Teachers to ballot for academies strike!

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Teachers vent their anger last Wednesday night outside the Department of Education
Teachers vent their anger last Wednesday night outside the Department of Education

TEACHERS have voted to ballot for a one-day strike as part of a campaign against Tory plans to force every school in England to become an academy.

National Union of Teachers leaders and delegates at the annual NUT conference in Brighton on Saturday stressed that there is no evidence to show academy status will improve schools more rapidly than local authority schools. The conference backed a strike ballot for this summer term.

And at the NASUWT conference in Birmingham, Education Secretary Nicky Morgan was booed, heckled and faced shouts of ‘rubbish’ from delegates during her speech arguing that the compulsory academy policy would raise standards.

Morgan angered the NASUWT conference further, saying that there is no ‘reverse gear’ on the proposed reforms. The NUT annual conference in Brighton supported calls for a sustained campaign against compelling schools to be academies, including the ballot for a one-day strike.

NUT treasurer Ian Murch said it would see schools being ‘stolen’ from local communities by ‘arrogant ministers’. He challenged the handing over of schools to academy chains, saying that it would be a step towards privatisation. Murch said schools should be seen as a ‘public service and not a business opportunity’.

NUT executive member Hazel Danson said the policy of making all schools academies would cause ‘absolute chaos’ at a time when there were more pressing priorities such as teacher shortages. She warned the plans would ‘remove parental voice as well as parental choice’.

The NUT wants to build a wider coalition of opposition to the academy policy. Fellow executive member Alex Kenny told the conference that the government had over-reached itself. He said opposition now stretched from ‘Mumsnet to the Financial Times’.

The calls for strike action in opposition to the changes, came as they could threaten teachers’ pay and job security, as such decisions about pay and conditions would be decided by academy chains. They accuse the plans of being undemocratic and ‘evidence free’.

Commenting on Saturday’s speech to the NASUWT conference by Education Secretary Morgan, NUT general secretary Christine Blower, said: ‘The Secretary of State’s speech today is further evidence, if any were needed, that the government has the wrong priorities.

‘Her statement that “there is no reverse gear when it comes to our education reforms” will be met with incredulity by the growing list of people who are coming out in opposition to the government’s White Paper. Schools are facing a chronic teacher shortage, a lack of school places, chaos around curriculum changes, and funding pressures.

‘Teachers and parents will be disappointed that all we have heard today is that ministers are going to press on with an unnecessary and unwanted top-down reorganisation of education that has no basis in evidence to support it. The government’s determination to push on with their reforms highlights the need for school staff, parents, governors and politicians to work together to campaign against the White Paper. The NUT stands ready at the forefront of the campaign to highlight and reject the government’s wrong priorities.’

On Sunday, the NUT conference voted for a primary motion to ballot for a boycott of primary schools SATs tests. Conference heard warnings that schools had become ‘exam factories’. Delegates criticised ‘chaotic’ changes to primary assessment and voted for a ballot to boycott tests taken by seven and 11 year olds and baseline tests.

Conference accused the primary school testing system of being unreliable and increasingly confused. Delegates particularly criticised the baseline tests being introduced in reception classes. Lambeth NUT delegate Sara Tomlinson said such tests were ‘not what the first six weeks of school should be about’.

She said that children should be learning social skills and ‘not just sitting down and repeating words like parrots’. The conference motion condemned the ‘chaotic and wholly unacceptable way’ in how changes to primary assessment have been managed. Delegates warned of unresolved ‘ambiguities’ in what standards children should be achieving.

Delegates attacking a ‘testing culture’ warned that the primary assessment plans will mean there would be tests in Reception, Year 1, Year 2 and Year 6. The NUT conference last year also voted for a boycott of baseline testing. Commenting after the priority motion debate at Annual Conference, Blower said: ‘The NUT is calling on the Secretary of State to cancel the 2016 SATs tests.

‘The union will consider a ballot for the boycott of the summer 2017 tests. The baseline assessment is optional and it is not therefore necessary to ballot to boycott. Over 2,000 schools didn’t do it last autumn. We congratulate those schools and hope and expect to see many more this autumn.

