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.

Coventry rallies against Trump’s visit

Coventry rallies against Trump’s visit

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The demo begins in Friargate

Donald Trump finally visited the UK on Friday 13th July after months of delays over fears of mass protests. While Theresa May and other Tory ministers welcomed him, the British public turned out in hundreds of thousands in London and other cities across the country to oppose his visit and his politics of hate and division.

In many cities across the country, the Socialist Party and Socialist Students joined protests over Trump’s policies, as well as to stand in solidarity with those whom his administration poses the greatest threat: LGBT+ people, women and ethnic minorities as well as the organised working class more widely.

Here in Coventry we played a significant role in building support for the Friday demo, campaigning for hours at midday in the city centre and explaining to members of the public why this demonstration was important to them. Part of this involved trying to counter the anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, right-wing populist agenda he represents and is trying to sell to working class people, though it is clearly against their interests.

The afternoon demo began at Friargate, with chants such as “2,4,6,8, no to Trump and no to hate!” to build up enthusiasm in the crowd and attract interest from passers-by at the train station. We marched through the city centre to Broadgate, where we heard from local activists about the need to fight back against Trump, his politics and his agenda.

Socialist Party members and trade union activists spoke about the Trump administration’s attacks on rights in the US, and the threat they posed to migrants, to women, to LGBT+ people, and to all workers. But speakers also referred to the incredible resistance against Trump in the US, and the great victories by trade unions and socialist campaigners, despite the hostile establishment.

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Socialist Party member and Coventry UNISON Young Members officer (personal capacity) Dan Crowter speaking at the demo

Coventry Socialist Party members were there with leaflets explaining why we had called for national demonstrations against Trump; these were vital to engage with members of the public walking by who took an interest in the protest.

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Socialist Party member and NEU National Executive member (personal capacity) Jane Nellist speaking at the demo

As the march stopped at Broadgate for the main rally, our material helped us reach shoppers, school students, and commuters returning home from work who would otherwise not have taken part. This included a 12-year-old asked by his friends to speak for all of them on why Trump had to be opposed – one of the main highlights of the whole rally!

Theresa May might not be brave enough to call Trump a racist and a sexist, but a 12-year-old attending his first protest certainly was!

They were brave enough to stand and tell the truth about Trump and his policies – it’s a shame that May and her cabinet couldn’t do the same!

There was a clear fighting message from this rally; one very timely given the clear weakness of May’s government following recent events.

Trump’s visit highlighted further divisions in a Tory party already in chaos; trying to both gain a Brexit deal which will serve business interests when it comes to trade, as well as looking to placate the pro-EU wing of the party who oppose Brexit.

With this party in crisis, and with May hand-in-hand with a US president facing huge opposition represented by the protests, the possibility to topple this government and replace them with a Corbyn-led, anti-austerity Labour government clearly exists.

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Coventry kids going hungry over summer holidays

Coventry kids going hungry over summer holidays

foodbank

The following article was sent to us by Nicky Downes, a local teacher and equalities secretary for Coventry NUT.

There will be many children in Coventry counting down the days until they return to school in September. We all assume that children love the freedom of the holidays but if you’re hungry then there is little pleasure in each day.

Teachers in Coventry often have a packet of biscuits in their cupboard and many will have provided a bowl of cereal for a child that has gone without breakfast. At least for all children in Key Stage 1 there is a free hot meal to look forward to at lunchtime during the term. In fact as reported by the Cov Telegraph this week 8368 students in the city are entitled to free school meals. That’s one in every ten children.

Come the holidays free school meals are not available. For some families finding the cost of providing meals for their children for the six week holiday can be a struggle. The Tressell Trust which runs many of Coventry’s foodbanks reported a 17% rise in use over last year’s summer holidays. It is likely to be as high or if not higher this year.

We live in the sixth richest country and still some of our city’s children go hungry over the summer. Despite knowing that for many a free meal in the middle of the day is essential, the Tory government wanted to end free school meals for Key Stage 1 and were quite rightly forced to backtrack. No families should be reliant on foodbanks to fill the gap. It’s a national disgrace.

Public sector wages – Pay up! Strike to smash the cap

Public sector wages – Pay up! Strike to smash the cap

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Jane Nellist

We are pleased to carry this article from Socialist Party member Jane Nellist regarding the public sector pay cap. The article was originally published in a recent issue of The Socialist newspaper. Jane is joint secretary of Coventry National Union of Teachers and a member of the NEC of her union, as well as being President of Coventry TUC (she writes here in a personal capacity)


Public sector wages – Pay up! Strike to smash the cap!

A stark new report by the government’s own advisors on public sector pay has shown that there was a 6% drop in average wages from 2005 to 2015.

That’s reflected in a £3 an hour loss for teachers, £2 an hour for police officers and £8 an hour for doctors.

More experienced teachers have lost as much as £5,000 a year because of pay restraint, and that doesn’t include the loss from increases in pension and National Insurance contributions.

There is a growing anger among public sector workers about low pay and funding cuts to the services they deliver. The Tories are wobbling on the public sector pay cap, with many cabinet members – fearing mass revolt – coming out for change.

But we cannot rely on their ‘good nature’! They’ll just cut somewhere else to pay for it. We must come out fighting.

At the 1 July ‘Not One Day More’ demo Mark Serwotka, leader of the PCS civil servants’ union, absolutely nailed it when he posed the question: “Why don’t we have a public sector pay strike to break the pay cap?”

As each day goes by, the Tories are getting weaker. Even though mathematically they have a small majority, propped up by the billion-pound bribe for votes from the DUP, they have no authority.

And it’s not only pay they’re showing weakness on, some have hinted at tuition fees being on the table too. As their poll ratings plummet, they are more divided. We need to push harder to put them out of their misery.

The recent demo was vibrant and young. Labour’s manifesto started to lift aspirations on so many fronts. The mantra of austerity, ‘we are all in it together,’ is dead.

The mood is changing and there is a tangible feeling of victory in the air. That can become a reality, but only if the leadership of our trade unions starts to lead.

Now is the time to organise the millions of public sector workers in a serious coordinated campaign, including strike action, to win back dignity for public sector workers and the services we deliver.

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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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.

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.

LIVE: Junior doctors strike in Coventry

LIVE: Junior doctors strike in Coventry

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Support the doctors – save our NHS!

Junior doctors have taken all-out strike action today as part of their campaign against the planned imposition of new contracts by hated Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt. Throughout the strike doctors have had fantastic support from the public, including patients, and today is no different!

Despite the fear campaign by right-wing newspapers, the strike is still strong and the doctors are determined to win. The co-operation between the BMA and the teachers union, the NUT, leading to a joint demonstration is hugely important and should develop into a campaign of joint industrial action, to build for a 24-hour general strike!

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