Sunday 6 November 2016

Unite to Defend Our Members

Below is the text of my speech to the NUT Special Conference on 5th November 2016, seconding the motion that NUT should endorse, and put to a ballot of members, the proposal to amalgamate with ATL to form the National Eduation Union.

On 25th June 1870, the National Union of Elementary Teachers was formed, through the amalgamation of a number of local, regional and sectional associations. It was formed in the context of the fight against performance-related pay and the controversy surrounding the 1870 Education Act.

Sunday 23 October 2016

Cuba Day 1

After some delays at Heathrow and Charles de Gaulle due to fog over Paris, we set off this morning on our ten hour flight to Havana. Given the connections with Cuba's innovative literacy campaign, I thought it would be a useful opportunity to re-read Education for Critical Consciousness by Paulo Freire.

In these two essays (Education as the Practice of Freedom and Extension or Communication written in 1965 and 1968 respectively), Freire is concerned with the liberatory potential of education but also the necessity for education to be critical and democratic if it is to realise this potential.

Saturday 22 October 2016

Cuba Day 0

So, I'm sat in the hotel at heathrow airport, ready to board a flight tomorrow to Havana to find out more about education in Cuba, a country which defies all the supposed wisdom of the global education  'reform' movement. Cuba has one of the highest standards of education in the world, despite spending a fraction of the amount the UK or US do, resisting the market reform mania that has gripped the rest of the world, and still being subjet to a comprehensive economic blockade by the world's most powerful country.

What Cuba has achieved is nothing short of a miracle.

Wednesday 19 October 2016

You Can't Test This - Day 3 maths

So today's puzzle looked like this:

It's the first of a series of fraction codes to finish the week. I have to say, the discussion I have had with the children while they work on these problems has given me the most accurate assessment data I have ever had and not a 'test' in sight!

Can you solve it?

Putting Children First

I am sick to the back teeth of the reductionist, box-ticking, curriculum-narrowing, enthusiasm-crushing, soul-destroying, high-stakes Exam Factory culture that hangs, like a dark oppressive cloud of broken dreams, over our schools and our children’s education.

OK. That may seem a little strong but, if like me, you are a primary school teacher, or have a child in primary school, I suspect you know where I am coming from.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not opposed to assessment. How could I be? It is at the very heart of what I do as a teacher. I assess children’s learning from the moment they enter my classroom at 8.40am until I finish my marking at 11pm. I assess through targeted questioning during whole class teaching, through in depth discussion during independent and group work. I assess through marking written work, and taking notes of oral work and contributions to discussion. I probe children’s understanding, looking for misconceptions through which to take learning forward. And yes, I assess through setting and marking tests when that is the most effective way of gathering the information I need.

You Can't Test This - Day 2 maths

So here's today's problem. Y5 have cracked the code and are part way through transcribing the message...

Wednesday 5 October 2016

What Kind of Union Democracy Do We Want?

In a recent blog post, I wrote the following about the unity discussions with ATL: Throughout the negotiations, both teams have been committed to the principle of a truly democratic union. Not just the passive democracy of electing the leadership, but the active democracy of involving everyone's voice, experiences and talents in our decision-making.

In this post, I want to explore further what I mean by this and what it might mean for us as a union.

Thursday 22 September 2016

Who Will Be in the New Union?

Today, I attended meetings of both Oxfordshire and Wokingham NUT (thanks to Oxfordshire for letting me leave early!). Again, a major topic of discussion was the new union. In particular, members were interested in who would be in the new union, given that NUT currently only admits those with teaching qualifications or training to teach, while ATL has support staff members, and NUT organises in England and Wales, while ATL also has members in Scotland and the north of Ireland.

The answer is simple. Existing members of both unions would transfer to the new union and all membership categories in either existing union (e.g. support staff, teachers, lecturers) will be membership categories in the new union.

