Union anger, "Govey", exclusions, "sexting" guidance and curriculum reform

29th March 2013 at 10:08
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`Gove must go!' NUT winds up its annual get-together by promising to defend national pay structures - 2 April 2013

The last day of the NUT annual conference in Liverpool was nothing if not rousing. The battle to block government plans to scrap the national pay system for teachers was described as the "fight of our lives" by the NUT general secretary this morning, in an address that rounded off a weekend of anger.

Speaking to a packed house, Christine Blower described the campaign to stop the abolition of the national pay system as a "significant moment" in the union's history.

"Colleagues have called it the fight of our lives," Ms Blower said. "The fact that we are entering this fight alongside our colleagues in the NASUWT is genuinely historic. It is a fight we need to win. It may be a long campaign but it has so much more chance of winning because, together with the NASUWT, we are the vast majority of classroom teachers."

The union leader said that education secretary Michael Gove had put the Department for Education on a "war footing" with the unions and shepointed to planned strike action in the North West on 27 June over pay, pensions and conditions and a further proposed national strike before Christmas as evidence of the profession's anger at Mr Gove's policies.

Ms Blower's comments came after union members voted unanimously to pass a motion of no confidence in the secretary of state.

In a written statement on the motion, Ms Blower said that Mr Gove could be heading towards his own "poll tax moment" over the scant support enjoyed by his reforms.

Delegates had been chanting "Gove must go" throughout the conference but the chants intensified when the motion was voted through. Speaking in its support, teacher Nick O'Brien said it was "Gove who was the enemy of promise", not teachers.

The Conservative minister and his Cabinet colleagues were accused of "breaking the hearts of our brilliant young people", while their "constant attacks on teachers were demoralising the workforce", the conference heard.

Members also voted through a motion today calling for teachers' working hours to be limited to just 35 per week, including no more than 20 hours of contact time with pupils, five hours for non-contact duties and a further five for planning, preparation and assessment.

And with that the delegates went their separate ways, many of them no doubt hoping that a year of industrial action will bring down Mr Gove.

Richard Vaughan

Don't be afraid to tell the blog's editor Ed Dorrell what you think

Classroom behaviour, Michael Gove as John Wayne and the Arab Spring - the NASUWT conference is never boring - 1 April 2013

As usual at the NASUWT's Easter conference, pupil behaviour is playing a big part in proceedings. General secretary Chris Keates successfully made the headlines with warnings that the country's depressed economic state is having consequences for worsening behaviour in schools.

But it isn't just unruly pupils on the minds of NASUWT delegates gathered in Bournemouth. They, like their counterparts at the NUT in Liverpool, believe education secretary Michael Gove is also in need of some serious behaviour management sanctions.

Mr Gove's NASUWT wrap sheet - including the introduction of the phonics test, the "privatisation" of schools and pupil referral units, reforms to special educational needs provision, "predatory" school chains and "white elephant" free schools - is a long one.

But perhaps the issue most exercising delegates is Department for Education policy that allows unqualified teachers to work in free schools and academies.

The union is determined to see this issue given a wider airing, believing that it can gain traction with the general public. According to the research released yesterday, unqualified people are being widely employed as teachers - 59 per cent of members who responded to a survey said it was happening in their school.

Mr Gove says simply that it will only allow schools more flexibility to employ those with talents in particular areas. Ms Keates, however, has used the Bournemouth platform to claim it has much wider repercussions, saying it removes the "entitlement" of children to be taught by a qualified teacher. A big poster outside the conference centre in Bournemouth shows a worried child bemoaning this fate.

One of the best lines belonged to TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady, who pleased the crowd yesterday when she said Mr Gove "seems to think he's the government's unlikely answer to John Wayne".

"A man's gotta do what a man's gotta do.' He says his position is fixed. There is no alternative," she said.

Just after this section of the conference, TES met the vice-president of the Bahrain Teachers' Association (BTA), Jalila al Salman, who has been arrested, jailed and tortured by the government in her country, just, she says, for being part of a trade union.

The cause of the BTA is one that has been pushed for some time by the NASUWT. Ms al Salman, who received an award from the union this weekend, described the extraordinary experiences of playing a central role in a failed Arab Spring uprising.

This appearance certainly put the rest of the conference into context.

Kerra Maddern

Don't be afraid to tell the blog's editor Ed Dorrell what you think

National strike for next term averted as NUT moderates win tight vote - 31 March 2013

The programme of strikes announced earlier this month by the NUT and NASUWT has been described by Christine Blower as a "reasonable" response to the plans of Michael Gove. It sends a clear message to the education secretary, while still leaving him time to come to the negotiating table, the NUT general secretary believes.

