Teachers Will Fight Schools Closures

Young teachers marching in London during their strike over pay on April 24th
Young teachers marching in London during their strike over pay on April 24th

The National Union of Teachers (NUT) declared yesterday that the Brown government’s threat to close 638 schools for not reaching arbitrary targets ‘will be resisted’ – after the union found the closures ‘even more shocking and random than first appeared’.

On June 8th, Ed Balls, Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, published the names of 638 schools who were allegedly below the Government’s floor target of 30% of pupils getting at least five A*-C grades at GCSE, including English and mathematics.

However, closer scrutiny of the schools name, prompted NUT Acting General Secretary Christine Blower to say yesterday: ‘On deeper analysis, the government’s condemnation of 638 secondary schools is even more shocking and random than first appeared.

‘Only 11 per cent of schools in the sample were considered by OFSTED to need the intervention and threats now being employed by the government.

‘Indeed, it is extraordinary that 26% of the schools in our analysis are considered to be amongst the best in the country and around a third are in the top 40%.

‘A further 59% are considered to be satisfactory; a term in any normal dictionary definition which means that although there is room for improvement, those schools are meeting their pupils’ needs.

‘It seems to me that the government has decided to junk its recent attempts to introduce a measure of sophistication into evaluating schools in favour of a crude headline-grabbing measure to try to show that it is tough on standards.

‘The support outlined in the National Challenge programme will be obscured by this injustice. Teachers and head teachers will be very wary of wanting to join schools that could be threatened with closure.

‘I have written to our members and to all head teachers in the 638 schools expressing the NUT’s solidarity with them.

‘The NUT will not stand by and watch the vilification of school communities and the intolerable pressure put on Heads and teachers as a result of the government’s arbitrary actions.

‘School closures will be resisted and members will be protected from any excessive workload demands created by the National Challenge programme.’

The government’s proposals – contained in the documents ‘National Challenge’ and ‘Promoting Excellence For All’ – are the sticks used to beat educational workers into accepting the privatisation of schooling.

In her letter of support to NUT members at the berated schools, Blower says the NUT is not only opposed to the proposal to close schools, but also proposals to intensify monitoring and inspection regimes.

She continues: ‘The National Union of Teachers knows that you are making a positive difference to young people’s lives; young people who often come from the toughest of circumstances.

‘Schools need resources to meet the challenges posed by social and economic problems.

‘The £400 million committed by the Secretary of State to your school and the others covered by the “National Challenge” should be used to reduce class sizes, increase teaching, learning and study support and give teachers the time and space during the school day to develop links with their local communities, including parents.

‘It can’t be right that £260 million of the £400 million will be spent on establishing Academies and Trusts.

‘The Secretary of State is wrong in his view that somehow you can enhance the commitment, enthusiasm and innovatory capacity of teachers by threatening them with the closure of their schools if they fail to meet an arbitrary target.

‘The National Challenge should be about saying to teachers that it is a career advantage to work in schools in challenging circumstances, not a career threat.

‘You and your members will have worked hard for youngsters entering secondary schools, who may have started school caring little about learning.

‘For such youngsters, achievement in GCSEs, albeit that such achievement is below Ed Balls’ target may in fact be the pinnacle of achievement; yet nothing in Ed Balls’ target recognises that.’

Government ‘targets’, and the channeling of finances away from state schools into the pockets of the private sector, have created enormous tensions in the teaching profession, mirroring the same process in the NHS.

In the last week alone the NUT have been forced to also comment on:

• a threefold increase in the use of teaching assistants (costing £50 a day) to fill in for supply teachers (£150 a day) as highlighted by UNISON.

• pay rises for teachers, and,

• recruitment and retention of headteachers.

Commenting on the use of teaching assistants in schools, Blower said on Thursday: ‘Unison are right to highlight the injustice experienced by school support staff.

‘From our own evidence, many support staff are being expected to carry out inappropriate work and are paid very little for the unreasonable expectation placed on their shoulders.

‘Indeed our own evidence shows that support staff are being used to teach children with the greatest needs and are being used to cover for teaching staff over long periods of time.

‘Too often, support staff are considered to be the low cost option. It is quite clear to the NUT that all staff who work in school teams need a proper definition of their responsibilities and proper pay and conditions.’

Continuing on the question of pay, she added: ‘The justice of the case for increases in teachers’ pay has been reinforced by the inflation figures.

‘The Retail Price index is over 4%. Even the government’s preferred index for inflation is at a 10 year high of 3.3%.

‘In the face of energy prices set to rise by 40% by Christmas, the NUT will continue the campaign for Fair Pay for Teachers.

‘The Secretary of State must reopen consideration of teachers’ pay for September. 2.45% is not enough.

‘Teachers and other public sector worker unions cannot and will not stand by and see their members’ incomes and standards of living cut.’

These cuts have led to problems of Headteacher recruitment as highlighted by the National College for School Leadership.

Blower, said: ‘There is a problem with Headteacher recruitment; Steve Munby is right to highlight it. He is quite wrong to suggest that the solution is to appoint non teachers to such jobs.

‘Being a Headteacher is about leading learning. The NUT believes that to lead a learning community a background in teaching is key.

‘There is no shortage of classroom teachers who could become Headteachers. It is just that the pressures Heads face are intense and unreasonable.

‘The cause of low recruitment to Headship has to be removed. The second-class sticking plaster of people who have no background in teaching is not a solution.

‘More teachers would be attracted to Headship if the government didn’t pull stunts like the naming of 638 schools last week.

‘The education service needs Headteachers. The government needs to will the means and conditions that would make Headship an attractive option.’

The News Line calls on all teaching professionals to come to the ATUA conference on Sunday 29th June (see advert ), to organise the building of a leadership to defend all public services by bringing down the Brown government and going forward to socialism.