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.

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 celebrates May Day

Coventry celebrates May Day

Matt Wrack, general secretary of the FBU, addresses Coventry rally

Matt Wrack, general secretary of the FBU, addresses Coventry rally

A lively rally was held in Coventry city centre earlier today to mark May Day – International Workers’ Day. The gathering, which was entitled ‘Shout out against austerity’ and linked the battle against the cuts with the fight to defeat racism, gained support from many unions and organisations in the city. It also attracted attention from Coventry shoppers who stopped to listen to the many excellent speeches.

Emma from the junior doctors

Emma from the junior doctors

Speakers included Matt Wrack, the general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU), Emma from the junior doctors, Sarah Smith from Save Coventry Libraries, David Kersey from UNISON, Kris O’Sullivan from Youth Fight for Jobs and suspended Labour Party member Darrall Cozens speaking for Momentum.

Kris addressing the crowd

Kris addressing the crowd

Young worker and student Kris O’Sullivan, in bringing solidarity from Youth Fight for Jobs and Socialist Students, outlined how workers and students need to unite against the attacks, whether it be around wages, housing or jobs, in a common fightback.

Coventry against Racism and Fascism

Coventry against Racism and Fascism

A major protest against the plans of the English Defence League to march in Coventry on Saturday 21st May is planned and speakers urged maximum attendance at this event, to show opposition to those that seek to divide working class people.

Jane Nellist, secretary of Coventry TUC with Sarah Smith

Jane Nellist, secretary of Coventry TUC with Sarah Smith

Many speakers made the link between the cuts taking place in our city with the need to fight not only austerity, but the capitalist system that breeds unemployment, racism, homelessness, environmental destruction and an uncertain future for working class people. May Day gives us an opportunity to redouble our efforts to fight for a socialist future across the planet. Socialist Party members gave out hundreds of leaflets advertising the election campaign of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition and sold 40 copies of the May Day special issue of our weekly newspaper, The Socialist.

 

 

Protest against closure of Woodlands Academy

Protest against closure of Woodlands Academy

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Protest outside Woodlands Academy (photo Cov Telegraph)

Over 200 staff, parents and pupils gathered outside the gates of Woodlands Academy on a very cold and wet afternoon to protest at the proposals to effectively close Coventry’s only all boys school. Please read and share the below report from Jane Nellist, joint divisional secretary of Coventry National Union of Teachers (NUT) which represents many teaching staff at the school.

A consultation letter was sent to all parents and staff outlining plans to close Woodlands School and merge pupils into the neighbouring Tile Hill Academy, currently an all girls school, and that it would be renamed and become a co-ed school in 2017.

Woodlands School was built in 1954 as a purpose built Comprehensive school, one of the very first Comprehensive schools in the country.  It became an Academy in 2011 even though teachers and unions protested against the proposals and took strike action against the conversion.  At the time, unions warned that there was no guarantees of extra funding and new school buildings. That’s exactly what has happened.

We know that by 2020, Coventry will need to find many more school places for children that are currently in Primary Schools in the city due to population growth, and that’s without accounting for further housebuilding in the city.

This situation highlights the government’s chaotic  education policies with the growth in Academies along with the demise of the Local Authority and sensible democratic accountability, oversight and planning for school places. It is also a consequence of the government’s policy of agreeing to Free school expansion, including a Free school in the area, Finham 2, which has added to the destabilisation of school places in this area of Coventry.

The Department for Education, whilst agreeing to the Free Schools and pushing schools into becoming Academies is failing to step in and support schools. The marketisation of our schools and increased competition, encouraged by the Tories, is proving a disaster.

This has all contributed to the very worrying situation of the planned closure of one of Coventry’s schools, and the job losses of teachers and support staff at Woodlands.

Parents are angry, pupils are unsettled and staff are left with not knowing if they have a job.

Coventry parents, pupils and education staff deserve far better.

