NEW LOCKDOWN MEASURES

TORIES LEAVE IT LATE AGAIN – BUT THEIR HAND IS FORCED BY EDUCATION WORKERS ACTION!

While the government has yet again taken far too long to face up to the loss of control of coronavirus, tens and tens of thousands of education workers have said enough is enough.

Boris Johnson and his shower of incompetents have been forced, belatedly, to take further action to combat coronavirus. On Sunday he insisted all schools open, by Monday they’re all shut!

Johnson’s failures are having such serious consequences for so many people, and while it may be some consolation to know he has egg all over his face, it’s not just consolation we need, but to take confidence from the workers’ action, to learn from the people who know best and fought back.

Johnson was forced to retreat not by the science, but by the action of teachers and support workers.

Teachers by the tens of thousands refused to continue to work in unsafe conditions, and only to return when it was made safe. Not that you’d know about this from the media. Teachers’ mobilisation, involving up to 400,000 in union discussions about lack of safety and refusing to work in those conditions, closed hundreds of schools but was largely ignored by the media.

Johnson was forced to admit that schools are ‘a vector’ in the virus spreading. Something that while the government tried to deny it, the world and its auntie have known for months!

But he was forced to act because the public were aware the situation was getting very dangerous and that as teachers refused to work in such conditions and local authorities were closing schools anyway that it would leave him in London in control of nothing. Workers action has now given a clear lead.

We see in this the importance of a union for working people, giving workers the confidence to write in with Section 44 letters (that declare the worker believes the workplace to be unsafe.)   


Below are some reports to ‘The Socialist’ newspaper of how education workers organised.

Local Officers, reps and members have been working flat out since the call was made by the NEU (National Education Union) that staff should assert their contractual right not to attend an unsafe place of work. As well as school, District and Regional meetings, the NEU estimate as many as 400,000 people may have watched this morning’s National Union ‘Zoom’ call – either directly or through social media broadcasts.

Union activists have been so busy talking to members, answering queries and building the campaign that there has been little opportunity (to report) the work being carried out. These brief reports hopefully give you a flavour of what’s been happening right across the Union:

As Headteacher, I have received 50 Section 44 letters from teachers and support staff today.

Some staff were already either shielding or self-isolating in any case. I have obviously responded by informing parents that the school will be closed tomorrow. It looks like a number of Southampton schools are closing. Support from the leader of the council has helped.

* UPDATE ON MONDAY MORNING – 31 Southampton primary schools closed = about two-thirds of them!

Liz Filer, Southampton NEU

Lots of primaries will be closed in Bristol.

My own school was up to 22 staff on a Section 44 letter when it was announced it will be closed to everyone tomorrow and then there will be remote learning for at least the rest of the week. I’ve also had 10 new names appear on my membership list, including several support staff who have never been unionised before.

Sheila Caffrey, Bristol NEU

Coventry saw over 300 members join an online meeting.

We have recruited more reps and members have grown in confidence.  A number of schools are fully closed and more are partially closed. This is a great start to the campaign. The response of the Local Authority has angered many members, being told that schools are safe whilst the data on Covid cases has increased by over 50% in a short period of time.

Jane Nellist, Coventry NEU

I have spoken to eight Multi Academy Trust CEOs. All bar one were very supportive of our stance.

Over 100 members attended our District ‘Zoom’ meeting this afternoon. We also invited the UNISON convenor to attend and that helped to strengthen the resolve of our members. We’ve already gained 27 new members since the union came out fighting.

Mike Whale, Hull NEU

Responding to a growing anxiety about the return to school, I worked as part of the senior leadership team to review and tighten up our risk assessment. However, given the growing risks (we) felt this would be insufficient to guarantee staff safety. After the national NEU rep’s briefing on Saturday, our school rep organised a members meeting. All 17 of our members (including 3 former NASUWT members) agreed to sign the S44 letter. We decided to contact and share the letter with all school staff. Within an hour we had 50 names on it!

Staff were keen to sign, given confidence by the union taking a stand. Our Head, fully respected the views of the staff and the school has moved to online learning as per NEU recommendations for the next 2 weeks at least. Even Tory-led Norfolk Council has now issued advice saying that “as a head teacher you may find it difficult to be certain that you will have sufficient staff to open safely on Monday”. At the latest count, I already know of over 50 local primary schools who will not be opening – and the list is being added to all the time!

From a NEU member in Norfolk

Why we supported the education workers: A fuller explanation of the education workers view….


