workload, as we explained in our simple Eight Steps)

"Why don't they do anything about it ?"  was the frequent staffroom cry. Well, thanks to Jeremy Hunt, Tory health secretary, mate of Rupert Murdoch and multi millionaire (he's been described as the richest man in the cabinet, and let's face it, he has competition...) we now know.

Asked about the cuts to tax credits, the millionaire Hunt replied:

"We have to proceed with these tax credit changes because they are a very important cultural signal.
My wife is Chinese. We want this to be one of the most successful countries in the world in 20, 30, 40 years’ time. There’s a pretty difficult question that we have to answer, which is essentially: are we going to be a country which is prepared to work hard in the way that Asian economies are prepared to work hard, in the way that Americans are prepared to work hard?" (Source: The Guardian, 5.10.15)

|According to this Tory government, the problem is that we don't work hard enough! Gove's attempt in his submission to the School Teachers' Pay Review proposed removing the working time provisions from our contract- ending the 1265 directed time allocation, the 195 specified days, and even the right to a lunch break (which many of our now retired NUT members struck and marched for.)   Now we know why.

Parliament may only sit for 133 days, but Jeremy Hunt, and the cabinet of millionaires want you to work longer, and longer, and longer  (for less, and less and less money.) 

Monday, 28 September 2015

John McDonnell Catches Up !

Pleased to hear the new Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell (a long standing friend of the NUT) speaking in favour of introducing the Robin Hood Tax- a tiny tax on financial transactions that would nonetheless raise billions (from the bankers and financial institutions who brought us the financial crisis!)

Glad to say that the NUT is a long standing supporter of the Robin Hood Tax campaign- as I reported here in my Executive Report from way back in 2011.  It's good to see that the Labour Party is catching up with NUT policy in this area, as well as on Academies and Free Schools !

I agree with Christine Blower's comments today- she stated:-

"The NUT is encouraged that a major party is now articulating a route away from austerity. It is only right that corporations should pay their taxes. The NUT has supported the Robin Hood Tax for many years and will continue to do so. We welcome today's clear signalling from John McDonnell of Labour's support for a Robin Hood Tax."

"Austerity is not working, and certainly isn't working in education. Huge cuts to Sixth Form Colleges and post-16 funding continue to have a terrible impact. Teacher pay has been held down for many years and this, along with unsustainable workload, has led to both a drop in teacher recruitment and the departure of many existing teachers from the profession. Students and parents have also borne the brunt of austerity through the scrapping of EMA and the vast increase in tuition fees."

"We wait with interest for the development of Labour's education policy and in particular its funding priorities. Schools are facing real terms cuts, at a time of increasing pupil numbers and real cost pressures leading in some cases to job cuts."

"It is essential that we have an opposition in Parliament which can voice solutions to these major challenges."

NQT members- the Union's future !

I am really proud that our Union is not just a formidable campaigning union for conditions of service, but also has education very much at the heart of what we do.

My Division, East Sussex, has for many years run a free NQT training day each year, to allow new teachers to meet with each other and figures from the NUT, and undertake really high quality CPD. We have once again got excellent behaviour management guru Paul Howard (an NUT member, and chair of the People's Assembly in Eastbourne) running his "Who's Behaviour Is It Anyway?" sessions, plus training on surviving Ofsted, and, of course School Teachers' conditions, and how the Union protects them !

If you know any NQTs in the East Sussex division area, please urge them to sign up

East Sussex has already shared its established programme for the day with other Divisions in the South East- please let me know if you would like to know more.