The problem for some of the more left wing members of her union, however, is that the proposed action - likely to shut thousands of schools if enacted - is a bit too reasonable. While the two unions agreed to strike in the North-West on 27 June followed by further regional strikes and a national strike in the autumn term, some NUT members felt that was simply too long to wait.

So when this strike strategy went before members for approval yesterday afternoon, a counter-proposal was also put on the table. With the support of the NUT's left wing factions, executive member Martin Powell-Davies submitted an amendment calling for a national strike on 26 June - a day before the strike in the North West, and intended to coincide with a strike mooted by the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS).

The debate was described by Jerry Glazier, a more moderate member of the NUT executive, as "crunch time". He suggested that the union's leadership had been forced to work hard to get the NASUWT to agree to go on strike, and any change to the agreed strategy could jeopardise the unions' historic alliance.

"The risks are great. Let me assure you, the risks are really great," he said. "I've had the benefit of looking across the table and negotiating with the NASUWT, and I know what's been in their minds and I know what we've achieved. I know how hard it has been to achieve it."

However, to loud applause from his supporters, Mr Powell-Davies insisted the NUT needed to be seen to be "upping the ante". "We need to engage members in every region, we have got to do that next term," he said. "We don't want to just hit the headlines in the North West, we want to hit the national headlines and that's why a national strike is required.

But Aisling Macsweeney, from East London, told delegates: "I have not met a single teacher, a single normal union member who is not an activist, who thinks that striking without the NASUWT is a better strategy. I'm actually terrified to do this without them."

And although the vote was close, the moderates won the battle. Ms Keates and her deputy, Kevin Courtney, looked the most relieved people in Liverpool's BT Convention Centre. In Bournemouth, NASUWT general secretary Chris Keates probably felt the same.

News from the NASUWT conference will follow tomorrow.

Stephen Exley

Don't be afraid to tell the blog's editor Ed Dorrell what you think

Ofsted feels full wrath of NUT rage - 31 March 2013

Sir Michael Wilshaw has been called many things by teachers during his reign as Ofsted's chief inspector, but even he would probably be impressed at some of the imaginative nicknames he was given at the NUT's annual conference yesterday.

During a debate on a motion calling for his resignation, Sir Michael was variously dubbed "Big Brother", "the Spanish Inquisition", "Gove's Enforcer", a "poisonous spider" and in one particularly creative contribution likened to a "dementor", a soul-sucking demon from Harry Potter.

The motion asked conference to note the "stream of negative and inaccurate comments" directed at teachers by the inspectorate.
Delegates alleged Ofsted's heavy-handed approach is demoralising teachers and increasing their stress levels, causing them to "drop like flies".

As well as calling for Sir Michael to resign, the motion also called on the union to continue to campaign for Ofsted's abolition.
Louise Regan from Central Nottinghamshire, who proposed the motion, said: "We can have no confidence in someone who treats our members with such contempt. Let's make this year the year we rid our schools of Ofsted."

One dissenting voice came from Haringey's Simon Horne, who attacked "political grandstanding", pointing out that no mainstream political party would ever back calls for Ofsted's abolition. It was, he said, a "failed" strategy.

Unsurprisingly, he was booed by some delegates who were clearly after Wilshaw's blood, however unrealistic their goal might be.

Darren Evans

Don't be afraid to tell the blog's editor Ed Dorrell what you think

New approach to exclusion means heads aren't waving goodbye to students - 28 March 2013

For almost all children excluded from school the future is bleak. Although teachers in pupil referral units no doubt do their best - and in many cases are responsible for transforming children's lives - student attendance is poor andacademic achievement often desperate.

In 2011-12, only 1.3 per centof students in pupil referral units achieved five or more A* to C grades including English and mathematics.

Another choice for excluded students is alternative provision: education run by charities or companies. But, as Ofsted inspectors have found, the quality is variable andheads don't fully monitor the progress of the children they send on these programmes.

The government's solution is, as usual, to put schoolsin charge of making improvements.Headteachers in 11 local authorities are trialling a new approach where they remain responsible for the student they exclude.They have even been given the funding so that they, rather than local authority officers, choose where the child goes - pupil referral unit or alternative provision.

Some of the referred student's results willappear alongside the school's and thus have consequences for league tables. No washing your hands of troubled children after you've excluded them, say supporters of this approach.