Organise a mass refusal to attend unsafe schools on Monday

Posted on 2 January 2021 [https://www.socialistparty.org.uk/articles/31785]

Our schools and colleges are not safe.

Full classrooms provide an environment where the new variant will quickly spread. No member of staff and no pupil should have to work in such dangerous conditions. That’s why, to protect their safety, and the safety of their wider school community, school union groups should boldly make clear this weekend that they are not prepared to return to work until safety can be assured.

For months, the Government has been ignoring growing evidence that school aged children have high levels of infection and that poorly ventilated, closely packed, schools have been an important factor in the spread of Covid-19.

Keeping schools fully open has nothing to do with keeping children safe. Instead it has put more lives in danger, more pressure on an overwhelmed NHS, more chaotic disruption in schools.

Before Christmas, even their own scientific advisers warned Ministers that “accumulating evidence is consistent with increased transmission occurring amongst school children when schools are open”. Yet the Department for Education still insisted on bullying Councils like Greenwich into keeping their schools open. Now these bullies have to be faced down.

With the full opening of secondary schools delayed by a week, the immediate battleground is in primary, nursery and special schools.  With the new, more contagious, variant of the virus spreading quickly amongst young people in particular, even this Government has been forced to concede that primary schools in London and some other South-East authorities do not open fully at the start of term. But, as things stand, most school staff still face entering an unsafe workplace on Monday – and the virus doesn’t respect geographical boundaries.

Insisting workers enter an unsafe workplace, and without risk assessments in place that address the new dangers from the new variant, is a breach of Health and Safety. That’s why the National Education Union met in emergency session today (Sat 2nd Jan) and agreed it will be calling on members in primary and special schools to exercise their rights under “Section 44” and that the Union will support them in doing so, including through balloting for industrial action if necessary. Letters will be sent to all employers by the Union.

Members will be advised to insist on a new risk assessment and that they are available to work in school to teach key worker and vulnerable children only or, otherwise, work from home to support remote learning.

This is a very significant step and one that now needs to be fully backed by the trade union movement. It should also be replicated by UNISON, GMB, NASUWT and other school unions.

By failing to act earlier in this decisive manner, the NEU has left itself with a very short timescale to get this message across to its members and to give them confidence to act. Nevertheless, it is a stand that has to be taken given the serious dangers facing all of us.

Low paid Teaching Assistants to be made redundant as one Head Teacher’s salary soars

Low paid Teaching Assistants to be made redundant as one Head Teacher’s salary soars

Photo – Rugby Observer

By a Socialist Party member in Rugby

Avon Valley School in Rugby have announced they are to make seven teaching assistants redundant due to consistent cuts to their budget by the Tories.

This comes just a week after it was revealed that the head of Ashlawn School in Rugby is earning £270,000 per year. Head of Ashlawn Lois Reed received a pay rise of around 50% from 2016 to 2017. This places her among the highest paid heads in the country and on £150,000 more than the second highest paid head in the town at Lawrence Sheriff School.

One Rugby resident said Mrs Reed’s pay is obscene particularly at a time when many schools are struggling to balance their budgets.

It’s a question of priorities, do we want our schools adequately funded and staffed in order to provide quality education for our children or do we want fat cat salaries for one head teacher who values the Government’s academy and free school programme above a decent education for all? (As well as being Ashlawn’s head teacher Mrs Reed is also acting CEO & accounting officer for the Transforming Lives Education Trust and is leading the expansion of free schools in the Rugby area.)

The Socialist Party says:

* No to all cuts – defend every school, job, course and service
* Organise campaigns in every area uniting teachers, support staff, parents students and the community
* For a trade union organised national demonstration in defence of education
* Co-ordinated strike action by education workers to stop cuts
* Fight for a fully funded, democratically run, genuinely comprehensive education system

If you agree with us, we urge you to get in touch and help us build a movement to defend education and to fight for socialist change. Please fill in the form below!

Protest against school funding cuts in Coventry

Protest against school funding cuts in Coventry

Jane Nellist, Coventry NUT

Protesters gathered in Coventry today for the “Big School Assembly” demonstration organised by trade unions to protest against education cuts.

Jane Nellist from the National Union of Teachers spoke, as well as speakers from the University and Colleges Union, UNISON and the Association of Teachers and Lecturers. Parents also spoke and expressed concerns about the impact of funding cuts on their children.

The School Cuts website highlights the effect of education cuts across the country at primary and secondary level. It lists the cuts being made to almost all schools – the picture below shows just how badly these cuts will impact on Coventry.