 

 

Fifa: invest in working class sport, not profits

Fifa: invest in working class sport, not profits

Coventry City fans protest against owners SISU

The below article from The Socialist was written by Socialist Party member Jane Nellist, who is joint divisional secretary of Coventry NUT and the secretary of Coventry Trades Council.

Fifa, football’s corruption-ridden international governing body, elected its new president on 26 February.

I’m a lifelong Baggies supporter (West Bromwich Albion). Like millions of working people across our planet, I enjoy the thrills, as well as the frustrations, of a game of football. It offers 90 minutes of escape from the drudgery of living under capitalism and the pressure of work and austerity.

But just as workers in their workplaces are exploited by big business, those at the top of the organisations that run football exploit the fans.

It’s often described as the ‘beautiful game’. But behind it lie ugly, bribe-taking, pro-big business organisations, the biggest being Fifa itself.

Even a scene from the new Sacha Baron Cohen film Grimsby refers to this. The main character, Nobby, a football hooligan, is told by his brother, a top spy: “Meet the head of the biggest crime syndicate in the world.” Nobby replies: “What, she runs Fifa?”

The big question for football fans around the world is: can Fifa reform itself? New president Gianni Infantino spent €500,000 of European football organisation Uefa’s money to travel the world in the run-up to the election.

Can Infantino fumigate this multi-billion pound organisation of the stench of corruption? I don’t think so. It’s too infected with greed and bribery for us to have any faith in it.

Football’s huge profits should be democratically controlled by fans, and invested in local communities across the world. To enable boys and girls to enjoy the true spirit of the game. The social interaction, team work, discipline, exercise – the joy of playing.

As the Socialist Party’s John Reid has excellently argued in his sell-out book Reclaim the Game: “the fight to democratise football is linked with getting rid of big business domination within it.” It’s time to show Fifa the red card!

  • ‘Reclaim the Game’ by John Reid: a socialist approach for football – £3 from leftbooks.co.uk

Blue Coat School Strike – report & pictures from the picket line

Blue Coat School Strike – report & pictures from the picket line

By Kris O’Sullivan

On the Thursday 3rd September members of the NUT went on strike at Blue Coat academy in Coventry in direct response to the attack on the working conditions of teaching / school staff imposed by management.

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This has been an ongoing process for an significant amount of time as union reps have been trying to negotiate with management for nearly a year now to restore original contracts.

However this strike is due to changes in performance measuring standards alongside additional significant changes being made with no consultation, with teachers only finding out via the school’s website!

This is all being done in the background of a sweep of redundancies both mandatory and voluntary, TA employment decimated, admin/cleaning staff laid off etc.

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There was a very good turnout from NUT members and great show of support from local parents, pupils, members of other trade unions and the local community, as many can empathize with the detrimental treatment of workers of Blue coat and ultimately the effect on the pupils themselves.

Further strike action is planned next week on Thursday September 10th.

Socialist Party members visited the Picket line and sent messages of support to the striking teachers.

Socialist Party members visited the Picket line and sent messages of support to the striking teachers.

Coventry Council trade unions under attack from Labour council

Coventry Council trade unions under attack from Labour council

Glasgow Homelessness Caseworkers - on strike for 15 weeks and supporting Coventry unions!

Glasgow Homelessness Caseworkers – on strike for 15 weeks and supporting Coventry unions!

By Jane Nellist, Coventry NUT joint secretary (personal capacity)

Coventry City Council, a Labour controlled authority, is seeking to make draconian cuts on the trade union facilities time of the recognised trade unions.

Recently in The Socialist newspaper we have had reports of attacks on trade unions in Conservative councils which are being fought alongside mass privatisation of services, but these attacks, from a Labour controlled council are an absolute disgrace.  Trade Unions are organising and mobilising members to defend our rights to support our members.

What’s worse is the manner in which they are trying to railroad this through without proper negotiation and regard to our collective agreements.

