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

jane-nellist

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.

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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

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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!