Tuesday 20 September 2016

Support for Unity in Milton Keynes

I've just got home from a Milton Keynes NUT meeting where there was strong support for the proposals to form a new Union with ATL. Among the positives raised were the increased strength a new Union would have, impacting positively on its ability to represent new and existing members, and the benefits of having support staff, as well as teachers and lecturers in the Union.

As one member said, we need a united education workforce if we are to protect our education system against the attacks of this government - uniting in a single union will help us to do this.

Members also discussed government plans to reintroduce selective education to much of the country through the creation of new grammar and secondary modern schools, and the impact this could have in Milton Keynes. They began to develop plans to oppose the reintroduction of selection locally.

Sunday 18 September 2016

Progress Towards Unity Continues

Last week, the NUT made further moves towards unity with the ATL, to create a new union for education professionals which would bring together the vast majority of teachers in the state and independent sectors, alongside lecturers and support staff.

On 8th September, the Executive had a two hour briefing on the post-transition Rules for the new union which are currently in draft form. On 9th September, as part of our Special Executive in advance of TUC Congress, we approved the final versions of the Instrument of Amalgamation and Transitional Rules (following changes from the Certification Officer), and the motion to go to the Special Conference on 5th November.

Sunday 11 September 2016

Welcome Back - to every teacher and EVERY child

Most teachers and children in England and Wales will have been back at school for between 7 and 10 days and already education is making the headlines.

In reality, of course, teachers will have been back for much longer, planning work for the year ahead, setting up seating arrangements and classroom systems, and preparing their classrooms as learning spaces. Here's my room around day 5 (26th August):

Thursday 28 July 2016

Broaden and Deepen our Funding Campaign in Autumn

The National Executive last week discussed the need to both broaden and deepen our campaign over funding in the Autumn term, following our successful strike action earlier this month. There was agreement that we need to step up the campaign in the Autumn, reaching out to parent organisations, deepening the engagement of our members and increasing pressure on government, including through further strike action if Justine Greening is unwilling to act, as her predecessor was.

One amendment to the proposal was passed, calling on the Executive to link our Primary Assessment Campaign with the campaign on funding and terms and conditions. Two amendments, both of which sought to specify in one way or another what strike action would be decided on at the September Executive, fell.

Saturday 23 July 2016

A New Union for Education Professionals

Possibly our most significant decision at this week's National Executive was taken in the last few minutes of the meeting, although it followed a three hour discussion the day before, more than twenty individual days of negotiation and nineteen months of work.

Picture by Ken Sprague

The NUT Executive approved the draft instrument of amalgamation and transitional rules, and has called a special conference for 5th November to discuss forming a new union with the ATL. This is the first of three key decisions which would lead to the creation a new education union, encompassing the current membership of the NUT and the ATL.

Friday 22 July 2016

Striking for School Funding

The 5th July strike over school funding was a huge success nationally, and in Oxfordshire where I attended events on the day. Below, I give a brief report of our activities on the day and the response but first I want to share the short video made by Leigh Seedhouse, one of our talented local committee members, using photos taken by Chris Honeywell:

We knew on the day that we had several objectives. On the one hand, we wanted to ensure there was a clear political focus on the question of school funding, both in terms of our trade dispute over the impact on terms and conditions, and in terms of the wider impact on education.

New Leadership and Unity on the Horizon

A lot has happened over the past month - indeed so much that I don't seem to have had time to report on any of it! So I figured I would sit down now and catch up (although I'll leave out the KS2 production, pupil handover meetings and preparation for my Y5 class next year!):

  • Firstly, Kevin Courtney was elected General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers. I was proud to support Kevin's campaign and to be a signatory to the letter of endorsement from current and past Executive members and National Officers. Kevin is not only a fantastic campaigner and leader but has a strategic vision for the union, and a vision for education which will be invaluable in guiding us over the next few years.

Thursday 23 June 2016

NUT Calls Strike Action Over School Funding

The NUT Executive today received the results of our action ballot, with 92% voting in favour of action. After a considered debate, the Executive agreed to call an initial day of strike action on 5th July.

