Class Struggle Blog

Organising an NEU branch in the Covid 19 Crisis

Published on: Thu, 09/04/2020 - 08:43

By a Lewisham school worker

When the schools closed on 20th March the national union had already asked reps to set up WhatsApp groups for their school groups. In Lewisham we encouraged our reps to do this. The branch has weekly Zoom meetings open to all activists. These meetings enable us to monitor what is going on in our schools, spread best practice and feedback what has been agreed in our discussions with the local authority, it also allows our members to raise issues that they want pursued at local authority level.

In Lewisham we are fortunate that we have been able to stave off most academisations and the vast majority of schools remain in local authority control. We are, along with the other school-based unions, meeting with the local authority (again via Zoom) at least weekly, this meeting was instigated and pushed for by the NEU.

As well as the weekly branch Zoom meeting we are issuing guidance both to our reps and separate guidance to our members, weekly by email. We are also using the opportunity to try to set up school groups where we don’t have them currently and are actively trying to get reps in schools where there isn’t one.

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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.

Lewisham to ballot for boycotting

Published on: Wed, 20/11/2019 - 13:58

Duncan Morrison, Assistant Secretary Lewisham NEU

After a meeting with the National Education Union’s Action Committee, school workers in Lewisham hope the committee will allow us to have another indicative ballot on boycotting high stakes testing in primary schools in December.

That should be followed by a formal ballot in January. We hope to be boycotting the preparation for the tests by the beginning of March. We hope other Districts will follow our lead.

In the national indicative ballot on boycotting, in June, of National Education Union, members over whether to boycott high stakes testing in primary schools, around 12 Districts beat the

NEU Conference Motions for 2020

Published on: Sun, 03/11/2019 - 20:46

From representation of support staff to combating antisemitism, from carrying forward the fight against testing to building solidarity with the oppressed Uyghur in China Workers' Liberty school workers have a huge range of motions for you to read and consider supporting for NEU conference 2020.

The deadline for conference motions is 3rd December 2019, so if you would like to send one of our motions to conference make sure you get it through a division meeting before then!

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“I’m in the House of Lords at last”

Published on: Fri, 13/09/2019 - 10:44

Christine Blower, former general secretary of the National Union of Teachers (NUT), has been made a peer in the resignation honours list.

She follows other once-left union leaders into the halls of privilege, people like Hugh Scanlon, once left-wing leader of the engineering union (now part of Unite), who become Lord Scanlon soon after retiring from the union in 1979.

It’s a sad and telling milestone for the decay of the once-radical left in the union, which is now merged with the smaller ATL to form the National Education Union, NEU.

Christine Blower had a substantial record on the left of the NUT. Not just the usual Morning Star type “Broad Left”, but a more radical left.

She had been associated with the far-left group Big Flame, and she was prominent in the Socialist Alliance (a coalition of almost the whole radical left, including Workers’ Liberty) in 2000-3. When the SWP trashed the Socialist Alliance in 2003-04 in order instead to line up behind George Galloway in Respect. Blower refused to go with them, for left-wing reasons.

The NUT had been increasingly militant at rank and file level since the late 1960s, but run by a series of truculent old-style right-wing general secretaries (Edward Britton, Fred Jarvis, Doug McAvoy).

Blower challenged McAvoy for general secretary in 1999 and lost. She won deputy general secretary in 2005, against a candidate of the Morning Star Broad Left (which was increasingly becoming the right wing in the union).

In 2008 a new soft-right general secretary, Steve Sinnott, died unexpectedly, and Blower got the job.

Soon the ostensible radical left — the Socialist Teachers’ Alliance and the CDFU — had a clear majority at the top of the union.

Workers’ Liberty voted with the left in all those polls. But we warned that “the job… [is] to build the sort of genuine rank and file that can ensure that we don’t rely on the strengths and weaknesses of individual leaders to organise a militant and effectively organised union”.

Too true. The record of the supposedly radical left in the NUT and NEU since then has been no better than the record of the supposedly Marxist Socialist Party in its era of domination in the PCS civil service union.

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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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Carrying Forward the Fight on Testing

Published 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.

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Solidarity with Harbinger Primary School workers! No to bullying bosses!