A Collective Dispute lodged on behalf of Unison, Unite, NUT, NASUWT and ATL has been disregarded.  The proposals outlined in a flawed document, which is defended with references to the arguments used by the Tax Payers Alliance, would mean that unions would suffer severe reductions in the time allocated for Trade Union duties to support their members, with Unison losing 45%, Unite, 21% and the NUT losing 70% of facilities time.

Pressure by the two Labour Party affiliated trade unions to persuade Labour leaders to intervene and withdraw the proposals has had no impact which makes members question more seriously why their unions are funding the Labour Party.   A wide campaign has now been launched to challenge the attacks.

Two issues need to be highlighted.  City Council Trade Unions have been at the forefront of the campaign to defend council services in the city.  We have had some success in pressurising the council to pull back on some areas of cuts to more vulnerable services such as Library cuts, disabled transport for schools and an employment service for vulnerable adults (TESS).  More importantly, these attacks coincide with the plans for the huge cuts which are about to come because Coventry Council, like others across the country have refused to stand up to Tory cuts.

It’s not just going to be services that are under attack.  As well as the 1000 jobs already cut, we know that there will be more job losses planned as well as huge attacks on pay and conditions on our members.

The key issue here is that whilst you sort of expect it from Tory councils, the fact that Labour is now openly preparing the way for the Tory’s dirty work exposes just why we need political representation that supports workers and defends our services.

Former Coventry Labour MP and TUSC national chair Dave Nellist supporting council unions

Former Coventry Labour MP and TUSC national chair Dave Nellist supporting council unions

The National Shop Stewards Network on Saturday, demonstrated how important it is to have fighting trade unions. The NSSN conference heard from trade unionists in Coventry about the campaign – with hundreds of union activists, including shop stewards, NEC members and general secretaries pledging their support for us

The fight in Coventry needs to be supported locally, nationally and internationally because if they get away with it here then your council or workplace trade union facility time will be next.

Our trade union movement has made great advances over the decades, but what we are seeing now challenges to all of those gains.  This must not be allowed to happen.

Support us by

  • Signing the online petition here
  • Like the Facebook campaign page here
  • Join the protests against austerity on Wednesday 8th July, 5.30pm Broadgate

Coventry trade union leader speaks out against library closures

Coventry trade union leader speaks out against library closures

Jane Nellist (second from left) on a previous demo in defence of the NHS

Jane Nellist (second from left) on a previous demo in defence of the NHS

The following letter from Jane Nellist was carried in a recent issue of the Coventry Telegraph. Jane is a leading member of the National Union of Teachers, secretary of Coventry TUC and member of the Socialist Party. Jane outlines in this letter why library closures should be opposed, and why we must all oppose the idea that they are run on a charity shop basis as is proposed by the Council.

‘As a representative of the National Union of Teachers in Coventry, representing over 1,800 teachers, we are extremely concerned with the city council’s intention to reduce dramatically the number of public libraries in Coventry.

We believe that libraries are uniquely placed to help foster engagement in reading. They offer free access to learning and a ‘safe’ space for children and young people to study and access resources.

They can help students to develop their confidence and motivation, seeing themselves as readers outside school and, therefore, read more widely and independently. They will offer a far wider range of reading materials than the school can offer, inspiring students to extend their reading tastes.

Librarians are key to this service. The fact that councillors are even suggesting that we can run libraries on a ‘charity shop’ model with volunteers is an insult to our library service.

Councillor Kershaw rightfully points to them being a ‘golden thread running throughout our lives’ (Telegraph, Jan 16). These cuts, supported by both political parties, will turn that 24 carat gold to fool’s gold if they succeed with this plan.

Libraries are a treasure of information and imagination and we must all join together to fight to keep all our libraries as well as oppose all cuts. Let’s unite to defend the services that matter to us and not be divided by the canker of austerity.

Jane Nellist,

​Joint secretary and national executive member,

Coventry NUT’

Agree with Jane?

Then join the demonstration against cuts including the closure of the libraries

Saturday 21st February, assemble 12pm, outside Coventry Transport Museum. Facebook event page here