Class Struggle Blog

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

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

Submitted by Class Struggle 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

Trade Unions

Boycott High Stakes Summative Testing in Primary Schools

Submitted by Class Struggle 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.


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

Submitted by Class Struggle on Sat, 13/04/2019 - 15:41
Antifascist symbol, red flag and black flag together

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.


SEND Cuts: The Most Vulnerable Lose Out

Submitted by Class Struggle on Thu, 11/04/2019 - 14:19

By the government’s own reckoning over 2000 pupils with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities are not getting access to necessary resources and equipment because of funding cuts. Since 2015 £5.4 billion has been cut from school budgets in England. The most vulnerable have been hit hardest. Between 2014 and 2017 pupil numbers rose by more than 4500, but on average schools lost 5.5 staff members. A lot of those cuts will have fallen on teaching assistants who support children with special educational needs, teaching assistants who are themselves low-paid and vulnerable. A recent report by IPPR North found that SEND funding has been cut by 17% across England since 2015.

Working for the last few years in primary schools I personally have seen a return to SEND classrooms, which remove ‘high-profile’ children from their classes; a single teaching assistant responsible for supporting four children; a teaching assistant splitting their time between four classrooms; a child in KS2 on P-levels without one-to-one support; and an early years class with sixty children, four members of staff and eleven autistic pupils. Pupils with SEND make up 15% of the school population, but close to half of all permanent exclusions are of pupils with SEND. Children in need of counselling face long delays to access provision and a study conducted by the BBC found that children in need of Education Healthcare Plans were waiting for nearly three years in some cases.

Cuts to provision impact on the workload and stress felt by schoolworkers, who must hold together a fraying provision, choosing between giving children with SEND the support they need, or tending to the needs of other pupils in their classes. The suffering of pupils with SEND is compounded by the emotional strain of being under supported in their learning.

Over 1000 councillors in England wrote to education secretary Damian Hinds, urging the government to give schools the funding they need to support schools and meet the needs of pupils with SEND. Responding to the criticism, children and families minister Nadhim Zahawi defended the government, stating that they had “increased high needs funding for children and young people with the most complex SEND from £5bn in 2013 to more than £6bn this year.” What the increase in funding fails to cope with is the 35% increase in demand for SEND provision since 2015. In real terms the increase in funding amounts to a cut because it falls short of meeting demand.

Motion 23, ‘Supporting Special Educational Needs and Disabilities’, and its amendments begin to address some of the problems schoolworkers and students face when it comes to school cuts. Some of the readily-available information is mixed in with more general data on school cuts, so research in to how many students don’t receive enough educational hours makes sense. Supporting industrial action in defence of members’ jobs would prevent the situation from becoming worse and highlighting children who become lost in the system would create further awareness of the problem. Industrial action needs strong divisions ready to organise it, and strong school groups ready to carry it out. The union needs to put resources in to building this on-the-ground strength. When it comes to attacks against vulnerable students, activists need to look for places to start fires, rather than waiting to respond when management starts one of their own through cuts and redundancies.

Fundamentally, the issue of SEND cuts comes down to the coalition and then Tory governments’ attacks on education funding; local authorities, MATs and heads choosing to prioritise children without SEND when it comes to limited funding; and our union, alongside other public sector unions, failing to mount a serious industrial challenge to education cuts. We need a restoration of pre-2010 levels of funding as a starting point to build a truly inclusive education system. Serious industrial action in defence of the most vulnerable students in our education system, alongside political campaigning, is the tool which will give us the best opportunity to reach that starting point.


Workload - More Than a Toolkit is Required

Submitted by Class Struggle on Wed, 10/04/2019 - 18:00

According to the 2018 NEU survey, 81% of teachers said they have considered leaving teaching in the last year because of the pressures of workload. That’s pretty much most teachers!

In the NEU survey, one teacher commented: “I don't know how I can change how I work, I don't know how long I can maintain it, and the impact that it's having on my family is horrific. I am near marriage breakdown and one of the reasons is my job.”
The suicide rate among primary school teachers in England is nearly two times higher than the national average during the period 2011 to 2015, according to data from the Office of National Statistics (ONS).