Positive evidence has now emerged from the first evaluation of the pilot scheme. While numbers are yet to be crunched, it would seem that the initiative is causing heads to change their behaviour.

The trial has led to increased support for children at risk of exclusion: for example, in-school alternative provision, internal exclusions and managed moves. In addition, specialist staff such as behaviour-for-learning mentors and careers advisers have been employed. Some local pupil referral units have even closed.

But giving heads and their schools more responsibility for excluded students will not be straightforward. What will happen, for example, in rural areas where schools have fewer options to choose from? And how will existing provision cope with the creation of a marketplace for students?

Kerra Maddern

Don't be afraid to tell the blog's editor Ed Dorrell what you think

Do politicians really want to leave teachers alone? - 27 March 2013

For teachers, few things are more irritating than being told how to do their job by interfering politicians. In Westminster, of course, issuing diktats to schools is regarded as part and parcel of being the education minister.

But in recent days something strange has happened. Both the current post-holder, Michael Gove, and his opposite number on the Labour front bench, Stephen Twigg, have suggested that, just maybe, decisions on teaching are best left to the professionals.

Speaking at the ATL conference in Liverpool this morning, Mr Twigg told delegates: "A minister would not instruct a surgeon on best practice in an operating theatre. Yet, all too often, ministers want to prescribe methods for the delivery of teaching and learning in our classrooms. It's a commonly cited analogy but one that demonstrates the absurdity of ministerial interference in the delivery of education."

A very similar metaphor was used by Mr Gove at a London conference for outstanding headteachers last week. He told the assembled audience, "I don't want to be doing what I'm doing," before arguing that the health secretary doesn't tell doctors how to treat patients, so why should he tell schools how to teach children?

The way that secretaries of state have "constantly" intervened in the workings of the profession has been self-defeating, Mr Gove added. Indeed, many in the education sector have argued that teachers should be more assertive in taking control of their own profession, with a Royal College of Teaching mooted as a way of achieving this.

So could politicians finally be realising that they should back off and leave the teachers to it?

We at the Big Ed Blog aren't holding our breath just yet. Given Mr Gove's fondness for, as fellow Tory MP Graham Stuart put it, knocking back the "urgency pills" and overhauling, well, pretty much everything he has been able to get his hands on, many teachers will need much more convincing that he is ready to take a back seat.

And as for Mr Twigg, he hasn't got his hand on the levers of power just yet, so we'll reserve judgement on him too.

Stephen Exley

Don't be afraid to tell the blog's editor Ed Dorrell what you think

Rage over performance-related pay; the ATL way - 26 March 2013

While the strike action announced last week by the NUT and NASUWT may have garnered most of the headlines, ATL members are also keen to get their message across. On day two of the union's conference in Liverpool, delegates today voted overwhelmingly to support a motion damning performance-related pay.

All three main teaching unions have already made perfectly clear their view of the plan to abolish automatic incremental pay rises and tie pay more closely to performance. But the wording of the motion left little doubt as to just how angry the ATL membership - which is unlikely strike - really is.

"Conference opposes and deplores the destruction of the teachers' national pay structure, which evidence shows will not work, and the extension of the 1 per cent cap on teachers' pay, which will depress teachers' living standards and fail to recruit the brightest and best to the profession," it read.

Mark Baker, a teacher at Redwood Secondary School in Rochdale, Greater Manchester, and the ATL's junior vice-president, told delegates that the pay changes would leave teachers stuck in a "low-pay culture without progression", which could cause an increase in "teaching to the test and cheating".

In the absence of industrial action, the motion went on to call on the ATL executive to lobby the government to reinstate a national pay structure and "restore teachers' pay in line with inflation".

This union is nothing if not optimistic.

Stephen Exley

Don't be afraid to tell the blog's editor Ed Dorrell what you think

`Moderate' union rejects `enemies of progress' slur - 25 March 2013

"ATL is moderate," the Association of Teachers and Lecturers' general secretary Mary Bousted told delegates on the opening morning of its annual conference in Liverpool.

A quick glance at the big screen above the stage during the debate directly after her speech, however, suggested otherwise. The motion, it said, was one of "no confidence in the Secretary of State or Her Majesty". But, rather than reflecting any republican tendencies, it was simply a typo and the motion was swiftly amended to read "Her Majesty's Chief Inspector".

But while the ATL is closer to the political centre ground than the NUT and NASUWT - which will be holding their annual conferences later this week - its delegates are clearly extremely unhappy with the way our education system is heading under Michael Gove.