This day of action will mark the opening of a serious campaign of action, lobbying and mobilising alongside parents and the public, to protect teachers, schools and children from the impact of the government's intentional underfunding of schools.

Planned funding cuts over the remaining term of this government will lead to increased teacher workload and worsening terms and conditions, whilst class sizes are increased, curriculum options narrowed and children's right to a quality education irrevocably damaged.

As Acting General Secretary Kevin Courtney said:

“The NUT is not taking action lightly. In light of the huge funding cuts to schools, worsening terms and conditions, and unmanageable and exhausting workloads, teachers cannot be expected to go on without significant change.

Saturday 18 June 2016

Strike Day Planning

Just got back from a Regional Council meeting in East Sussex where we were discussing how we develop plans for our strike day, assuming a successful ballot result.

Some of the things we discussed in the meeting and informally afterwards included the balance between:
  • Local events vs national events
  • Briefing members for an ongoing campaign vs reaching out to parents and others
  • Marches and rallies vs educational and/or community events

Wednesday 15 June 2016

Opportunities for Community Outreach

Week #7 Meeting #17

Great to meet with teachers from the Blackbird Academy Trust schools today - Pegasus, Orchard Meadow and Windale. A really positive discussion about building the strike action and how we reach out to NUT members and to the school community.

In particular, members were keen to take up #greenfridays as a way of building confidence and solidarity within school, and also to have a stall at the three-school summer fete on 2nd July, with balloons, stickers and information about the strike action and wider campaign for families.

Have you thought of having an NUT stall at your schools fete? We can supply materials and may even be able to help with staffing stalls if appropriate - please get in touch.

Developing Effective Strategy

Week #7 Meeting #16

At lunchtime today, I met with members at Henley College. We discussed the current ballot of school teachers (sixth form college teachers are not part of the current ballot group, although we intend to ballot them in the autumn term) and the NUT's ongoing tactics in the campaign.

The following points were raised in discussion:

Wednesday 8 June 2016

It's All About Education

Week #6 Meeting #15

The law is very clear on what trade unions can and cannot take industrial action over. 'Political' strikes are illegal in this country and industrial action is limited to 'legitimate trade disputes' with an employer. This means that it would be illegal for the NUT to take strike action over much of the government's education policy, including testing, curriculum, mass academisation, removal of parent governors, abolishing QTS. Essentially, unions are held in chains.

While we have a clear and legitimate trade dispute over the lack of a national set of terms and conditions that apply in all maintained schools, academies and colleges, and over cuts to school funding which impact on our terms and conditions, these issues are clearly tied in to our wider campaign around education in a number of ways.

Friday 27 May 2016

Cake and Conversation

Week #5 Meeting #14

Today was my own school meeting. As it was Friday, we went with a #greenfridays theme and I baked (vegan) cakes:

We stole the Cheney School NUT group idea of #NUTea and had tea and cakes, along with a discussion of the white paper campaign and industrial action ballot. We had a good discussion and came up with a number of ideas for informing and engaging parents, as well as answering queries about the ballot.

Wednesday 25 May 2016

Building on Existing Networks

Week #5 Meeting #13

This afternoon's meeting at Iffley Academy clashed with a number of other events but we decided to go ahead anyway because we were running out of alternative dates. As attendance was small and the members there knew the issues well, we focused on how members can use school networks to spread the message.

As the Labour Notes book Secrets of a Successful Organiser says, "Your workplace might feel like a disorganised mess. But the truth is, you're not starting from zero. There's organisation there already - though it might not have anything to do with the union...

Meetings Don't Have To Be Long!

Week #5 Meeting #12

Great short lunchtime meeting today at SS Mary & John Primary in Oxford. I gave a 10min presentation on the White Paper, followed by 5min of questions.

This was easily enough time for members to understand the main elements of the White Paper and the threat it poses to both education and teacher terms and conditions. The photo was taken at there staff meeting after school. So, if your colleagues are busy, why not fit in a 15min meeting?