Published on: Sun, 19/05/2019 - 10:24

School workers in the National Education Union at Harbinger Primary School are taking strike action against a bullying headteacher. We reproduce their statement in full below. Please send messages of solidarity to

NEU Members at Harbinger Primary School have voted to take strike action against the unacceptable behaviour of the headteacher. Unless our demands are met, we will strike on Tuesday 21st, Wednesday 22nd and Thursday 23rd May.
We first officially raised our concerns in November 2018, when 18 staff members submitted a collective grievance in the hope of resolving this issue. For the last six months we have repeatedly attempted to use the official complaints process to address our concerns about the leadership of the school and the effect it is having on your child’s education. This approach has got us nowhere. We now feel that our only option is to use the one power we have: to withdraw our labour and appeal to you and the wider Harbinger community to support us in finding a way forward. We love our school and are deeply committed to the children and families we work with. Strike action is our absolute last resort and we sincerely apologise for the disruption this action will cause you, but ask you to stand with us as we fight for a better future for Harbinger.

Our demands are as follows:
• For the headteacher to acknowledge and apologise for unacceptable behaviour
o Shouting at and belittling members of staff
o Making inappropriate comments and speaking inappropriately about individuals to other staff members
o Threatening staff job security
o Unfair discrimination against individuals
• For the headteacher’s behaviour towards specific individuals to be recognised as bullying and policy on this followed
• For the headteacher to commit to positive and professional conduct and interactions with all members of the staff team going forwards
• For the headteacher to agree to an appropriate form of anger management support
• For the headteacher to agree to attend equality and diversity training
• For the establishment of routine check-ins to provide staff with a safe opportunity to feedback to the governors on their experience at work, in the way of an anonymised staff survey such as the NEU stress survey
• That it be recognised that assertions made by the headteacher in the process of the grievance investigation are not honest or accurate and the slanderous comments about individuals officially withdrawn
• An apology to staff and governors from the LEA and an acknowledgment that their handling of our grievance has been disrespectful, negligent and unbalanced and has resulted in staff and governors being unsupported and left to work in extremely stressful conditions
• A commitment that staff will be consulted over changes in the future in a meaningful way
• That the governors, local authority and NEU group agree a process to ensure that the school is being led competently and in accordance with the Headteacher Standards.
On Thursday 23rd May, we will be taking our protest to the Local Authority at Mulberry Place. We would love for you to join us. We will be assembling at the picket line at 9am.

We truly regret your children missing days at school but we hope that by taking this action we will secure the positive leadership that our school and your children deserve.

In Solidarity,

Harbinger NEU

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Boycott High Stakes Summative Testing in Primary Schools

Published on: Sun, 14/04/2019 - 16:19

The system of testing in our schools is a form of state-sponsored child abuse. The process of testing which begins in year one destroys a love of learning, humiliates children and stifles developing minds. English school children are now among the most tested in the world. Motion 16, ‘Boycott High Stakes Testing’, gives us the opportunity to confront the tests.

End the Testing Culture:
National Education Union members agree on the damage high-stakes summative testing does to our students. The SATs have spawned a termly and half-termly testing regime in many schools. Where schools carry out half-termly SATs-like tests in ‘assessment weeks’ they lose close to a half-term of teaching time to testing. The year 1 phonics test has pushed ability-group-based teaching in to early years. Baseline testing in reception threatens a further extension of the testing culture. Secondary school teachers have to make sense of year 6 SATs results that in no way represent the depth and complexity of newly-arrived year 7 students. The preparation for and administration of this testing regime is a major contributor to teacher workload. Alongside the futility of the whole operation it is a major factor in the mental health crisis faced by both staff and students. The situation is clear. The tests must be scrapped. We must organise a boycott of all high-stakes summative testing in primary schools.

Since the implementation of the current SATs programme in 2016 members of Workers’ Liberty, alongside Education Solidarity Network (ESN) activists have fought, first in the National Union of Teachers and now in the NEU, for our union to take a serious position in opposition to testing. We have argued consistently for a meaningful boycott. Successive union leaderships have ducked the issue, obfuscated, promised the most limited form of action over testing, and then failed to deliver on even that. The record so far is worth re-telling.

The Executive’s Record So Far:
In 2016 opponents of a boycott successfully steered the debate from a ballot to boycott the 2016 SATs in to a loose commitment to consider a boycott in 2017. The NUT called on the government to abandon the 2016 SATs. The 2016 tests went ahead, and a ballot was never called for 2017. At the 2017 conference in Cardiff opponents of a boycott fought to continue the confusion, calling for an internal ballot of primary and head teacher members in Autumn 2017, to ascertain support for a possible boycott in 2018. The indicative ballot was never conducted, the 2018 SATs went ahead unimpeded.

