League tables are the bane of Bradford.
Teachers here work very hard to raise pupil achievement in those schools where large numbers of children come from backgrounds in which poverty, lack of previous family success in formal education, or newness to English mean that this is a bigger task than it would otherwise be.
When despite our efforts, and our willingness to try out new ways of working that might narrow the attainment gap, results from tests put Bradford near the bottom of comparative tables of LEAs, and put some schools low down tables of individual schools, this has its own negative effects. Numbers of applicants for posts in Bradford become much lower than elsewhere; aspiring parents try to get their children out of Bradford or parts of it; teachers in some schools are battered by waves of inspectors making outrageous workload demands on them. These factors make it harder rather than easier to do what we all want to do, and create a system in Bradford in which all children can succeed.
SATs whose results are a public measure of success or failure can also do their own damage to the content of education and the wellbeing of children by the pressures they exert.
For these reasons, Bradford NUT has been very pleased to support the NUTís campaign for the abolition of league tables and for reform of the method and purpose of assessment.
We have produced and distributed campaigning material and petitions to parents and the general public. A highlight was organising stalls in Bradford, Keighley and Ilkley town centres to explain our campaign and seek support. The results were overwhelmingly positive, and we intend to keep up work of this kind.
We worked very hard to persuade our own members of the case for a boycott of this yearís KS1 and KS2 tests, including writing an individual letter to each member involved. Those who did vote in the Unionís ballot overwhelmingly supported a boycott, but not enough to meet the Unionís criterion for sustained action of 50% plus one of the eligible membership voting in favour. The number who voted was a lot smaller than did so for the boycott 11 years ago, and we have tried to learn the lessons of this. The SATs are a lot more embedded in day-to-day teaching now, and disentangling them was seen by some as making the action problematic. We are grateful for any further feedback to inform what we do next.
Our campaign will continue.
Decisions were taken in principle this year to close all of Bradfordís Special Schools except Thorn Park (which serves hearing impaired children). They are to be replaced with 3 primary and three secondary multidisciplinary schools, recruiting children on a geographical basis. By the end of 2003 sites had been agreed for 5 of these, and building plans were under discussion. Closure of 10 of the existing schools is some way off, but Temple Bank is to close in summer 2004. This has made the work of securing a satisfactory procedure for redeploying staff more urgent, and weekly meetings have been held involving the unions to review what is a very complex process of protecting all staff while ensuring that the very particular needs of individual children continue to be met.
The NUT has throughout the year been working on related issues of ensuring that provision for autistic children is adequate and appropriate, making sure that the specifications of the new schools are good and are not pared down after they have first been announced, and examining how assaults and physical and mental stress on staff in special schools can be reduced.
The grand schemes of the Ian Stewart era seem to have reduced themselves for the time being to the partial rebuild of 3 secondary schools. These are not as yet much beyond the Blue Skies Thinking phase. Though the scheme is now called Building Schools For The Future, it still involves the private sector in a much bigger role than currently in schools.
The likelihood is that the plans will involve a company essentially leasing the buildings to the schools, and taking over the staff involved in maintenance, caretaking and cleaning. There is also talk of office staff being part of the contract. This has quite serious implications for the schoolsí control over their future costs, their ability to deploy staff as they think appropriate, the security and conditions of the staff themselves, and general accountability for public money. We are trying to force what is a fairly secretive process out into the public domain and get staffs and ourselves involved in decision-making.
The NUT nationally has been kicked out of the talks on "remodelling" for refusing to sign up to the principle that people who are not qualified or paid as teachers can have charge of classes on a regular basis.
Locally we have fully endorsed this stand.
However, taking a stand on principle does not absolve us from dealing with problems in practice. The first stage of the reforms that were supposed to benefit teachers was formally introduced in September. There are 21 tasks you are no longer required to do "routinely". Some of them you never did. Some you may still be doing, because there was no extra money provided in Bradford to pay for the employment of other staff to do them.
The big threats from the Workforce Agreement are still around the corner, with the introduction of Cover Supervisors who can cover to virtual exclusion of supply teachers, and of High Level Teaching Assistants who can, in theory, take whole classes on their own or help you to take a doublesized teaching group. We monitored for schools jumping the gun on these initiatives and intervened a couple of times during the year. Education Bradford (Serco) bid for and was given a contract to deliver training to such staff, which starts in summer 2004.
Bradford has more schools in the Governmentís categories of Special Measures, Serious Weaknesses and Challenging Circumstances than any other LEA. Some of this is due to the close relationship between this categorisation and pupil results in tests and examinations, some is due to the moratorium on inspections during the School Reorganisation, and some is due to Education Bradford (Serco) not supporting schools adequately and appropriately when warned by us and others that they were in difficulties.
