The SWP and high-stakes testing

Published on: Mon, 17/02/2020 - 15:57

Duncan Morrison

For the last four years members of the Socialist Workers’ Party have fought militantly AGAINST the National Union of Teachers (NUT) and then the National Education Union (NEU) balloting its members to boycott SATs and the other high-stakes test in primary schools.

Why we're "paper-sellers"

Published on: Wed, 04/12/2019 - 17:48

Martin Thomas

Over the decades, pretty much every socialist effort of any substance has been organised round, and defined to the broader public by, a newspaper or magazine.

The movement’s chrysalis stage, in the 19th century, of secret societies and of attempts to establish utopian model communities in remote areas, was different, but the rule holds since then.

It is an oddity of today that there are socialist groups which have no regular publication, the SWP splinter groups Counterfire and RS21 for example. But they are small and not-very-active groups.

Today, too, as of old, the “apparatchik” layer in the

For a National Education Service

Published on: Thu, 07/11/2019 - 13:33

To produce the goods and services we need efficiently and without exhaustion and destruction – to reshape our economy to avoid climate catastrophe – to add beauty to life – to be informed about our social conditions and equipped to debate and decide on them – we need education.

Decades of battle by the labour movement have won us universal, free education to secondary level, and even the chance for many young working-class people to go on to university.

But the Tories have been stunting that and winding it back.

The huge increase in student fees in 2010 has hit older and part-time university

School funding: don't give comfort to Tory election gimmicks

Published on: Fri, 13/09/2019 - 09:11

Patrick Murphy (personal capacity)

On Friday August 30th the Tory government announced an increase in funding for schools over the next 3 years. They spun it as a £14bn increase and Boris Johnson boasted that this would “make sure every child receives a superb education regardless of which school they attend or where they grew up.” In fact school funding will increase by £7.1bn per year but it will take 3 years to reach that figure with a £2.6bn increase in £2020-1, rising to £4.8bn in 2021-2 and then £7.1bn in 2022-3.

The funding announcement didn’t come in isolation or without political context. It was part of a wider political agenda which included other promises on education as well as other public services. This agenda was launched as part of Johnson’s preparation for a general election just a few days before his outrageous prorogation of Parliament. Plainly he was looking for some good press coverage before launching a major political battle with his opponents, not only in Parliament but in his own party. It is no exaggeration to say that, should he win that battle, the consequence for education, trade unions and working class people in general would be an unmitigated disaster.

In those circumstances the response of the NEU to the funding announcement was, to say the least, very disappointing. If that seems harsh just consider the responses from some of the key players in the education funding debate.

Jules White, the headteacher who launched the Worth Less campaign said schools in England would need to see how much they would receive in real terms before passing judgment. “It is clear, he said, “that the major funding crisis that has blighted schools and post-16 provision is now being taken seriously by the government. But while the government’s headline figure is for £14bn, the actual increase in total spending on schools may be half of this, at £7.1bn. We also need to know how our real-terms spending power will be affected by rising student numbers and other inflationary costs.”

The shadow education secretary, Angela Rayner, said: “This comes nowhere close to meeting the prime minister’s pledge to reverse the Tories’ education cuts, let alone matching Labour’s plans to invest in a national education service. Instead it is yet another con trick by a politician who has shown time and again that you just can’t trust his promises.”

In its report of the funding announcement the Guardian spoke to a number of head teachers. They found that they “were wary of the government’s figures, citing previous occasions when funding announcements had been less generous than first presented, and some said the extra cash would not be enough even if delivered as advertised. Some heads suggested that few schools – mainly those concentrated in the most poorly funded regions – would benefit from the minimum funding pledge of £5,000 per secondary pupil and £4,000 per primary pupil. One senior head estimated that only one out of 10 schools would see a significant benefit”.
And this cautious reaction wasn’t restricted to education campaigners. The Insititute for Fiscal Studies said that while the package “represents a large increase in spending per pupil , a 13-year period of no net growth in school spending per pupil, after inflation, still represents a significant squeeze on school budgets when considered in historical terms.”

There is little or no comfort for the government in any of those responses. The Johnson government had to be disappointed at the lack of enthusiasm for their much-heralded pledges. They could take a lot more comfort, however, from the response of the NEU. Our press statement described the announcement as ‘very positive’ and the most critical note struck was, in many ways, a backhanded compliment. The government’s statement should, the NEU said, have “come with a note of apology”. An apology is what you do when you are admitting fault and agreeing to put it right. The government were doing neither.