Monday 23 May 2016

Piecing Together the Jigsaw

Week #5 Meeting #11

My second meeting of the day was a joint teacher-parent meeting in Thame Town Hall. This one actually came about because a parent contacted me out of the blue several weeks ago to say local parents were concerned about the white paper and, if they booked a room and invited both parents and teachers, would I come and speak.

Obviously, I was only to happy to agree, not just because it would be our first NUT meeting in Thame for some time but also because I was keen to learn more about parental concerns. We publicised the meeting to local teachers and it was publicised to local parents by the organisers. On the day, we had a few teachers (mainly local school Reps), and a few parents (mainly from a particular local primary school).


Week #5 Meeting #10

Great meeting with NUT members at Cheney School today. As with other meetings, there was a real strength of feeling about what this government is doing to education and a real willingness to fight for decent national terms and conditions that apply to all teachers, in schools and academies. However, it was when we got onto school level organising ideas that things got interesting!


The school has a 'staff tea' every Friday where each department takes a turn to host the staff for tea and cakes after school. So, on Friday 10th, the school NUT group will take a turn hosting staff tea, with a variety of green iced cakes and tea (not exclusively green tea)!

Tuesday 17 May 2016

The Importance of Unity

Week #4 Meeting #9

Really pleased today to discuss the Education White Paper not just with NUT members but also the NASUWT Rep at The Oxford Academy. Whilst teachers continue to be represented by a number of different organisations, dividing and weakening our voice, it is essential that we try to co-ordinate our approach as much as possible at national, local and most importantly workplace level.

While there are different democratic structures, there will always be the potential for different strategy and tactics to emerge. We must seek to minimise this in the short term by open co-ooeration and eradicate it in the long term by bringing together teacher organisations into a single union that can speak for all education professionals.

Saturday 14 May 2016

So Much Support Out There!

Today was really uplifting in terms of showing me just how much support there is out there for our campaign. It has been a long week, starting with Sunday recording sessions for our own protest song - #ThisSchool:

The girls and I went down and really enjoyed the day, singing with others about something we passionately believe in.

Friday 13 May 2016

West Oxfordshire Stands Up

Week #3 Meeting #8

Another lively meeting in Witney, West Oxfordshire today. There's definitely something good about organising a strike meeting in the heart of the Prime Minister's constituency when this government is so responsible for what has happened to education.

Again, there was huge support for the strike action the NUT is taking and for our broader campaign against the proposals in the government's white paper.

It was also positive to be holding the first of what look set to be regular meetings in West Oxfordshire - for more info, check out West Oxfordshire NUT on Facebook.

Thursday 12 May 2016

Didcot Stands Up

Week #3 Meeting #7

First meeting in Oxfordshire tonight, ably led by our local Secretary, Sarah Carter. Sarah drew attention to the way in which the drive to academisation impacts directly on teachers' terms and conditions. If there are no maintained schools left, and no teachers employed by local government, the schools Teachers' Pay and Conditions Document and Burgundy Book would cease to exist.

This would affect all teachers, in maintained schools and existing academies, in particular those in Oxfordshire, where all academies follow the same terms and conditions as maintained schools.

Wednesday 11 May 2016

Linking Together

Week #3 Meeting #6

Great to be at a joint Reading & Wokingham meeting on the strike today. Meeting number 6 for me and meeting number 4 for Rosa and Clara (3 this week). It's been a gruelling programme (for me and them) - school, then meeting, then bed - each night but the strength of feeling in each meeting is really energising.

Reading/Wokingham was no exception, with strong opposition to the government's dismantling of state education, and equally strong support for strike action to demand national terms and conditions for teachers in all schools, colleges and academies, and increased school funding.

Tuesday 10 May 2016

What are we Fighting FOR?