‘A survey of NUT primary members shows that 86% of teachers think that the Education Secretary should cancel this summer’s primary tests. Nearly 80,000 signatories on petitions to government agree with them. Teachers are angry and dismayed at the primary tests, which they believe are age inappropriate. Teachers are wasting precious time on preparing children for tests at the expense of offering a vibrant engaging education for their pupils.’

Commenting after the debate on Motion 13, Workload, Teacher Shortage, Funding, Blower added: ‘Government policies have created the perfect storm for a teacher recruitment and retention crisis. Head teachers and teachers are leaving, through a combination of unbearably high workload, excessive accountability measures, and for head teachers the stress of balancing the books with funds that simply won’t stretch far enough.

‘Teachers speak of having no life outside of school, nor time for family and friends. We are not talking about having to stay a little bit later of an evening, but of workloads that keep teachers working into the night and at weekends.’

She concluded: ‘Teachers need to be trusted. They need to have time to have a life outside of work and they need to see an end to the continual blaming and hectoring they get from ministers. It is for real reasons that graduates are choosing other professions, and many qualified teachers are leaving or considering leaving. This situation will continue unless these issues are addressed.’

At its annual conference in Birmingham, the NASUWT teachers’ union reaffirmed its strategy to ‘continue to defend the interests of pupils, schools and the teaching profession from the assault by the government and administrations across the UK on our public education service’.

NASUWT general secretary Chris Keates, said: ‘The attacks on our public education service have resulted in one of the most serious teacher recruitment and retention crisis since 1945. A key contributory factor to the crisis is the competitiveness of teachers’ pay and rewards compared with pay of graduates in other occupations. The NASUWT has a current trade dispute with all nations and administrations across the UK.

‘All nations and administrations have applied the Westminster government’s pay restraint and in England and Wales this has been compounded by schools setting increasingly higher barriers to pay progression. The NASUWT is committed to continuing to secure the entitlement for all children and young people to be taught by qualified, highly skilled professionals who are recognised and rewarded through a fair and transparent pay system that recruits and retains teachers.

‘The NASUWT’s industrial action strategy is now firmly embedded in schools and NASUWT will escalate action as appropriate to combat actions by any employers which seek to worsen teachers’ pay and conditions.’

NASUWT delegates expressed anger over testing. Delegates warned that government changes to the system of pupil assessment in England will drive up teachers workload still further, making a mockery of ministers’ claims to be taking action to address teacher wellbeing.

Representatives criticised the way in which the Westminster government has managed the removal of levels from the assessment system, which is driving schools to create and implement their own, often bureaucratic, assessment and testing structures for pupils.

NASUWT general secretary Keates said: ‘Assessment Without Levels was promoted by ministers as a reform that would enable teachers in England to focus on teaching and learning; but, instead, it has had the effect of driving futile and workload intensive data management systems and practices which are not only financially costly but which are also a distraction from teaching and learning.

‘This is yet another example of the gulf between the Westminster government’s rhetoric which claims to be committed to tackling teacher workload, and the reality of its policies which are having the opposite impact by piling ever greater workload pressures onto an already exhausted and overburdened teaching workforce.’

Representatives at the Conference in Birmingham also debated a motion condemning employers who use the fear of inspection to justify punitive management practices. Keates said: ‘There is no doubt that the inspection and accountability regimes are in need of reform.

‘Teachers understand the need for schools to be accountable. However, they need to be held accountable for the right things and no fit-for-purpose accountability system should be capable of being abused in such a way that it creates a climate of fear in the workplace. The threat of inspection is now becoming a convenient stick with which to beat teachers, with poor management practices being justified by claims they are required by inspection.

‘Even Ofsted’s Chief Inspector has now recognised this publicly as a problem. Recognising the problem is one thing. Taking action to address it quite another. There is still no sign that either government or inspection bodies are taking any steps to prevent these unacceptable pressures on teachers.’