On a TES forum about workload and stress, one teacher commented: ‘No suicides at my school but plenty of stress-related illness, anti-depressant use and depression. Also lots of people leaving teaching entirely…’

This is mind-bogglingly serious stuff! It wasn’t long ago that the union’s tackling excessive workload advice consisted of a list of admin tasks that teachers should not do. The union has developed that advice somewhat, for instance:

The advice contains a ‘toolkit’ from the DfE, and no doubt some of it is useful, but it tends to assume that all our members have to do is read the advice, implement the toolkit, and things will get better. The reality of the job is that it doesn’t work like that because excessive workload is often driven by a bullying management culture, and that in turn is the result of the fragmented and target/results driven nature of education. It is fear and lack of confidence that stops us from tacking excessive workload at school, and no toolkit by itself will provide the means to fix the job.

The advice is also focussed on classroom teachers. Support staff also have workload issues!
Ironically, some schools themselves are considering or adopting policies such as ‘no written marking’ because those school leaders recognise that something needs to be done about excessive workload. But how come our union is so far behind the curve here? Surely we need to be bolder in arguing that much of what we do at work is not about teaching but about ticking someone else’s boxes and policing us? Conference needs to agree to a plan of action about what we are going to do about this collectively, not school by school, or as isolated individuals. We need a national plan of action so that the tools in the toolkit do the job properly.

Pat Markey, Secretary Northampton District NEU (pc)


A Union for All School Workers

Submitted by Class Struggle on Wed, 10/04/2019 - 08:41

Support motion 14 and amendment 14.1.

Support motion 38 and reject amendments 38.1 and 38.2.

Teachers are not the only workers in schools, and the National Education Union is not just a union for teachers. The merger of the NUT and ATL that resulted in the NEU represents an unprecedented opportunity to build a union that can represent all workers who work in schools – cleaners, catering workers, administrators, caretakers/site managers, mealtime supervisors, learning mentors, technicians, welfare officers, teaching assistants and many more as well as teachers. All school workers have a common interest in organising together; our salaries are paid from the same budget; we work under the direction of the same school management. In each school, our terms and conditions of work are ultimately defined by, and negotiated with, the same employer.

The NEU now claims over 450,000 members, including a significant and growing number of support staff. The task now is to build an integrated, united and militant union that works for all its members. Unfortunately, led by the dominant and misnamed Socialist Teachers Alliance, the NEU watered down its pay claim and has not balloted non-teaching staff on either pay or school funding. The union has also voluntarily ceded the right to negotiate non-teaching staff’s pay and conditions at local-authority and Academy-Trust levels to Unison, GMB and Unite.

By doing so the new union is beginning to create two tiers of membership, with the poorer-paid, non-teachers as second-class citizens. The NEU’s leadership is in danger of messing up the merger and squandering the potential of a new, industrial union in education.
Conference has the opportunity to put this right. Passing motion 14 with amendment 14.1 is an important first step in setting out clearly the objective of a union that can collectively represent and bargain for all school workers.

Later on, in the Strategy Section, this means supporting motion 38 and rejecting the Executive’s amendment 38.1 (which replaces the substance and cutting edge of the motion with plausible-sounding but empty platitudes) and the more straightforwardly spoiling amendment 38.2. This is vital in order to make real progress towards the objective set out in amendment 14.1, most importantly through rank-and-file, workplace organising.
The NEU must rescind at the earliest opportunity the self-limiting agreements it has struck with the GMB, Unison etc. not to seek to negotiate terms and conditions of support staff, ending their second-class status. It is now vital that the NEU actively welcomes support staff, championing their causes and creating support-staff NEU leaders at every level of the union.
Most Headteachers, faced with teachers’ strike action, now habitually attempt to keep the schools open, staffed by Senior Leadership, agency staff and scabs. If key groups of support staff are part of an NEU organisation, and strike alongside the teachers, schools will not be able to remain open for legal reasons (the computer and registration systems will not work and the school will not be safe). The best way precarious, often outsourced, school support staff (cleaners, catering staff) and other school workers will be able to defend their interests is alongside teachers in a common trade union, by using the comparative strength of teachers to protect themselves and to organise.

