Education unions

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

Submitted by Class Struggle 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.

Trade Unions
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Ollie Moore, Jay Dawkey, Cath Fletcher and David Pendletone

UCU ballot opens

University staff belonging to UCU are being balloted for strike action this autumn over pay equality, job security, workload and pay deflation.

Working conditions in higher education have been deteriorating. The gender pay gap is over 15%; over 100,000 staff across the sector are on fixed-term contracts; academic staff work over 50 hours in a typical week; and in the past ten years pay has declined by 20% in real terms.

Carrying Forward the Fight on Testing

Submitted by Class Struggle on Sat, 20/07/2019 - 08:29

Patrick Murphy (personal capacity)

The NEU Executive met on July 13th to consider the full detailed results of the recent indicative ballot on high stakes primary testing. Much of the information discussed was confidential but the basic picture was fairly clear. Opposition to the testing regime and support for the Union's campaign to abolish them was overwhelming. 97% of the members who responded agreed with that position. A clear majority also supported a boycott but the turnout didn't suggest that the draconian thresholds required by the anti-union laws would be met in a formal national ballot.

For action to be legal in schools the law imposes a double test. We are required not only to get a 50% turnout but to have 40% of all eligible members to vote for the action. The ballot did indicate that at least 10 districts would meet those thresholds with another group close behind.

The Executive report on the ballot included some recommendations to take the campaign forward but none of them involved any further consideration of action to boycott. An amendment to that report from supporters of the Education Solidarity Network (ESN) argued for calling a special conference of primary members and branch secretaries in Autumn to consider the ballot results in full and debate the options for action. It listed the main options as a national ballot counted in a way that allowed disaggregation, ballots in areas which reached the thresholds in the indicative ballot or no ballot for action. This amendment was heavily defeated.

A further amendment proposed that the Union consider, in consultation with the branches, holding formal ballots to boycott the tests in those areas which achieved the required 40% yes vote of eligible members and those who were close to it. This amendment was overwhelmingly carried (with just one vote against). ESN Executive members supported this amendment as well as our own.

While a proper discussion with primary representatives and branches which kept all options on the table would have been preferable, this outcome is better than many expected. It keeps the possibility of a selective boycott alive though very far from certain. It was argued (by ESN) that the testing regime is very vulnerable to any significant boycott, reliant as it is on all schools completing the tests so that meaningful league tables can be produced.

It is a pity, however, that the substantial positives in the ballot were not reflected in the Executive's report and even less so in how it was presented at the July 13th meeting. This was the highest turnout in any national ballot in either the NUT or ATL in over 20 years with one exception. The exception was the pensions ballot of 2011 which achieved a turnout just 1% higher. That was a ballot of all members, whereas this involved primary members only. The turnout in secondary schools and sixth forms is always higher and it is extremely unlikely that the primary turnout was at, or close to, 40% in 2011. On the last three occasions when the NUT balloted only primary members the turnout was well below the vote in this recent ballot.

From November 2018 to January this year the NEU ran a full national ballot on pay and funding for all members in all sectors. The ballot was open for over two months. The testing ballot was for primary members only and ran for just 4 weeks. As well as a much better national turnout, every branch and every region saw a higher vote in this ballot. That is a testimony to the extent to which this campaign galvanised and motivated union branches and activists. It has pushed testing higher up the union and political agenda, it has demonstrated the overwhelming support amongst school staff for ending high stakes testing and turned many NEU branches out to their primary members. It is likely, in time, to have improved union organisation and rep density in primary schools.

The fight to achieve a meaningful boycott of the 2019-20 tests is not over and activists will be working to build as far as possible on the limited opportunity opened up by the July 13th decision. That could also be used to take the lessons of the ballot and build a stronger base for a national ballot beyond this year.

Trade Unions
Publications

NEU “maybe” on ballots for boycott

Author

Patrick Murphy (NEU national executive, personal capacity)

At the NEU (National Education Union) Executive on 13 July, the decisive amendment, passed with just one vote against, proposed that the union consider formal ballots to boycott the tests in selected areas.

The consideration is to be in consultation with the branches, and for areas which achieved the required 40% yes vote of eligible members and those who were close to it.

The Executive report on the ballot had included some recommendations to take the campaign forward, but none had involved any further consideration of action to boycott.

NEU ballot scores successes

Author

Duncan Morrison (assistant NEU secretary, Lewisham, in personal capacity)

The National Education Union’s (NEU) indicative ballot to boycott high stakes testing in primary schools is due to close as Solidarity goes to press on 2 July.

The indicative ballot has been a success, even if nationally we will not have reached the 50% turnout and 40% of all members voting yes to satisfy the anti-union laws. It is an indicative ballot and it indicates plenty of will to fight on this issue.

The turn-out will exceed the turn-out in the only other national indicative ballot the NEU has run, over pay and funding.

NEU can win Yes for school boycott action

Author

Duncan Morrison, Assistant District Secretary, Lewisham NEU (personal capacity)

The National Education Union’s indicative ballot of its primary school members to boycott high stakes summative testing opened on 4 June and closes on 2 July. Thus far the turnout seems to be good, if uneven.

Where districts are organising school meetings and phone-banking their members, the results are strong. In those areas, the process of building the ballot is bringing in new members and new reps and building the sinews of organisation that have been missing in primary schools for many years. With continued effort, many districts will pass the 50% turnout threshold.

Setback at Harbinger

Author

Todd Hamer

Schoolworkers at Harbinger Primary School in east London have suffered a major setback in their dispute over management bullying.

The National Education Union's most senior unelected official, Assistant General Secretary Avis Gilmore, and the so-called NEU Action Committee withdrew union support for the Harbinger workers' strikes, hobbling the union group, on the eve of their long awaited grievance hearing.

Against “special needs” cuts

Author

Janine Booth

On Thursday 30 May, campaigners protested at twenty-eight locations around the country, demanding the reversal of cuts to Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) funding. Organised mainly by parents and SEND kids, protests ranged from a handful of people with a banner to hundreds on town hall steps.

Against “exam factories”!

Author

Duncan Morrison (assistant NEU secretary, Lewisham, in personal capacity)

The National Education Union (NEU) is balloting its primary school members between 4 June and 12 July over whether to boycott high stakes summative testing (HSST) in primary schools.

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Harbinger NEU calls for head to be suspended

Author

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School workers at Harbinger Primary school struck on 21-23 May against a bullying head teacher. The strike saw all grades taking part in large picket lines, together with parents, students, and ex-students. Many support staff have joined the National Education Union too.

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