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Education cuts and academisation represent a huge threat to children’s futures, and it’s important for school staff, parents and pupils to keep building the campaign against them.

Education for all – not exam factories

Education for all – not exam factories

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We are pleased to publish the following article by Jane Nellist concerning the situation in our education system. Jane is on the NEC of the National Union of Teachers (NUT) and is currently President of Coventry TUC. The article also appears in the current issue of The Socialist, the Marxist newspaper for workers and youth. It should be read alongside the article ‘What kind of education?’ which also appears in same issue.


Education for all – not exam factories

By Jane Nellist

It is without doubt that our children are the most tested in the world.

Almost from the time a child starts school, they are subjected to a never-ending regime of examinations. This not only impacts on the child, but on the school and the individual teacher, and most importantly on the quality of education.

The costs of these formal tests and exams are a drain on school budgets, with private companies, like Pearson, making huge profits from our education system. Constant switching between exam boards creates huge workloads for teachers, rewriting schemes of work.

The pressure of testing on pupils causes unnecessary stress, resulting in increasing levels of mental health issues. Schools are now more like ‘exam factories’.

Even the Institute of Directors uses this term. Their report in April stated that “this study raises serious concerns that UK education policy is turning our schools into exam factories, squeezing out creativity and the joy of learning at a time when these very attributes are becoming increasingly important.”

With teachers subjected to performance-related pay, it is obvious that ‘teaching to the test’ impacts on the curriculum young people experience. Music, art and drama are being marginalised.

Teachers have always used testing as part of the assessment of their pupils, but it is only one of the tools we use. The increase in the use of publicly reported testing and exams from children as young as seven is more to do with control than good education.

So does it have to be like this?

Well, the simple answer is no. Teachers want to ensure all their pupils can achieve their full potential, whatever their ability. High-stakes testing inevitably means some pupils are more ‘important’ than others. Children with special educational needs, and those more able, can often be sidelined.

‘Pisa’, which looks at the quality of education worldwide, has consistently shown that Finnish children perform well. This is in a country where there are no school inspectors, no league tables, and no exams until the age of 16.

In Germany, while they have introduced national tests, there are no performance league tables and schools are not penalised for poor results.

Of course, parents want to ensure there is accountability. But a recent Ipsos Mori poll on who people trust put teachers on 88%, second only to doctors and nurses – while politicians, who make the decisions about our education system, came in at 15%.

Sats

Parents are becoming increasingly uneasy about the level of testing. Campaigns such as ‘Children are More than a Score’ are gaining wider support for ending Sats.

We need a huge overhaul of education, led by education professionals. We need to rid our system of the present national curriculum, along with Ofsted inspections, Sats and league tables.

Our immediate demands should include a flexible curriculum with more practical learning. It must be a broad and balanced curriculum, with time for the arts, music and more pupil-led innovation, as well as a wide pastoral curriculum including health and sex education for all.

Diagnostic testing and moderated teacher assessment should be at the discretion of the teachers. But a socialist education system would be based on individual and group learning and attainment rather than exams.

Agree with Jane? Fill in the form below!

Tories plan further fee hikes for uni students

Tories plan further fee hikes for uni students

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Aidan (second from right) campaigning with TUC Young Workers

The below article by Coventry Socialist Students member Aidan O’Toole was carried in this weeks issue of The Socialist newspaper. The Tories have planned further attacks on students – students need to organise to fight back.

The Tories want universities that meet their backbreaking ‘teaching excellence framework’ targets to be allowed to increase the cost of their courses with inflation. Universities including Manchester have already announced their fees will rise to £9,250 in 2017, before parliament has even considered the measure.

The future is looking bleak for young people. Houses are unaffordable, jobs are low-paid and insecure, and education is becoming more and more elitist.

Universities received £9 billion in tuition fees last year, the highest amount ever. The government has cut central funding to £3 billion.

Rising tuition fees, along with the end of student grants, are increasingly pushing working class people out of higher education. Working class and some middle class students have to decide if a life of debt is worth a degree, which isn’t a guarantee of employment. And that’s only if they can afford to rent accommodation and feed themselves during the course.

It is no surprise that Jeremy Corbyn’s call last year to scrap tuition fees resonates with so many young people. Anger is clear among students who feel like they are putting themselves in a lot of debt for not much gain. The 2016 Student Academic Experience Survey found that two thirds of students felt their degree didn’t give value for money.

The Socialist Party says education is a right and should be free for all. It should not just be a privilege for the super-rich who can afford extortionate fees and high living costs, relying of the bank of mum and dad. We fight for an end to fees, cuts and closures in higher education, for a living grant for all students, and for the return of EMA student payments in further education.