Currently, if cuts to staffing are made, they most often are made to non-teaching staff or non-QTS teaching-support staff, who are either poorly unionised or served by unions who, in the main, do not deal with their concerns in a collective way, but through individual casework. A common trade union organisation in each school is also a way of breaking down barriers between different categories of workers – in particular, it will help to break down the snobbish way some teachers view support staff.

The NEU can now play a pivotal role, as the core of a future industrial trade union for school workers. We must aim for the maximum possible industrial unity, including with teachers in the NASUWT and with support staff currently in GMB, Unison and Unite, through merger and realignment on the basis of a united, democratic national union. Right now, this means the NEU actively recruiting support staff, most of whom are not currently unionised. If that also means some members of other unions deciding to join the NEU, then they are very welcome in our union!

We also, as motion 38 identifies, need to build the biggest and most united possible fight against the government in demanding substantially increased funding for all schools and increased pay for all school staff. Other unions in schools currently represent some hundreds of thousands of school support staff between them (Unison claims 250,000 members in schools across the UK) and we must seek to work with them in a common fightback.

The NEU needs to take the lead in restarting the pay and funding campaign across England and Wales. In doing so, we must urge Unison, GMB and Unite to take up the same campaign, energetically promoting it among their school-staff members, and balloting them on demands of increased pay and funding. And, while not delaying our own action through waiting for other unions, promoting solidarity and coordination of industrial action will strengthen our common campaign and ability to win.


Conference and beyond - For a Campaigning and Militant Union

Submitted by Class Struggle on Sat, 09/03/2019 - 16:58

The first National Education Union (NEU) conference will take place in Liverpool on 14th – 18th April. The conference will decide the direction and policy of the new union that organise 450,000 workers in schools. It is the fourth largest trade union in the UK. Workers Liberty members are very active and we fight hard to shape the NEU as an effective union for all school workers. Of the 18 sections the conference agenda is divided into 3 have motions written by Workers Liberty members prioritised, at the top, to be discussed. Those three motions, whilst not covering everything we believe, do signpost the direction we want for the union.

The first is for organising and representing support workers, which if passed would commit the union to gaining negotiating rights for support workers and end the undertaking not to recruit support staff. The second is for opposing the anti-union laws which if passed commits the union to organise a vocal and active campaign to abolish all the anti-union, this would include put pressure on the Labour leadership. The final motion written by Workers’ Liberty members demands a ballot of primary school members to organise a boycott of all high-stakes summative testing in primary schools. This would have a huge knock on effect on the curriculum, work-load and the way we treat children.

For a union that organises and represents all school workers, that fights to free itself and our movement from the shackles of the anti-union laws, that is industrially militant and fights to end the abuse of children and our members in the exam factories. We will be continuing this fight up to, in and after conference in Liverpool.


National Education Union Conference Motion Amendments

Submitted by Class Struggle on Sun, 03/03/2019 - 16:15

We've done some great work so far in the run up to conference. Motions written and submitted by Workers' Liberty activists and supporters on representing support staff, boycotting tests and fighting the anti-union laws are top of their sections on the agenda and will be debated.

There's still time to finesse, expand on and add detail to motions through amendments.

Pass one of our amendments through your division meeting before the March 18th deadline.

Attachment Size
NEU conference 2019 model amendments.pdf(109.88 KB) 109.88 KB

Union should fight to abolish GCSEs


Alan Gilbert

Kenneth Baker, the Tory minister who introduced GCSE exams, has called for their abolition.

"They have a profound impact on young people's mental health... exam stress is creating a 'troubled generation'...

"The focus on GCSE performance tables is creating such a pressure to drive up academic results that many schools are... being forced into rote learning to deliver..."

Baker spoke on 11 February, the same day that Robert Halfon, chair of Parliament's Education Select Committee, and a right-wing Tory, made the same call.

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