Week #3 Meeting #5

A great welcome in Milton Keynes this evening and again a fruitful discussion about building support for the ballot. In particular, Reps in Milton Keynes were a pains to point out that this can't just be a defensive struggle to protect what we have left but must be about establishing better terms and conditions for all teachers, whatever kind of school or college they teach in.

One of the key reasons for this, eloquently put forward by MK activists, is that teachers have already lost so much. With admin, cover and even PPA regulations being eroded in academies, and national agreements on pay in tatters, it is not enough to protect what we have. The fact is teachers, and the children they teach, deserve better.

Monday 9 May 2016

Conversation, Conversation, Conversation

Week #3 Meeting #4

This afternoon, I met NUT activists in Slough for what will be the first of a week of ballot meetings across Oxfordshire, Berkshire and Milton Keynes.

The most important point raised at the meeting came from Kate O'Neil, a local activist and member of the Slough NUT committee and it related to how we use material in school. Kate talked about how we should consider any publicity or material, whether a leaflet, poster, T-shirt, badge or anything else, as a conversation piece.

Sunday 8 May 2016

The Government Climbdown and the NUT Strike

Yesterday, the government announced a significant climbdown in relation to forced academisation. The white paper will no longer include proposals for legislation to force the conversion of every maintained school by 2022. This is a significant victory both because it withdraws one of the worst clauses of this paper and because it shows that, when teachers, parents and governors act together, we can win real concessions from government.

However, the government has replaced this legislation with sweeping powers for the Secretary of State to order the conversion of entire local authority areas in one go, and retains the aim of converting all schools by 2022. In addition, the other provisions of the white paper remain, including abolishing QTS, removing parent governors, and the threat to teachers pay and conditions.

Wednesday 4 May 2016

Cakes, Balloons, Pay and Conditions!

Week #2 Meeting #3

This evening, I met with Bracknell Forest NUT activists to discuss building for the NUT strike ballot. It was a well-attended meeting with a lively discussion of the issues leading to the dispute, in particular the threat to teachers' terms and conditions posed by the combination of forced academisation and diminishing school funding.

Monday 2 May 2016

Activist Meetings in District 18

OK. So the first two meetings (in Windsor & Maidenhead and West Berkshire) have now taken place but they have already been replaced by two additional meetings in Banbury and Thame (both Oxfordshire). This brings the current list up to ten again:

Thursday 28 April 2016

Reaching Out to Members

Week #1 Meeting #2

Today, I was in Thatcham to meet with West Berkshire activists about the ballot campaign. The meeting was divided into two parts. There was a training on academy conversion in the afternoon with Regional Officer Nick Childs, during which we also discussed how to reach out to schools across the authority, and I led a briefing after school on the white paper, in which we discussed how to engage members at school level.

Green Fridays: Show Your Support for NUT Action on Pay and Conditions

As part of our broad campaign against the white paper, and in support of our ballot for strike action over school funding and national pay and conditions, NUT activists on social media have proposed a 'Green Fridays' initiative. The idea is that NUT members and supporters are encouraged to post photos of themselves and their colleagues wearing green on Fridays, using the hashtag #greenfridays, as a visual expression of support for these campaigns.

We got started early with the Eastern Region Young Teachers last weekend:

Wednesday 27 April 2016

Engaging the Community: The Campaign Kicks Off!

Week #1 Meeting #1

Today, it felt like our white paper campaign had kicked off in earnest locally with the first of 10 meetings for Reps & activists  in District 18 (or so I thought). The first meeting was in Windsor & Maidenhead, where a new committee has recently been elected after several years of no activity in the area. Much of the discussion focused on how to engage the wider community in opposition to the white paper.

Thursday 21 April 2016

National Executive: White Paper Campaign and National Action Campaign

Kevin Courtney opened this afternoon's National Executive meeting by describing the White Paper as an existential threat to state education and an existential threat to our terms and conditions. He set out the NUT's aims in our campaign, not just to defeat the white paper but also to slow down and stop voluntary conversion of academies. While the white paper is still in play, voluntary conversion is essentially doing the Tory's work for them. Additionally, there can be no genuine voluntary conversion when the policy context is pressuring schools down this route.