Unsatisfied with seriously debating the question of a SATs boycott, at the 2018 Brighton conference the executive manoeuvred to gut a motion calling for a boycott of all high-stakes summative testing in primary schools. A previous motion was taken as setting the union’s policy on testing; it called for an indicative survey of members in primary and infant schools over industrial action against baseline testing. When asked, the president of the union Kiri Tunks refused to clarify whether or not the motion would rule out of order parts of the other, stronger, pro-boycott motion. When the weaker motion was passed the substantive sections of the stronger motion were removed. The executive never organised the indicative survey over baseline testing that this policy had required of them.

Why a Boycott of All Summative Testing?
Arguments against a boycott have ranged from the non-sensical ‘I won’t be able to do a spelling test’ or ‘we must stop baseline testing first’ through to the half-way honest ‘we can’t win a ballot for a boycott.’ Let’s be clear, both about what Workers’ Liberty and ESN activists are calling for and the challenges of organising a boycott. We are for a boycott of SATs-like, high-stakes summative testing in schools. This would be categorically different from the last SATs boycott the NUT organised in 2010, which relied heavily on head teachers to refuse to implement the tests and meant organising a ballot in either Spring or Summer term when most of the damage had already been done in terms of time lost to test preparation. A ballot for a boycott of all SATs-like tests and related activity could be carried out in Autumn term and could apply to all primary teachers, as to some degree or another everyone in a school is involved in, or can be called on to help with, administering or preparing children for tests. A ballot of all teachers would create greater solidarity and would not rest on the courage, or lack-there-of, of individual head teachers.
What about winning a ballot? A wrecking amendment to motion 16, brought by the executive, argues that ‘the union could not currently win a ballot of all primary teachers to boycott summative testing.’ This argument is a cowardly dodge. The case for boycotting the tests is irrefutable, if the union is not in a position to win a ballot it is the duty of the union’s leadership to campaign among members to prepare for such a ballot. The last three years of dodging the question have disoriented the campaign against testing. Only a clear strategy of fighting for a boycott can put that campaign back on track and provide meaningful opposition to testing.

Vote for motion 16 unamended and start the serious industrial fight against testing in our primary schools.

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Antifascist symbol, red flag and black flag together

How to Fight the Right, How Not to Fight the Right

Published on: Sat, 13/04/2019 - 15:41

On 29 March, the day the UK was due to crash out of the European Union, the pro-Brexit right mobilised in central London.

Thousands marched for Brexit and the SWP front, Stand Up to Racism (SUTR), protested in opposition. There were about 50 anti-racists who were barracked and taunted by the rightists: “Leftist scum, off our streets!”. The SWP organiser approached the police and asked to be moved away from the right-wing mob. When the SUTR people had moved away to a safe distance the SWP got out their STUR placards and banners.

So what are we to make of such a fiasco?
• Brexit is a movement of the right. The SWP, who voted Leave, should pay attention to the movement they helped to create. They are now protesting (ineffectively) against a movement they should be supporting! At least the reality of the Brexit mobilisation is obvious, now, to the SWP. Perhaps they now might reflect that their vote and little campaign on the left for ‘Lexit’ was ridiculous.
• The SWP/SUTR is utterly unable to mobilise adequate numbers to confront the growing right-wing threat in the UK.

Twice in 2018 very large pro-Tommy Robinson protests took place in Whitehall, London. Despite the claims of the SWP that their counter-marches dwarfed the right-mobilisations, those that were present know very well that the right would have smashed the anti-racists without the police’s intervention.

I watched in July, at the corner of Parliament Square and Whitehall, as 80 pro-Robinson football hooligans were kept away from the anti-fascists by the determined actions of riot police and mounted police. If these thugs had got through the police ranks they would have routed the spirited youth in the Antifa-bloc, and the grey-haired ex-ANL people the SWP had brought along.

So what are we to do?
• The unions must end the contracting-out of anti-fascism to the SWP and their front organisations. The way this works at the moment is that major unions declare that they are fighting fascism and racism by giving large amounts of cash to SWP fronts like SUTR and Love Music, Hate Racism. The SWP’s part of the bargain is to give the union leaders a platform at their protests and conferences.
• The right-wing threat is now so clear and pressing we must insist that the unions take matters into their own hands. Each union must mobilise their own members in great numbers to confront the fascists when they take to the streets, stewarding delegations and being willing to defend our members against right wing violence.

And what about the NEU?

Kevin Courtney is no doubt sincere when he speaks of the need to stop Robinson and the far right. However, if he wants to be effective he might consider the need to put large numbers of school workers on the streets against the far right. Kevin Courtney spoke at both SUTR rallies in central London last year and was later seen walking off, by himself. Much better if he had stood at the head of a thousand NEU members, organised in our own, stewarded bloc.

Next time, Kevin Courtney needs to bring our members with him to confront the right.

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