Annual Report 2000

This is my 20th Annual Report as Bradford NUT Secretary. One of the aspects of the job that has kept me in it for so long is that it rarely sinks to the level of mere routine. To use the buzzword of the day, I and my colleagues are constantly "challenged". This is not special pleading, because what challenges us is what challenges you as teachers and NUT members. In a period when sustained economic growth has at least led to a small increase in real expenditure on education, it would be nice to think that these challenges were those involved in expanding and improving state education, working together as a team. Sadly not. To much energy is still devoted to bullying and denigrating teachers, to trying to get away with underpaying them; and to continuing the previous Government's project of marketising and privatising education, rather than developing a service of equal quality for all children. Bradford has borne the full brunt of every possible difficulty this year. Its hard-working teachers deserved to be treated a lot better than they have been.

Privatisation of the Local Education Authority

In the early part of the year, Ian Greenwood, the then Labour leader of Bradford Council, and Ian Stewart, its Chief Executive, chose to use the Telegraph and Argus as the medium for announcing a total restructure of the Council - before any consultation with the workforce. It began to emerge that part of this restructure was likely to be the setting up of a Partnership Board to oversee the running of education in place of the Education Committee, with the service itself "outsourced" to a private contractor, to use the phraseology then current.

Up to this point, plans of this kind had only been forced on local authorities by the Government. Bradford was being volunteered. In doing so, the politicians and officers at the centre of the Council called into question the quality of its education services. OFSTED, which reported on them in May, took the hint. The details of the report showed a mixture of strengths and weaknesses that one might expect. The gloss put on it by Estelle Morris and Chris Woodhead was savage. The LEA was accused of "failing its children miserably", and of existing for the benefit of its staff. Interestingly, this gloss did not dwell on the allegations of political interference contained in the report. Nor did it criticise the senior officers, who have remained and received large pay rises in the restructuring. The purpose of the savaging was to break any will locally to resist privatisation.

In the May local elections, Labour lost control of the Council. For the second year running, the Education Spokesperson lost their seat. An alliance of Conservatives and Liberal Democrats took over. The Liberal Democrats took the Executive position for Education. They had talked in opposition of the folly of privatisation, but they soon wilted.

For the last 8 months, a team of consultants provided by Price Waterhouse Coopers has been directing the preparation of a contract for a private company to deliver virtually all central education services. We now have four shortlisted bidders for the contract - three of them with no background at all in education, the other with a record already much criticised.

The campaign against privatisation took a while to get off the ground, but the autumn saw a series of large meetings and rallies. I was privileged to speak to a packed St George's Hall in November. The campaign has been sustained by petitions, letter-writing and lobbies, and I have no doubt that the public is hostile to the plans. We have worked closely in this campaign with all of the unions representing Council staff, with the Bradford and Keighley Trades Union Councils, and with community organisations. We have also worked with our colleagues in Leeds and other authorities affected by similar plans.

While trying to prevent the plans, we have also had to work to protect our members should they go through. We have consulted staff proposed for transfer through meetings and letters. We have spent a lot of time on trying to ensure that their pay, conditions and pensions will be protected. We also know that the potential effect on staff in schools could be very serious.

We are currently working very hard to ensure that no one experiences worsened conditions or loss of support services, and that we maintain proper negotiating and representation arrangements.

Protecting Conditions and Jobs

Not satisfied with the privatisation exercise itself, those at the very top of the Council determined to change the entire Directorate structure prior to transfer, and to embark on an exercise of changing the conditions of employment of all staff - in schools as well as the centre. It seemed as though no one senior was engaged on running education, only on restructuring of one kind or another. Most of these plans have now been abandoned, but not before a lot of time and energy better employed in other ways was wasted.

The one outstanding area of concern with these negotiations is a continuing desire to change the arrangements for protecting staff from redundancy and, if that fails, for making them redundant.

Reorganisation "Completed"!

The reorganisation of Bradford Schools from three phases to two was "completed" in September in the sense that all middle schools, a significant number of first schools and one upper school closed, and all others became primary or secondary. 1300 teachers, and other staff, who had given good service and were highly valued by the communities they served, had to adjust to different roles not of their choosing.

There was, however, a lot more necessary reorganisation work uncompleted than there would have been if the Council's energies and resources had not been redirected into the privatisation initiative.

The further placement exercise that was necessary in the Spring to find jobs for the teachers still supernumerary was diluted to "co-ordinated redeployment" because of resistance from many heads, and did very little to help place teachers. The Council refused to use Voluntary Severance or Early Retirement, so we began the new school year with more than 180 supernumerary teachers. When we had suggested a year before that this would be the outcome of the placement process chosen by the Council we had been accused of scaremongering.

Insecurity

So, many teachers still do not have the security of knowing where they will be next school year. Many others who have been permanently placed are finding their new role more difficult than it needed to be because training has been virtually non-existent. Hundreds of millions spent on buildings (where there are ribbons to be cut) and a few tens of thousands spent on staff training sums up the approach.

To say something positive about the Council, we have been given extra union facilities time to cope with the consequences of the Reorganisation. We have used this in trying to get some teachers the long-term options they want, and helping others who have been placed but are finding their new jobs very stressful.

Some of the many things we have done are:

EMAG Staff

It took months and months of lobbying and a threat of legal action to secure the same No Compulsory Redundancy pledge for EMAG staff in closing schools as had been given to other staff a year earlier. This was not achieved until days before schools closed, but it was one of our major achievements.

At the moment, with a strong sense of déjà vu, we are again working on proposals for voluntary severance/early retirement and supported placement to reduce the number of staff who are supernumerary. Maybe this time...?