The other responses made most of the key points about the limits and uncertainties around this funding pledge. In addition there was a need to highlight Johnson’s promise that funding would be “be levelled up across the entire country”. The real meaning of that is that the main beneficiaries of this injection of money will be affluent areas where the Tories electoral prospects are most at risk. In light of the linked announcement about behaviour and exclusions more money will also be spent on paying mainly private providers to take the increased number of pupils who will be excluded from mainstream schools. On top of all that we know it to be the case that large amounts of the additional funding will be used to boost the lagging academy and free school programmes.

There is nothing wrong with wanting to encourage activists and campaigners who have worked to put school funding at the top of the political agenda. In a message to union members that is entirely appropriate. Even then it would be important to dispel illusions and keep them alert to the need for further campaigning. In publicly reacting to an election gimmick from a hostile and deeply untrustworthy government desperate for positive headlines the priorities are, and must be, different.

Last week the Union published a different and better response with the strapline ‘It’s a start but not enough’. This time what stood out was the rebuttal of Johnson’s main claims. In particular the facts that
“Not every school will see a real terms rise.
Schools will not see any extra money until at least April 2020.
The Government has said they are delivering a minimum of £5,000 per secondary pupil. This is not true. Many schools will receive less than this.”

That should surely have been the first response of our union to this election gimmick. We are part of a broader trade union and labour movement facing one of the most right-wing governments in our history. They are currently trapped in a situation where the only way out is a general election in which they present themselves as born-again champions of key public services. In reacting to ‘concessions’ from a government under such pressure, our first duty is to give them no assistance in promoting that message.

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Defend NUS democracy!

Published on: Wed, 03/04/2019 - 12:24

Maisie Sanders

This year’s National Union of Students (NUS) Conference in Glasgow (9-11 April), will be very different to previous years′. Elections will take place on the first day before motions debates begin, no official fringe meetings will take place due to "lack of funds for staff", and delegates will vote on a reform motion coming from the right-wing led by President Shakira Martin, which proposes scrapping all remaining structures which enable rank and file control of NUS.

The Student Left Network (SLN) has been opposing these reforms since they were first announced. The soft left in NUS are also

Teachers' pay fight: why only in Scotland?

Published on: Sun, 04/11/2018 - 17:17

Scottish teachers marched in Glasgow on 27 October demanding an austerity-busting 10% pay rise. 30,000 attended the march organised by The Educational Institute of Scotland, excellent numbers considering there are around 50,000 teachers in Scotland.

The campaign Scottish teachers are waging is inspirational, but school workers might wonder how inspired our leadership have been here in England and Wales, given that National Education Union Joint General Secretary Kevin Courtney recently rose from a posture of begging that the 3.5% pay rise offered in England and Wales should be fully funded and apply to all teachers, to praise the fight over pay in Scotland. We voted to campaign for a 5% pay rise, but as soon as the pay review body recommend a 3.5% pay rise Joint General Secretary Mary Bousted welcomed it.

The 5% demand was junked and we were treated to Dave Harvey, exec member for outer London, pouring cold water on any potential fight and telling us that ‘if there is a mood for action in schools then we would proceed to an indicative ballot to test the water for industrial action’. The lead-from-the-back bureaucrat-speak here needs unpicking a bit. Seeing the union exec’s role as organising a ballot to test the waters is a way of placing the blame on school workers when, seeing the exec aren’t willing to fight, they aren’t inspired to turn out in great enough numbers to vote for action. The executive is elected to carry out the will of conference, not to find ways to weasel out of a promise for action over a 5% pay rise by organising a consultation process for an indicative ballot to show feeling for a ballot on action which can do nothing but demobilise and disorient workplace activists and members.

Courtney’s left-posturing on the Scottish pay campaign belies an attitude to union organising which is willing to appear radical when it comes to other people’s pay claims, but unwilling to do anything to organise a similar fight for his own members. National Education Union conference, in April 2019, will be an opportunity for activists to show the executive officers what we think a fighting union is. Why not pass a Workers’ Liberty motion through your division and challenge the executive on anything from testing and teachers’ pay, through to union democracy and the representation of support staff.…

By an NEU member

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NEU COLA strike

NEU Conference Motions - 2019

Published on: Fri, 26/10/2018 - 09:56

Workers' Liberty schoolworkers have written a raft of motions for NEU conference, covering a range of issues from testing and teachers' pay through to union democracy and the representation of support staff, fighting the anti-union laws, defending free movement and more!

See if you can get one or more of our motions passed through your NEU division. Motions need to be submitted by 3rd December 2018, so keep an eye out for division meetings in November!

Help us to priorities our motions at division meetings before 18th February 2019.