Rather than taking the usual form of summarising the educational issues of the day, Ms Bousted's speech to conference this year was a no-holds-barred attack on the education secretary.

"It is my duty to castigate the man who is undermining everything we stand for," she said.

Ms Bousted described teacher morale as being at "rock bottom". "And yet," she added," slowly but surely the reckoning awakes. The doubters and dissenters grow in number and voice. They cannot be dismissed as enemies of promise, as the education establishment, as doom-sayers. There are too many of them and they know too much."

And if Mr Gove were tempted to assign Ms Bousted to the "enemy of promise" category, along with the academics whom he derided in yesterday's Mail on Sunday as "valuing Marxism, revering jargon and fighting excellence". her members showed she had summed up the mood of many moderate classroom teachers perfectly by giving her a standing ovation.

The motion of no confidence in the two Michaels - Gove and Wilshaw - was overwhelmingly carried by all but three delegates, despite the warnings of one ATL member, Jesse Ratcliffe from Lincolnshire. "If we do pass this motion," he asked, "are we not in danger of reinforcing his opinion of us as a bunch of left-wing loonies?"

But the majority of members agreed with their general secretary that the time for inaction has passed. As one delegate, Jean Roberts from inner London, said to rapturous applause, "it will be a clear signal that we are saying enough is enough".

Stephen Exley

Don't be afraid to tell the blog's editor Ed Dorrell what you think

Not waving but drowning? "Govey" doesn't want to be doing what he's doing - 21 March 2013

Ears pricked up when Michael Gove today told an audience of hundreds of heads: "I don't want to be doing what I'm doing."

Was the education secretary about to make a shock resignation? Well, no. But the minister - who several times referred to himself as "Govey" - nevertheless came out with a few surprising lines at a London conference for outstanding headteachers.

For a start, he told the school leaders that politicians should be doing less while they should be doing more. After all, he said, the health secretary doesn't tell doctors how to treat patients, so why should he tell schools how to teach children?

The way that various secretaries of state have "constantly" intervened in the workings of the profession has been self-defeating, according to Mr Gove. His aim is to reduce the "scope, reach and interference" of the Department for Education, with fewer people "doing a better job". Instead, he wants schools to improve by passing on their knowledge of what is successful and what works to make them outstanding.

Responding to the allegation that this could lead to such institutions taking their eyes off the ball, Mr Gove labelled what schools should be doing as "rivalrous collaboration".

Call it what you will, this soundbite can't escape the fact that many heads have found helping another underperforming school to be a risky business - reputations can be at stake when quick improvements are expected. The issue even came up last week at the annual conference of the Association of School and College Leaders.

But Mr Gove said this morning that he and Ofsted chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw wanted to address these fears. Commitment to helping other schools should be "rewarded and encouraged", Mr Gove said, and he wanted school leaders to "hold him to account" on this.

The education secretary - who also announced that he'd found pound;10m to help out new Teaching Schools - added that there was "some desire to swim close to the side of the swimming pool and never strike out to the deep end".

This metaphor, however, doesn't deny the danger of drowning.

Kerra Maddern

Don't be afraid to tell the blog's editor Ed Dorrell what you think

Teachers' pay rises to be capped for another year - 20 March 2013

Many teachers and heads may have breathed a collective sigh of relief when Chancellor George Osborne confirmed that school spending would be protected until 2015-16, but his Budget speech today still contained a nasty surprise: an extension of the 1 per cent cap on pay rises.

The cap, which had been due to end in 2015, will now be extended for another year, Mr Osborne said.

Education secretary Michael Gove has already announced that, from September, automatic progression up the main pay scale for teachers will be scrapped.

Earlier this week, the NUT and NASUWT teaching unions issued a joint statement detailing plans for a wide range of industrial action over the coming months, complete with the threat of a national strike before the year is out.

And the chancellor's announcement today has thrown yet more petrol on the fire, with the NUT stating this afternoon that it and the NASUWT were "determined to resist these reckless attacks on our living standards and economic future".

The news that the schools budget will remain untouched while other government departments will suffer additional cuts had been widely anticipated. (It is worth pointing out that although the schools budget will not be cut in cash terms, it will fall in real terms.)

But the Budget wasn't all bad news for teachers. The chancellor announced that he would be knocking a penny off the price of a pint of beer. So at least it will be a little cheaper for teachers to drown their sorrows.

