Hundreds of “satisfactory” schools in England are threated with closure

From The News Line:


The National Union of Teachers (NUT) declared yesterday that the Brown government’s threat to close 638 schools for not reaching arbitrary targets ‘will be resisted’ – after the union found the closures ‘even more shocking and random than first appeared’.

On June 8th, Ed Balls, Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, published the names of 638 schools who were allegedly below the Government’s floor target of 30% of pupils getting at least five A*-C grades at GCSE, including English and mathematics.

However, closer scrutiny of the schools name, prompted NUT Acting General Secretary Christine Blower to say yesterday: ‘On deeper analysis, the government’s condemnation of 638 secondary schools is even more shocking and random than first appeared.

‘Only 11 per cent of schools in the sample were considered by OFSTED to need the intervention and threats now being employed by the government.

‘Indeed, it is extraordinary that 26% of the schools in our analysis are considered to be amongst the best in the country and around a third are in the top 40%.

‘A further 59% are considered to be satisfactory; a term in any normal dictionary definition which means that although there is room for improvement, those schools are meeting their pupils’ needs.

‘It seems to me that the government has decided to junk its recent attempts to introduce a measure of sophistication into evaluating schools in favour of a crude headline-grabbing measure to try to show that it is tough on standards.

‘The support outlined in the National Challenge programme will be obscured by this injustice. Teachers and head teachers will be very wary of wanting to join schools that could be threatened with closure.

‘I have written to our members and to all head teachers in the 638 schools expressing the NUT’s solidarity with them.

‘The NUT will not stand by and watch the vilification of school communities and the intolerable pressure put on Heads and teachers as a result of the government’s arbitrary actions.

‘School closures will be resisted and members will be protected from any excessive workload demands created by the National Challenge programme.’

The government’s proposals – contained in the documents ‘National Challenge’ and ‘Promoting Excellence For All’ – are the sticks used to beat educational workers into accepting the privatisation of schooling.

In her letter of support to NUT members at the berated schools, Blower says the NUT is not only opposed to the proposal to close schools, but also proposals to intensify monitoring and inspection regimes.

She continues: ‘The National Union of Teachers knows that you are making a positive difference to young people’s lives; young people who often come from the toughest of circumstances.

‘Schools need resources to meet the challenges posed by social and economic problems.

‘The £400 million committed by the Secretary of State to your school and the others covered by the “National Challenge” should be used to reduce class sizes, increase teaching, learning and study support and give teachers the time and space during the school day to develop links with their local communities, including parents.

‘It can’t be right that £260 million of the £400 million will be spent on establishing Academies and Trusts.

‘The Secretary of State is wrong in his view that somehow you can enhance the commitment, enthusiasm and innovatory capacity of teachers by threatening them with the closure of their schools if they fail to meet an arbitrary target.

‘The National Challenge should be about saying to teachers that it is a career advantage to work in schools in challenging circumstances, not a career threat.

‘You and your members will have worked hard for youngsters entering secondary schools, who may have started school caring little about learning.

‘For such youngsters, achievement in GCSEs, albeit that such achievement is below Ed Balls’ target may in fact be the pinnacle of achievement; yet nothing in Ed Balls’ target recognises that.’

Government ‘targets’, and the channeling of finances away from state schools into the pockets of the private sector, have created enormous tensions in the teaching profession, mirroring the same process in the NHS.

In the last week alone the NUT have been forced to also comment on:

• a threefold increase in the use of teaching assistants (costing £50 a day) to fill in for supply teachers (£150 a day) as highlighted by UNISON.

• pay rises for teachers, and,

• recruitment and retention of headteachers.

Commenting on the use of teaching assistants in schools, Blower said on Thursday: ‘Unison are right to highlight the injustice experienced by school support staff.

‘From our own evidence, many support staff are being expected to carry out inappropriate work and are paid very little for the unreasonable expectation placed on their shoulders.

‘Indeed our own evidence shows that support staff are being used to teach children with the greatest needs and are being used to cover for teaching staff over long periods of time.

‘Too often, support staff are considered to be the low cost option. It is quite clear to the NUT that all staff who work in school teams need a proper definition of their responsibilities and proper pay and conditions.’

Continuing on the question of pay, she added: ‘The justice of the case for increases in teachers’ pay has been reinforced by the inflation figures.

‘The Retail Price index is over 4%. Even the government’s preferred index for inflation is at a 10 year high of 3.3%.

‘In the face of energy prices set to rise by 40% by Christmas, the NUT will continue the campaign for Fair Pay for Teachers.

‘The Secretary of State must reopen consideration of teachers’ pay for September. 2.45% is not enough.

‘Teachers and other public sector worker unions cannot and will not stand by and see their members’ incomes and standards of living cut.’

These cuts have led to problems of Headteacher recruitment as highlighted by the National College for School Leadership.