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NEU Executive makes a difficult pay campaign even harder

Published on: Wed, 12/09/2018 - 15:16

In what has become a pattern, the government announced their decision on the 2018-19 teachers’ pay award at the end of July when most schools had closed for the summer break.

Teachers do not have negotiating rights over national pay and, instead, annual awards are decided by the Secretary of State for Education following a review body recommendation. The teacher unions had submitted a claim for a 5% rise to the School Teachers’ Review Body (STRB). In fact 5% is a long way short of what is required to undo 10 years of below-inflation pay awards. The figure was chosen on the basis that it matched the claims of most other public sector unions and made the prospects of a joint pay campaign more likely.

The Review Body presented their Report to Damian Hinds in May but neither its contents nor his decision were made public until the end of July. We now know that the STRB recommended a 3.5% increase on all teacher pay ranges. This breach of the pay cap was based on evidence about the teacher recruitment and retention crisis and the STRB made it clear that, as a cost of living rise, they thought that it should go to all teachers. This last point matters considerably as teachers no longer have guaranteed pay scales but only pay ranges with maximum and minimum values. Hence it is perfectly legal for an employer to apply a national pay award only to the top and bottom of a scale and pay no increase to anyone in between.

In the event the Secretary of State decided not to accept the STRB recommendations in full. He announced a 3.5% increase for teachers on the main pay range, 2% on the upper pay range (more experienced) and 1.5% on the leadership range (heads, deputies, assistant heads). In response to significant pressure to fund this pay award in the light of cuts to school budgets he said schools would only have to fund the first 1% from existing budgets, the government would fund the rest.

It must be said that the initial response from the largest education union, the NEU, was poor. In a press statement they welcomed the 3.5% award and described it as ‘the penny finally dropping’. Things didn’t improve much over the summer with union communications focusing on the government’s refusal to accept the STRB recommendation rather than the failure of both Review Body and Secretary of State to accept the Union’s claim. The NUT section’s Conference policy is to fight for a 5% pay rise for all teachers and to ballot members for action in pursuit of that claim. By the end of August this had been rapidly reduced to campaigning for the 3.5% increase recommended by the STRB.

This shift was confirmed at the first National Executive of the year on September 7th. Officers of the Union proposed a campaign strategy which dropped the 5% claim and replaced it with the demand for the 3.5% recommended by the STRB. An amendment to this proposal tried to leave the question of our pay demand open pending a consultation with members but this was narrowly defeated. Had two SWP members voted differently it would have passed. A further amendment which insisted that the demand in any action campaign should be 5% was more heavily defeated.

The case for shifting to a demand that the STRB recommendation is applied is mainly presentational. This is the first time a government has ignored the Review Body’s recommendation and it will be much harder for them to defend their position publicly. When it comes to winning a ballot of members for national strike action, however, this shift is very dangerous. The majority of NEU teachers are paid on the main pay range and will be getting 3.5% in any case (unless their employer tries to pay it only to the top and bottom of the range, in which case there is a potential dispute with that employer). That majority will have nothing immediate or tangible to gain from a campaign for 3.5% for all. In effect the NEU will be asking the majority of its members to vote for significant strike action in pursuit of an increase for their senior leaders and more experienced colleagues. At best this creates an unnecessary additional barrier to reaching the onerous ballot thresholds imposed by the Trade Union Act. At worst it is a calculated decision to settle for yet another political campaign to expose the government rather than an industrial dispute which seeks to win.

At the September 7th Executive it was argued that a recent dispute in East Sussex proved that members would take action even where they had nothing to gain. In that case a large number of schools met the ballot thresholds in a campaign to ensure that all main range teachers got last year’s 2% rise This was a fairly cynical argument which ignored the fact that the strikes in east Sussex were sustained with strike pay, it is a very well-organised and led division and considerable national resources were (quite rightly) thrown into winning. None of these factors would apply across the country in a national ballot and this was pointed out by the Executive member for East Sussex who moved and voted for the amendment to leave the question of our claim open for now rather than reduce it to 3.5%.

The task for NEU members now is to build the pay campaign as it is and work as hard as we can to win support for action to increase the award and ensure that it is fully funded. If a serious fight can be generated around those issues it could make a real difference.

The decision of the NEU Executive has made that possibility a lot harder, but it hasn’t made it any less necessary.

By Patrick Murphy, National Education Union executive (personal capacity)

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The Schoolworkers' Manifesto

Published on: Wed, 12/09/2018 - 15:12

As in so many areas the Corbyn leadership and the 2017 manifesto marked a, welcome and significant, sea change in the party’s direction and vocabulary on education.