Richard Vaughan

Don't be afraid to tell the blog's editor Ed Dorrell what you think

History will be bunk, say educationalists - the curriculum part of it, anyway - 20 March 2013

To subject specialists not covered by the comforting blanket of the English Baccalaureate performance measure, the distressed sighs coming from within the history department must seem galling.

Oh, how difficult it must be (they will be thinking, darkly) to cope with all that attention, all those television stars wanting to comment, all those parliamentary questions on medieval Prince of Wales Dafydd ap Gruffudd. For history seems to be the subject with which politicians seem most drawn to meddle.

At an event at the University of London's Institute of Education today, organised by the Curriculum for Cohesion collaboration, those debating the draft history curriculum were keen to point out that it contained some positives - after all, who doesn't want children to have knowledge?

But there was widespread concern that the proposed curriculum does not appear to consider the different ages of the children learning history, and that students from ethnic minorities, who make up 27 per cent of primary children, would struggle to link the information to their own lives.

Michael Fordham, head of history at Cottenham Village College, said: "I don't think I can support the curriculum the government has proposed because I don't think it's good history."

And, as someone who works in an academy, he doesn't have to. An ASCL poll last week revealed that 45 per cent of academy heads do not want to adopt the national curriculum. At today's event, Dr Katharine Burn, of the IOE, said that initial results from a Historical Association poll seemed to suggest that the numbers likely to opt out of history could be even higher.

The discussion came on the day that 100 academics - including some of the leading professors of education - published a letter saying that the proposed curriculum leaned too heavily on "endless lists of facts" and would result in a "dumbing down of teaching and learning".

Speaking this morning, Dr Sean Lang, senior lecturer in history at Anglia Ruskin University, agreed with the letter, saying: "The government had a lot of very good advice - and they ignored it."

Helen Ward

Don't be afraid to tell the blog's editor Ed Dorrell what you think

First government-supported "sexting" guidance published - 19 March 2013

"Sexting" - the worrying practice of sending explicit pictures or video footage via mobile phones and the internet - is all too common among some teenagers. Academic research and staffroom anecdote both point to girls facing pressure to provide sexually explicit images of themselves for others to share online.

Teachers are no doubt horrified by the trend, and concerned about the children who find themselves part of these images. But how do you start to address such a sensitive issue in the right way? Help may be at hand in the form of first government-backed guidance for school staff.

It was developed by former police detective Sharon Girling, working with Medway Council, the Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) Centre, the Lucy Faithfull Foundation child protection charity, and sponsored by online software company Securus.

The document promises practical support, including how to respond, how to help children involved, how to prevent further incidents and advice on whether teachers can search phones and computers. Its publication was welcomed by Russell Hobby, general secretary of the NAHT, who said it would "help schools deal with this contemporary threat appropriately".

"Sexting" in schools: advice and support around self-generated images: What to do and how to handle it can be downloaded here.

Kerra Maddern

Don't be afraid to tell the blog's editor Ed Dorrell what you think

A word in your ear: Gove hints that schools funding will remain secure in Budget - 19 March 2013

Heads and teachers could be forgiven for awaiting tomorrow's Budget with some trepidation.

The schools budget is currently ringfenced, offering protection against funding cuts for the duration of this parliament. However, several prominent members of the Cabinet are understood to be unhappy that their departments have borne the brunt of cuts, and feel that the Department for Education should share in the pain, as should other budgets afforded similar protection, such as those for the NHS and overseas aid.

But in addressing delegates at the Association of School and College Leaders' annual conference in London last Friday, education secretary Michael Gove gave the strongest hint yet that the schools budget will remain intact.

After stressing that he didn't want to "circumscribe [Chancellor George Osborne's] freedom of manoeuvre", Mr Gove continued: "The Prime Minister was pretty clear last week, when one or two of my colleagues were floating imaginative suggestions about how budgets could be restructured.that those areas around which we have a ringfence, the NHS and schools - not the whole education budget, sadly - but schools and overseas aid would be protected."

Mr Gove said there were "101 reasons" why the status quo should remain, adding: "I am keen, David Laws is keen, lots of people in the coalition are keen, not to go back on that."

While it might be premature for school leaders to breathe a sigh of relief, this will perhaps help them to sleep a little more soundly tonight. However, Mr Gove's reminder that post-16 education is not afforded the same protection could be reason enough for those in the FE sector to have a wakeful night.

Stephen Exley

Don't be afraid to tell the blog's editor Ed Dorrell what you think

Catch up with our earlier news stories


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