Leading trade unionist condemns ‘lunch isolation’ letter

Leading trade unionist condemns ‘lunch isolation’ letter

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The letter

We publish below comments from Jane Nellist concerning the disgusting letter circulating on social media addressed to parents of children at a ‘Free school’. Jane is a member of the national executive of the National Union of Teachers and joint secretary of Coventry NUT. She writes here in a personal capacity.


‘Every day almost, there are articles about the disgraceful behaviour of Academy and Free School Headteachers and CEOs who take it upon themselves to abuse their power in our schools.

The latest incident is of a so-called ‘Superhead’ of a London Free School, Katharine Birbalsingh.  She came to prominence in 2010 at the Tory Party Conference when she criticised the state education system, drawing on examples from her own school which resulted in her losing her job.

She went on to set up her own Free School and was praised by Michael Gove.  Her most recent claim to noteriety is to punish pupils whose parents have fallen behind with lunch payments by segregating them in isolation and giving them only a sandwich and a piece of fruit as well as extra lessons.

It’s ironic that her Twitter profile (@Miss_Snuffy) states that she “believes in justice for the poor and discipline+traditional teaching = social mobility.”  Her policies though mean that the pupils are being punished due to their financial situation which is completely unacceptable. The school incidentally does not allow pupils to take their own packed lunch which may be a cheaper option for many families on low wages but who do not qualify for free school meals.

Evidence shows that many children are going to school hungry and that having a breakfast and proper school lunch can help to ensure that children are more able to learn.  By withdrawing these children from their friends and limiting their food, this head is stigmatising them and punishing them.

As a teacher, I believe that all pupils should have a free breakfast and free high quality lunch.  We need to ensure that families have sufficient money to feed their children properly by ensuring that benefits and wages are raised above poverty levels.

This headteacher demonstrates all that is bad about the ethos of some schools that the Tories are praising as good models of education.

It’s time that we put an end to these educational ‘experiments’ and bring all Academies and Free Schools back under local authority control where they can be democratically accountable to the communities they serve.’

Coventry teachers join national NUT strike

Coventry teachers join national NUT strike

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Protesting outside the Department for Education building in Coventry

Today saw members of the National Union of Teachers (NUT) take industrial action against funding cuts to schools, an increasing workload, and schools using unqualified teachers in order in classrooms in order to save money. Members of the NUT say they will continue to take industrial action demanding no more cuts to funding, so they can continue to provide an outstanding education and support for every child to develop and thrive.

Around 80 teachers and other trade unionists protested outside the Department for Education building in Coventry and at Godiva Statue, as well as holding picket lines at schools across the city.

“The 12% reduction in funding to Coventry schools will devastate education in this city. We will see a possible increase of class sizes to 35 and classes taught by unqualified teachers. Teachers will see their workload further increase and it is intolerable now. More and more teachers will leave teaching either by choice or by being made redundant as schools tighten their belts. Parents should be angry that this will impact on their children’s education.” said Nicky Downes, Coventry NUT equalities officer and Socialist Party member.

Since the Tories came into power we have seen attacks on our education, NHS and other public services across the country. Today it was announced that junior doctors have rejected the imposition of a new contract – the next step should be for them to take strike action alongside teachers, as part of the fight against austerity.

Academies and Free Schools cause chaos in Coventry – local Academy to close

Academies and Free Schools cause chaos in Coventry – local Academy to close

woodlands

Save our School banner

We are pleased to carry the article below by Jane Nellist, joint secretary of Coventry National Union of Teachers (NUT) and a member of the national executive of the NUT. She writes in a personal capacity.


Coventry is witnessing the catastrophic consequences of the government’s programme of Academies and Free Schools. This comes at a time when the government is planning for the academisation of all schools!

The day before Year 6 children learnt which secondary school they were to be allocated, it was announced that, in effect, Woodlands Academy would be closing. The ‘consultation’ paper sent to all parents is for the  neighbouring Tile Hill Wood Academy, a girl’s school, to be renamed and designated a co-ed Academy, opening in September 2017, taking the boys from Woodlands in stages, starting with the Y7 in September.

There has been a total destabilisation of schools in the West area of the city with the opening of a Free School, Finham 2 by one of the more successful Academies which is now over-subscribed.   Even the DfE’s own impact assessment identified a detrimental impact on all three secondary schools in the area, all of which are Academies.

The opening of a girls Muslim Free School in the city and a Sikh Free School has also contributed to the fall in numbers across the city for other schools.

