"A lie can travel halfway around the world before the truth can get its boots on" I think Mark Twain said.
That such an astute man could make such an understatement becomes more intelligible when we remember that he was in the era of steamboats, telegraphs, soapboxes, typewriters and typesetters. Today lies have much more reliable and speedy transport.
Lies such as "the reason for childrenís underachievement is a culture of low expectations among teachers" and its fellow from the same stable "you donít solve a problem by throwing money at it" travel round the world in seconds, secure in their communication because major political parties and media barons collude in them.
People whose daily experience gives them the right to challenge such lies (like teachers) still rely on their representatives (people like me and my colleagues) putting their boots on and going out to put a newsletter in your pigeonhole or a leaflet through your door to say "teachers already work miracles, but they could do a lot more if politicians resourced them properly and didnít just pretend that that was what they were doing."
But we have all had time to get cynical about the telling of such generalised lies as these.
The lies that are harder to take are the ones when you know they really are talking about you. So this year we had another barrage in local and also national media of "Bradford has the worst schools in the country" to add to last yearís "Bradford has the worst education support services in the country." An honest but naÔve person who simply examined the available facts might say "Ah, the politicians and journalists who are saying this are referring to the level of funding of education in Bradford, which falls well short of the national average, and which, given the particular difficulties that Bradford faces, is probably the worst in the country. They are probably also referring to the overall poor quality of the school buildings."
If you explained to this person that the basis for these reports was that Bradford was at or near the bottom of various league tables of pupil examination and test results, they might well say "Well, presumably that is a consequence of the poor funding."
Another honest and naÔve but slightly more knowledgeable person joining in the conversation might well add "And the enormous poverty and social disadvantage, and the lack of English and of any background in formal education in the homes of many children from ethnic minority families, are other factors that link Bradford to the other areas at the bottom of these league tables. It is surely unhelpful to say that Bradford has the worst schools in the country in this context. Wonít this scare parents and demoralise teachers? Wonít it also deflect us from the real needs that have to be addressed? Shouldnít we be concentrating on what new resources and new ideas can be used to tackle disadvantage here and in other similar environments?"
They see as well as we do the neglect and decay into which they fell during the years of Conservative Government. They see the growth of inequality. They see the concentration of poor and disadvantaged people caused by housing and social as well as educational policy, and they see the mountain that has to be climbed if this disadvantage is to be addressed.
Politicians want to be seen to be doing something about the problems, but do not want to be the ones who make anyone pay more taxes to solve them. So they pretend to be putting right the funding problems, but know that the little extra they are spending leaves Britain still lagging hugely behind other developed countries, and Bradford behind other cities. They therefore have to claim that any continuing problems are the result of the way that teachers do their job, rather than the level of resources being put into it.
Everyone in education knows the culture of endless new initiatives - some OK in principle though not properly worked out in practice, some completely potty, some adding to the inequalities that undermine our system - that this gives rise to, and they know the overload on teachers and other workers in education that they have caused. In Bradford - presented as the model of failure - we have all these national initiatives and many more to address our alleged local failings. The two biggest of these extra initiatives are the School Reorganisation, and the privatisation of the LEA.
Whatever the desirability of the School Reorganisation in principle, and however it subsequently settles down, in practice at this point it is reducing standards in education. Pupils and teachers have been unsettled by movement. Many teachers are in different jobs with inadequate - if any - training. Many others are on the scrapheap, while jobs are unfilled. Widespread building work while schools are in session, shanty towns of temporary accommodation and split site working in unsuitable buildings have all detracted from the delivery of education and contributed to the worst pupil behaviour that experienced teachers can ever remember in many schools.
These are circumstances in which the effective support of the LEA is crucial. Instead the LEA has been paralysed and then dismembered by the process of privatisation. A year and a half on from Chris Woodhead and Estelle Morris putting the boot in to justify this privatisation, the new structure is still not in place. In the meantime, staff have left in droves, demoralisation has been enormous and strategic responsibility has largely been abandoned.
But would anyone know this outside of the system? Not if politicians have their way. Tens of thousands of pounds of Council tax payers money is now spent on public relations material to tell us how well everything is going.
Special full colour publications are devoted to how well the school building programme is going.
A special issue of the Management Journal profiles all our great civic leaders and their heroic achievements in glorious glossy colour.
A special supplement of the Bradford Telegraph and Argus lauds our privatised education service, and says that it will lift us from the bottom to the top of those league tables in the next 10 years.
All of these may look to the innocent like reporting, but are paid-for promotional material. The one or two sentences that your Union representatives might get to sound a note of caution at the end of a real newspaper article about such exaggerated claims are completely missing here.
But we still have our boots on. We are still, as your representatives, telling politicians and senior officers and the public how this brave new world looks from the classroom and from the corridors of the education offices. We are telling them that the fruits of failing to value their teachers and education staff as being as good as those found anywhere in the country, and to support them with the training and resources, are very serious.
We have many schools that now cannot hold on to teachers. We have concerned parents needlessly frightened into taking their children outside the LEA, worsening our problems. We have the very salutary lesson that many school pupils were involved in the summerís riots and in the subsequent wave of bad behaviour that still continues.