Building Blues

As the year went on, we geared up to cope with the major consequences of building work in the new and continuing schools. Hardly a brick had been laid by the time the new system began, so there are forests of temporary classrooms all over Bradford, and an increasing number of staff and children are faced with building sites in the heart of their schools as more than 100 projects get under way.

We have established a working relationship with BOVIS, the company managing the building work for the Council, and have tried our best to do so with the Church of England Diocese, responsible for some other major works. We have tried to be involved at the planning stage of all building work to ensure that it is conducted as safely and conveniently as possible for children and teachers. We are also monitoring it as it takes place. This is a very time-consuming task, being carried out principally by Miriam Murch, Stuart Davies and Steve Goodfellow.

The temporary, but sometimes quite long-term, split site working in some schools has been a major cause of stress. We have visited most of the schools affected. As I write, we are still trying to get relevant local authority officers and some heads to support us in finding ways of alleviating problems that cannot be allowed to continue for a year or more.

Budget Good News

It is a good job that this year schools were not, on the whole, faced with budget cuts to add to their other problems. £5 million more went into schools this year than was required to deal with inflation. In addition, the deficits of closing schools were written off, and supernumerary staff were paid for from contingencies/reserves, not school budgets.

It was gratifying to see this increase accompanied by an acknowledgement that we had been correct in saying for years that Bradford was underspending on education compared to similar authorities, and that another £6 million needs to be put in over the next two years to catch up.

It seems likely that this year a lot of the extra money was used by schools to reduce deficits, because there has not been a substantial increase in the number of teachers.

Teacher Shortage

Teachers are in fact becoming difficult to find for some of our inner city schools, and that includes supply teachers. Teachers in two schools had to resort to refusing to cover beyond the first 3 days of an absence, or for vacant posts, because of staffing problems, and we can expect this to become more common.

Class Size

We were also on the verge of action over class size in two schools which had classes in the high 30s because of accommodation difficulties. These were quickly resolved in the face of the threat.

Fair Pay For All

In a "normal" year, our main preoccupation would probably have been the introduction of Performance Related Pay and Performance Management for teachers. This effectively happened when the School Teachers Review Body accepted the Government's proposals in January, at the same time as awarding us a 3.3% rise (compared with a 4.6% rise in average earnings). "There will be no 'something for nothing'", David Blunkett told us, "only 'something for something'".

At this point, to their shame, Doug McAvoy and the leaders of the other teacher unions gave up opposing a system which virtually everybody in the profession agreed was degrading and demotivating. Locally, we did not give up.

Our Campaign

We knew, and warned, that applying to cross the Threshold would be time-consuming and demeaning; that Performance Management, with its annual targets including pupil results, and constant monitoring had the potential for browbeating, bureaucracy and demoralisation. We campaigned for £2,000 for all teachers.

On February 12th a sizeable contingent of us took part in a demonstration in London. We also held meetings, and organised lobbying, petitions and letter-writing. Two large meetings were held in April and May, each attended by more than 100 people, to discuss PRP and Performance Management. They called on the Union to ballot for action, in line with Conference decisions.

When it became clear that there would be no further national campaign, we took the view (to quote a letter we wrote to members in May) "that PRP is both unwelcome and counter-productive, and we will continue to oppose it. At the same time, we see no reason why NUT members should be disadvantaged in a system that has now been introduced, and will therefore offer every help to members to achieve the £2,000 payment."

The Threshold

To this end, we organised a series of meetings on how to apply, and issued detailed advice. We also maintained close contact with the head of the Assessment Team to take up difficulties as we became aware of them. As a result, approximately 95% of members who applied and were assessed by the summer had been passed. This is not to say the system is fair. Much of our subsequent work has been on behalf of the relatively small number who were "failed", nearly all of them without apparent satisfactory reason even under the system's own rules.

The NUT's court case victory, though sadly exploited by some in other unions on the grounds that it might delay payment, has enabled us to achieve an appeals mechanism for those who were designated "Not Yet Met". We are currently getting ready to support a substantial number of such appeals.

Performance Management has also now begun. We have issued advice, talked to school groups, and written to headteachers expressing our determination that workload should not be increased, unreasonable targets set, or links made to pay.

And All The Rest Of Our Work

These big preoccupations of the year dealt with so far in this report mean that only a brief mention is possible of some of our many other activities:

Our Strong Local Union

Bradford NUT continues to play a big role in the National Union, feeding in information, challenging where we feel necessary, participating in as many events as possible.

This year has seen the departure of our longest serving local officer. Frank Jones has been one of our Health and Safety Advisers since the 1970s, and will have been well-known to many of you. Sadly, ill-health has forced him to give up the position. We all wish him a full recovery. We will also miss June Russell. June was one of our officers for many years and spoke very well at Annual Conference. She has left teaching to pursue a career in the arts, he said enviously.

Locally we remain a strong team with many years of experience between us. John Howarth has, like me, been a local officer for 20 years. Stuart Davies, Miriam Murch and Jane Rendle also now have a lot of expertise to contribute. Lynne Thornton, our clerical assistant, makes sure that the organisation functions efficiently, and that we don't get too big for our boots. Members of a Union could not find a better team to support them.

Though I can promise that I won't be round in another 20 years, I look forward to continuing in this job in what I hope will be better times ahead for teachers. We will certainly be working to achieve that. One of my favourite moments of the year was the General Meeting just after Chris Woodhead resigned. At the end of it, a member produced a bottle of champagne and some glasses to toast his departure. "It's nice to have something to celebrate," she said.

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