The introduction of competition and surplus places is not the way to raise standards.  Only a democratically accountable and planned education system can do this. Strong, well-resourced Local Authorities, working with schools, sharing good practice and supporting each other is a model that we know works.

It’s ironic that we are facing these problems in Coventry for two reasons.  Firstly, Woodlands School was built in 1954 and was one of the original Comprehensive schools built in this country.  A new future for education after the second world war, now a victim of the Tory vision of education!

The second reason is that in 2011, Coventry NUT led a fight, including strike action, to save both Woodlands and Tile Hill from being turned into Academies.

We warned of the problems that would come if they went ahead.  Governors claimed they would get new school buildings and that there would be more funding- neither of which has materialised!  Instead, Woodlands Governors have failed miserably, running up huge debts and the school is in ‘Requires Improvement’.  The school buildings are shoddy and have not benefitted from re-building as they were promised under the ‘Building Schools for the Future’ programme which was shelved by this government.

We are now left with a school closure, our members at risk of losing jobs, pupils who are angry about the way they are being treated and communities feeling let down. In a few years’ time, forecasts show we will be desperate for school places!

You may ask where the DfE is in all of this.  They appear to have abdicated their responsibility completely. The Regional Schools Commissioner, Pank Patel, has hardly instilled any confidence in the process, and is now leaving his role to go back to headship in an Academy! Unions have written to ask for an urgent meeting but have heard nothing.  When they showed up at consultation meetings they failed to answer any questions at all.

We cannot even get simple written answers to questions about redundancy payments for staff.

As the consultation ran over the local elections, both Tories and Labour squabbled over who was to blame. Interestingly, at least one councillor was on the governing body and part of the finance committee– why did they not see the financial crisis coming? The consequences of this delayed any decisions, a re-run of the consultation which has meant that staff, parents and most importantly, pupils were all left in limbo.

As we break up for half term, the final decision has been made, the school will close in September 2017. Tile Hill Wood Academy will be re-named and will become co-ed.

For Woodlands to have been saved it needed a huge investment in resources to pay off the debt and to enhance the school’s buildings.  More importantly, it needed more pupils.

What has been experienced in Coventry isn’t progress- it’s anarchy and it serves no-one well.  Parents are understandably very angry and concerned for their child’s education.

As teachers, we want good local schools that serve our communities.  We have to continue the battle to fight this crazy system and build for a return to the vision of a truly Comprehensive education based on co-operation rather than competition and democratic accountability rather than the anarchy of the market place.

The big question is-will it happen again?  Well of course it will- we are entering into the world of the market for our schools.  That’s why we have to fight against academisation.  We warned about the risks back in 2008 when the first Academy, Grace Academy, replaced Woodway School. The evidence is clear- academisation does not produce better schools.

We shall continue to support our members and the communities that our schools serve.  The fight against the government’s plans for more acdademisation needs to be stepped up.  Lessons need to be learned and we need to galvanise our resolve. Our education system is not for sale and it’s not for giving away!

 

Coventry lecturers strike for fair pay

Coventry lecturers strike for fair pay

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UCU strikers march through Coventry

Lecturers at Coventry’s universities took strike action today to demand a fair pay deal for staff.

Members of Coventry Socialist Students joined pickets at Coventry University to show solidarity with staff, and speaking on the picket line Kris O’Sullivan spoke about the need for a united struggle of students and lecturers for free education and fair pay.

Speakers at the picket line and at the subsequent strike meeting highlighted the three issues the UCU is striking over; the pay freeze for staff which has now been in place for 9 years, the gender pay gap between male and female academic staff, and the increasing casualisation of staff contracts throughout universities.

The strike will continue tomorrow, and lecturers will then be taking ongoing “work to rule” action as part of the dispute. It is crucial that they unite with students, as well as other workers who are taking action such as junior doctors and teachers. Socialist Students members will continue to support their lecturers!

LIVE: Coventry teachers show solidarity with striking junior doctors

LIVE: Coventry teachers show solidarity with striking junior doctors

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NUT joins picket line today at Walsgrave 

The all-out junior doctors strike continued into its second day today, and once again the picket line at Walsgrave hospital in Coventry was well supported. As we highlighted yesterday, the solidarity developing between junior doctors and teachers is crucial – and seeing the Coventry NUT banner on the picket line today is another great example!

Junior doctors go back to work tomorrow, but this dispute is not over – doctors have lodged a legal challenge against the new contracts, but are determined to beat them before they are implemented.