2001 was my 21st year as Bradford NUT Secretary. I live in the City, in one of the communities affected by the riots. I and most of you have a big stake in what happens to this city and its people. I hope that we can effectively communicate its desperate need for adequate resources for education and for the empowerment (to use the jargon of the age) of teachers to do their jobs effectively. I hope that we can communicate this effectively to the new, enlarged top layer of very highly paid managers who drive in to the City each day from other more affluent parts of the North of England to give us the benefits of their expertise.
Much of the early part of the year was spent in supporting teachers left without a job by the school reorganisation. Many teachers placed as supernumerary for the year 2000-01 obtained jobs in the schools where they were working, and another large group were granted voluntary severance in July. The Chief Executive spent a lot of his and our time negotiating arrangements to deal with people who it was perceived by the Council were likely to refuse to co-operate with reasonable offers of jobs. In practice such arrangements were never used.
We responded to very strong concerns from members in schools on split sites due to rebuilding. The problems caused by these arrangements were very serious in some cases, and the LEA was not effective in dealing with them on the whole.
We made sure that we were invited to and attended site meetings for the work on schools to ensure that satisfactory arrangements were made to protect pupilsí and staff health and safety. In a number of cases, we caused building work to be stopped because it was putting people at risk or interfering with teaching.
We campaigned with other unions against the privatisation of Bradford LEA. A number of very good rallies, lobbies and meetings were held, including a debate between Terry Rooney MP, David Ward, the Councilís Education Portfolio Holder, and John Illingworth, the NUTís National President. Terry Rooney to his credit spoke out against the proposals, as did a couple of Labour Councillors. The others toed the Government line, or stayed silent.
Our thanks go to those NUT members who also leafleted across the City against the proposals.
The privatisation went ahead, driven through by the Government. It must be noted, however, that in Leeds where local Labour politicians all robustly opposed similar proposals there was a very different outcome.
We had to adopt a dual strategy of campaigning to stop what we believed to be wasteful and damaging proposals, and trying to ensure that our members and the quality of education were protected as far as possible if they went ahead. To this end, we met all of the bidders for the contract to evaluate and seek to influence their proposals.
We also had many meetings with Council Officers and politicians about the content of the contract to try to ensure that services important to teachers were retained.
After the selection of Serco to deliver the contract we met regularly with them and the Council to try to ensure the protection of the pensions, salaries, conditions and jobs of the staff whose work was to transfer to the company. We were successful in the first three areas. Job protection remains to be seen, as Education Bradford, as the new entity is called, is still restructuring. So far there has been voluntary severance but no compulsory redundancy.
Before privatisation, the highest paid officer responsible for education was the Director on about £75,000 pa. There are now parallel structures in the company and the council for education management, with five people on salaries ranging from £125,000 pa to £85,000pa. Allowing for the profit that the Serco organisation will expect from its work in Bradford, it is easy to see why one of its first acts was to announce that it was to shed 120 posts - a good start in its work of improving services to schools!
We have met the new head of Education Bradford, Mark Pattison, the former CEO in Blackburn, and he has said he is keen to have a good relationship with the trade unions.
The ethnic and cultural diversity of Bradford is potentially a great strength, but it brings with it a responsibility on those involved in education to overcome misunderstandings, prejudices, hostilities and suspicions that people may have of others from different backgrounds, and to build on the tolerance and respect that most people have most of the time for each otherís values, beliefs and customs. The importance of this role is particularly great following the riots in Bradford and the reverberations of September 11th. The effects of these events have very definitely been felt in schools. We felt in the NUT that now is a time to draw together and strengthen the work that many individual teachers do on developing tolerance and respect and challenging intolerance and racism.
To this end we have set up a Working Party which is trying to identify what is being done and can be done. We have allocated money that we are prepared to spend on development work. We have also presssed officers of the Council and politicians to instigate a review of the whole curriculum in Bradford to see where positive work could be done.
Our hostility to the concept of the Threshold did not absolve us from responsibility for helping teachers faced with having to get through it to get the pay rise that they all deserved. We had a very high rate of success in supporting members through the original process, but we were still left with a small but significant number of people justifiably aggreived that they had been failed. We have represented most of them in the appeal process won by the actions of the NUT. Thanks to the work of Jane Rendle, we have had twice the average rate of success in winning such appeals.
We have given many school representatives and individuals advice on school pay policies and performance management schemes.
The casework officers of Bradford NUT - John Howarth, Jane Rendle, Stuart Davies, Miriam Murch and myself give advice and support to hundreds of individuals on every possible issue relating to their work every year. We visit dozens of schools. This year has seen a significant increase in problems relating to pupil behaviour, including assaults on teachers. Union intervention usually helps to resolve these. Despite Government protestations, problems relating to excessive workload continue to increase. We are now starting to deal with significant numbers of members who are overseas teachers brought here by agencies to cope with domestic teacher shortage. The training they have been given and their terms of employment often cause concern.
As always, Bradford teachers made significant contributions to the NUTís Annual Conference and to its other national activities. I have been returned for my 9th term as a member of the National Executive.
Following the local elections, we have a new Equal Opportunities Officer - Jane Moon.
Our thanks as always to Lynne Thornton, our clerical assistant, who was tolerant enough to identify teamwork as one of our strengths in some recent training that we gave ourselves. We need more members of the team to give the Union the strength it needs. Please get involved.