Gone was the talk of driving up standards by competition, increased observation and greater punishment of teachers who didn’t make the grade. Instead there were welcome commitments to establish a National Education Service (NES), ensure democratic control of schools, and restore funding cuts and genuine commitments to fund FE and Early Years provision better. But, again like elsewhere, the manifesto only appeared radical because of the context of the defeats of the last 40 years. It was far from as progressive as many previous Labour manifestos, before the 90s, were on education and it was far from what is required to undo the damage to our schools and colleges and set about creating a truly progressive and emancipatory education system.

What should Labour do in Power?

1. Abolish academies and free schools
The majority of secondary schools in England are now academies, although the take up is far less in primaries. Academies, along with free schools, represent the privatisation of our schools. They are private organisations, are not under any local democratic control, being only answerable to themselves, Ofsted and the DFE. Public opinion has shifted on academies, since the backlash against the government White Paper ‘Education Excellence Everywhere’ in 2016. An incoming Labour Government must take all schools and nursery schools back under Local Authority jurisdiction.

2. End private education
The manifesto committed to abolish VAT relief on private schools. Private schools are the source of and reinforce the huge inequality in our society. An in-coming Labour Government must end private education and take these schools into public control.

3. End the divisive grammar-school system
Theresa May is keen to champion grammar schools. Grammar schools again are an engine of inequality. They take the higher achieving children out of other schools. You cannot have grammar schools without out taking higher achieving children out of other schools. They are by their nature divisive and prejudicial. Labour must commit to ensure all schools are comprehensive.

4. A secular education system
Religious schools are also divisive. They attempt to, to a greater or lesser degree, indoctrinate children in their religious doctrines. Labour must end religious schools. They must also ensure that religious education in schools does not preference any religion or system of belief. The RE curriculum must give equal weight to atheism and agnosticism as to religious belief. All schools must be comprehensive and secular.

5. Cooperation and support, not competition – dismantle Ofsted
Our school system must be based on cooperation and collectivism not on competition. The pseudo-market system that has proliferated in the last 30 years has had a detrimental effect on many children’s education and has driven thousands of professionals out of education. A Corbyn led Labour government must dismantle this system. It must abolish Ofsted and end school league tables. It needs to replace this system with an accountability culture founded on recognition of education workers' responsibility and professional autonomy, with a voice for all of those involved in education, including the students, young people and pupils who are receiving it.

6. Nationalise the exam boards
As well as ending competition between schools Labour must nationalise the exams boards so that all assessment is at an agreed level and that there is not a market in qualifications. The nationalised exam board must be organised on the basis of expert knowledge and agreed curriculum targets not on targets for passing and failing students.

7. For ongoing, varied assessment – scrap SATs and GCSEs
Alongside the culture of competition between schools there has grown an equally, if not more, damaging culture within schools. Much of this is based on the need to get ‘results’ which are measured through high-stakes testing. This testing is used to measure and label children and education workers alike. On assuming office Labour must immediately scrap SATs tests and GCSEs and replace them with on-going, continuous assessment and a variety of assessment and reward systems not simply summative high stakes testing.

The current testing culture has had a disastrous effect on the mental health of our young people with a spike of under-11s being referred for mental health help. It has also had awful consequences for professionalism and the relationship between education professionals and the children and young people they work with. It is not just parents’ groups and the unions who have recognised the failure of the ‘exam factory’ culture. The bosses’ organisation the CBI has condemned it and called for the scrapping of GCSEs. Their concerns are that we are producing young people who can get through exam ‘hoops’ but can’t critically think, problem solve or evaluate.

8. Develop and nurture children – abolish streaming and setting
Labour should then move on to remove streaming and setting from schools. Young people are not simple labels, all of them have different combinations of skills and aptitudes. The current system is more concerned with labelling and differentiating than developing and nurturing. Alongside this there must be legislation to end the spiralling and draconian practice of detention, which is used now in schools as almost an indiscriminate punishment.

9. An expanded curriculum – restore creative subjects and social sciences
Beyond the immediate ending of exam factories and punitive internal regimes, Labour must address the terrible narrowing of the curriculum. It must ensure that a wide-range of subjects are available and taught well throughout secondary, restoring arts, creative and social science courses where they have been cut. The primary curriculum needs an entire over-haul restoring creativity to the central concerns of schools. Labour should pick up the direction of the Rose Review (commissioned by the Brown government and due to be implemented by it, but scrapped by the coalition and Gove) and the concurrent Cambridge Review (led by Professor Robin Alexander). Since these reviews, tragically primary education has moved in the opposite direction to the re-birth of creativity suggested by them.