National Executive: General Secretary's Report

We are now only into the third week since conference and the union has been working at full pace to deliver material for the ballot and the wider campaign against the white paper. Christine thanked the union staff for all their work.

Saturday 2 April 2016

Professional Unity - Seize the Moment

A key theme around the NUT Conference this year was professional unity and this is likely to be true of ATL Conference as well. Already, the press are picking up on moves towards unity between the two unions (see for example here and here).

As Chair of the Professional Unity Committee of the NUT, I wrote a number of articles on the subject for different publications which were distributed at NUT Conference this year. The text of these articles can be found on a separate blog here and sum up my thoughts on the subject.

Friday 1 April 2016

Teaching by Numbers vs Professionalism in Education

There was a lot of discussion at this year's NUT Conference about the impact that the increasing obsession with data has on education - the pressure towards teaching by numbers - and of teacher professionalism as the alternative to this.

Most teachers would describe themselves as education professionals but what does this actually mean?

Wednesday 30 March 2016

The Alternative to OFSTED

Our accountability system is broken. It provides no real accountability to local parents, those parents who will lose their right to be involved in governing their children’s schools due to this government’s reforms. And at the same time, it gives little or no freedom to teachers to exercise their professional judgement.

I expect everyone reading this has stories of the impact of OFSTED on their local schools. I want to share just two local examples because to me they highlight where this madness leads.

Tuesday 29 March 2016

Children Are More Than a Score

We’ve heard about the damage that high-stakes standardised testing is doing to our children’s education. We’ve heard about the impact it has on their self-esteem, on their mental health. So there’s a pretty obvious question to be asked.

Why, when the weight of educational research is against them, when the mass of parents are against them and when the professional judgement of teachers is against them, why would this government continue in its dogmatic obsession with standardised testing?

Thursday 17 March 2016

National Executive Report

The General Secretary reported on the excellent response to the sixth form strike and the landmark case the Union won in the High Court. This centred on the government's attempt to get an injunction to prevent the strike. Their argument was that a strike over funding was a political strike (which is illegal under our repressive anti-union laws) and not a legitimate trade dispute.

The Union successfully argued that, because funding allocations from government have a direct impact on our members' terms and conditions by constricting the employers' room to negotiate. This judgement sets an important precedent for Unions fighting government funding cuts and the politics of austerity.

Comprehensive Education in Guernsey

The National Executive, meeting this afternoon, welcomed the news that Guernsey had taken the decision to abolish the 11-plus and convert all schools on the island to comprehensives. This shows that, even in the most difficult of times, we can win significant victories that benefit our students.

Wednesday 16 March 2016

A Crucial Time for Education

As I prepare to travel to London for the National Executive today and tomorrow, I am struck by what a crucial time this is for education.

We have a government using a mantra of austerity to progressively underfund schools and sixth form colleges, whilst enforcing the mass privatisation of schools by an act of parliament, and changing the very nature of education through high-stakes standardised testing and hyper-accountability. The past couple of months have shown this in the extreme. At primary level, we have seen new assessments introduced which impose unrealistic and unhelpful targets on young children in a narrow range of skills. What is more, children will be expected to sit these tests in a couple of months, leaving teachers wondering how they will explain to children and their parents that they are no longer doing well but are now below 'national expectations' - that the government has arbitrarily deemed their child a failure aged 7 or 11.

Wednesday 6 January 2016

Nicky Morgan's Tables Test

I love maths. I’m not ashamed to say it. I took maths and further maths at A-level and went on to spend three years doing a maths degree at Oxford before training as a primary school teacher. After ten years teaching, I have spent the past two years writing and implementing a new maths curriculum, running a peer coaching project in mathematics teaching, and teaching maths to groups of students at risk of underachievement.

So, you’d be forgiven for thinking that I might welcome Nicky Morgan’s new focus on primary maths teaching.