Blower, said: ‘There is a problem with Headteacher recruitment; Steve Munby is right to highlight it. He is quite wrong to suggest that the solution is to appoint non teachers to such jobs.

‘Being a Headteacher is about leading learning. The NUT believes that to lead a learning community a background in teaching is key.

‘There is no shortage of classroom teachers who could become Headteachers. It is just that the pressures Heads face are intense and unreasonable.

‘The cause of low recruitment to Headship has to be removed. The second-class sticking plaster of people who have no background in teaching is not a solution.

‘More teachers would be attracted to Headship if the government didn’t pull stunts like the naming of 638 schools last week.

‘The education service needs Headteachers. The government needs to will the means and conditions that would make Headship an attractive option.’

The News Line calls on all teaching professionals to come to the ATUA conference on Sunday 29th June (see advert ), to organise the building of a leadership to defend all public services by bringing down the Brown government and going forward to socialism.

Brown faces revolt over anti-democratic planning bill

Yes, another anti-democratic piece of legislation, another Labour revolt:

Gordon Brown, Alistair Darling and other cabinet ministers have been calling wavering MPs as Labour whips prepare for a close vote next week over moves to streamline the planning system.

The prime minister and chancellor are concerned about a fresh backbench rebellion just days after the government pushed through its anti-terror bill with a majority of only nine, aided by the Democratic Unionists.

The controversy is over proposals that would strip local councils of their right to adjudicate on all big projects, from Heathrow’s new runway to new nuclear power stations, and leave the decision in the hands of an independent commission.

Some Labour MPs fear this quango is not democratically accountable because its members will not be elected.

Instead, they argue, there should be a ministerial veto over large infrastructure projects and are likely to join the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats in backing an amendment – put forward by Labour MP Clive Betts – to this end.

Hazel Blears, communities secretary, will hold talks with MPs early next week to appeal for their loyalty.

The prime minister has called MPs directly to lobby them over the issue, although Downing Street said on Friday that it had no knowledge of his direct involvement.

“The fact that they’re sending secretaries of state running around means they understand that we are upset,” said David Drew, MP for Stroud.

Ministers from the Department for Communities and Local Government are holding out the possibility of some kind of compromise such as introducing new checks and balances over the committee’s powers.

The vote, on Wednesday, is still likely to be close, given that a related part of the same planning bill – an amendment calling for projects to be considered on their environmental impact – was rejected by only 15 votes earlier this month.

John Grogan, MP for Selby, said: “I think there will be a significant rebellion because there is a strong feeling on the Labour benches that ultimately it should be ministers deciding and not a quango.”

The government sees the bill as one of its key pro-business measures. “The stakes are higher than normal for that reason,” said one aide, who said a “hard-core of potential rebels” remained despite the whips’ efforts.

Labour has put a three-line whip on MPs to attend the debate while hoping that many opposition members will be engaged elsewhere ahead of Thursday’s Henley by-election.

One Tory whip indicated that the vote would be close: “The government is worried about this, and if the government is worried, we are very interested.”

More than 60 Labour MPs have signed an early day motion calling for more ministerial oversight of the process. Mr Betts agreed the planning system needed reform because “it shouldn’t take 10 years to decide on projects” such as nuclear reactors. But he said: “What I’m trying to do is ensure an improved process so we have greater accountability.”

Phil Woolas is a tool… of the GM lobby

He wants a debate?

Environment Minister Phil Woolas met biotechnology industry members before calling for a new debate on genetically modified crops, it has emerged.

Mr Woolas has suggested that, with global food prices rising rapidly, GM crops could greatly improve yields.

A copy of a briefing paper prepared for the meeting has been passed to the BBC’s Today programme.

Mr Woolas has previously said that the government is ready to argue for a greater role for GM crops.

The briefing paper formed the basis for a presentation to Mr Woolas by members of the Agricultural Biotechnology Council.

This is an umbrella group representing some of the leading companies involved in developing GM crops.

According to BBC correspondent Tom Feilden, the notes make a powerful case for the technology, but the most controversial section deals with the situation in the UK and Europe.

It calls for a rethink on the regulation of GM crop trials, and for a review to streamline and depoliticise the procedures governing the licensing of genetically modified crops across Europe.

Benefit claims

The biotech industry says that GM technology can combat world hunger and poverty by delivering higher yields and reducing the use of pesticides.

But green groups and aid agencies have expressed doubts over just how effective the technology is.

An annual report from industry body the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) published in February said growing GM plants, such as maize and cotton, produced higher yields and incomes and lowered pesticide use.

But GM Freeze, a coalition of groups including Action Aid, the Soil Association, Unison and Greenpeace, said there was no evidence GM crops boost yields.

Pete Riley, of GM Freeze, said: “There is more than enough food in the world to feed everyone, it’s just that the economic system put in place by politicians has failed to ensure that that food reaches the people who need it most, whilst other sectors of the population are becoming obese.”