10. Fully-funded education free to all
Currently, schools face a huge funding crisis. 91% of schools face real terms budget cuts compared to 2015-6. £2.8bn has been cut from school budgets since 2016. Labour must commit to restore funding to their high point in 2010. It must also ensure that education at all levels is free to access to everyone.

On being elected Labour should restore the Educational Maintenance Allowance and make it a living grant for all post-16 students. It should ensure all pre-16 students receive free school meals. Neither of these steps should be means tested.

11. Tackle the staffing crisis – reduce teachers’ hours and restore national pay bargaining
Many schools cannot now attract the teachers they need. This is often referred to as a recruitment crisis. In fact there are plenty of qualified teachers just many of them do not want to teach in the current system. Radical action is required by any Labour Government to address teacher workload (the average teachers hours are about 60 hours a week) and pay for all education workers (teaching assistant are amongst the worst paid workers in the country). Immediately, Labour will need to restore national pay bargaining for all education workers and institute a maximum 45-hour week.

12. Expand local democratic control of schools
Finally, to ensure that the education agenda is driven by and not against those who work in the profession and the young people they educate, school governors should have representation by trade unions (not staff reps whose duty is to the school not their colleagues) and elected student or pupil representatives. This representation should also occur in the Local Education Authorities.
If an incoming Labour Government carried this out, the promise of the NES would indeed be as radical as the implementation of the NHS was 70 years ago.

By David Pendletone

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No More Detentions!

Published on: Wed, 12/09/2018 - 14:53

Our school, a medium-sized secondary, must now be running at about 40,000 detentions a year. The assistant principal in charge of the system tells me that the flagship school in our MAT, slightly smaller than ours, has even more.

In our school, certainly, the escalation of detentions to the tens of thousands has made the place less orderly rather than more so. Yet mass-detention systems are common. When I discussed our system with the vice-principal previously responsible for running it (she's quit now), her basic objection to an alternative was that it would be risky and would at best take time to bed in. Then what if Ofsted arrived during the transition. No-one got fired for buying IBM, they used to say. There must be many school managers thinking: no-one gets Ofsted-censured for dishing out a few thousand more detentions.

Schools surely need to work to make themselves orderly and calm, and to help students to learn how to work cooperatively and respectfully with others. Detentions don't do that. Detentions do nothing to help students learn greater capacity to get along with others cooperatively and respectfully. Even if the "offence" is a really disruptive one, there is no direct and intelligible link between it and the consequence. Even when students do their detention promptly, and more so when (as often happens) they miss it and get it escalated, they are likely to have forgotten what the detention was a consequence of.

Many students see no justice in a detention as a consequence of a minor transgression which harmed no-one. They also see no way that sitting in detention makes them calmer or better behaved or more able to deal with whatever difficulty tips them into being disruptive in class (or doing the thing, in fact not disruptive, that got them the detention). A large number of students – on the whole, the students likely to cause frequent difficulties – have detentions almost all the time, as a way of life. Detentions become a consequence of going to school, not a consequence of specific actions. What most school students learn from most school discipline systems is (a) distrust and cynicism about established authorities; (b) some low cunning in circumventing established authorities. That is even more true of mass-detention systems. Distrust of established authority is a virtue, but there are better ways of teaching it and giving it a thoughtful and constructive character.

Some students find it hard to sit still and focus for an hour. Some are baffled by the school work they are assigned. Some come to school with issues which they want to vent, and have difficulty finding other ways of venting than disruptive behaviour. Some seek attention, and don’t see how to get it other than in disruptive and self-harming ways. In a mass-detentions system, there is no inbuilt call for real discussion between teacher and student to help the student increase their capacities and the teacher learn better how to deal with the student. An enormous amount of effort by teachers, and sometimes especially by those who might be our best resources for really helping students expand their capacities, is expended on monitoring detentions, chasing up non-attenders, etc.

It is almost impossible to make detention systems consistent, especially in systems where such a variety of student actions, often trivial, can attract detentions. In practice the student knows that her or his risk of getting a detention depends on many things other than what the student does. The best alternative I know (and have worked with, outside England) is a system originating in the USA ( see also, which teaches students that the consequence of disrupting lessons is that they go to a special classroom to continue their work, and must talk with the teacher to find a way forward in order to return to regular classes with that particular teacher. It is explicitly non-punitive, and includes no detentions other than mini-detentions of 30 seconds or one minute to talk issues through.

There are surely others. To design them we must break our schools from the reign of mass detentions.

-A South London Teacher

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