The fact of the substantial number of schools in these categories is an embarrassment to those who want to prove that privatisation of the former LEA support services is working. The reaction of both the Government and the controlling political groups in Bradford has been to give Serco more money for intervention in schools, but not to evaluate the style of that intervention. Though there are some very good staff in Education Bradford with useful ideas about teaching, the style is largely one of "challenge".
We have been called in to many schools in 2003
because teachers are at the end of their tether.
They frequently complain that they are observed ad infinitum by HMIs, Education Bradford Staff, school management and curriculum leaders, given endless extra paperwork, asked to attend several meetings per week, asked to prepare and show lesson plans and other planning ridiculously far in advance, and not taken seriously when they say that there are aspects of pupil behaviour that need tackling that cannot be dealt with just by telling them to make their teaching more interesting.
We have taken up issues raised with us by staff with school management, with Education Bradford, with the LEA, and with politicians. We have given staff advice on what is reasonable workload, told them that they are covered by the unionís bureaucracy ballot in sticking to this guidance, and are continuing to back them where there are problems.
We also organised a training day specifically for schools in these circumstances.
We gave advice and support to NUT members in Bradford Cathedral College and Dixonsí CTC during prolonged discussions about their replacement by a City Academy, and raised concerns about how the admission arrangements for such an institution might affect other schools in South Bradford. These proposals fell through, and we are now involved in discussions about the implications of the Cathedral becoming an Academy on its own.
"Innovate or die" is, as we know, the Bradford Education motto - or vision, to use contemporary terminology. So if there is a new idea around, Bradford has to be the first to try it, while more cautious souls wait to see what legs it has got before going with it. Twice during 2003 Ė early and late in the year - attempts were made to bring in variants of the six term year for Bradford schools. No neighbouring LEAs were planning to do so.
Key features of these proposals were cutting the summer holiday to less than six weeks, and making it impossible for primary schools to take 2 weeks holiday at Spring Bank, as a large number currently do. They also involved changing holiday dates already published. We engaged in our own consultation, and the changes got an overwhelming thumbs down from members: in the most recent consultation, not one single person responding wanted to reduce the length of the summer holiday.
We pressed our case with Officers and politicians, and both proposals were withdrawn.
The summer term saw 20 schools embarking on a redundancy process primarily because of changes in funding methods and falling rolls. We managed to negotiate a position where no-one was made compulsorily redundant.
The funding situation for all schools was tight. In contrast, the Council proposed to give Education Bradford (Serco) a nice round million extra in addition to its inflation proofing rise. We were initially informed that we could not be told what it was for because of commercial confidentiality. When we successfully challenged this, and when the sum was reduced by a bit, Education Bradford then secured another nice round million from the Government. But surely itís money well spent if it goes on school improvement, I here you say. The question we need to ask is how many highly paid people it takes to improve Bradfordís schools. In the latest version of the companyís everchanging structure, there appear to be a dozen people on £60,000 or more, some on a lot more. There were none when Bradford Council ran the services except the Director of Education, and that post still exists outside of Education Bradford.
Some of the most distressing, but in the end most
rewarding, work that we did in 2003 involved a
group of teachers from India brought to Bradford
by a company called Teaching Personnel.
Brought here on permanent contracts which persuaded many of them to resettle their families here, they were all threatened with redundancy after a few months, when the company decided it was not getting enough supply work for them to make it worthwhile continuing with the venture.
They had all joined the NUT, and were good and loyal members, some of them involving themselves in the general activities of the Union. Teaching Personnel would do no more than extend the deadline for terminating their employment, and make a payment to be administered by the TSN (formerly TBF) to alleviate hardship. They were all faced with deportation, having set up home here. A year on, we can say that we have helped many of them on the road to qualified teacher status, and helped nearly all of them to find teaching posts in Britain. Jane Rendle in particular did a huge amount of work on their behalf.
At our January General Meeting we were again visited by Phil Grayston, a former member and teacher in Bradford who has been training teachers in rural Nepal as part of a VSO programme. We agreed at his request to continue our sponsorship of a school for the children of the Badi community, an endangered "untouchable" group with whom he has worked. He gave a very moving report of the conditions in which the school operates and the work that it does.
We issued advice to members about the potential impact of the war on relations within communities and schools and on the children of families with relatives living in Iraq or serving in the British armed forces. We also decided to support and publicise the campaign against the war taking place, and the Bradford NUT banner was carried on demonstrations.
We supported the journalists in the Bradford (Telegraph and Argus Newspaper Group) chapel of the NUJ (people we regularly deal with) when they held a series of strikes over the low level of pay for journalists and the below inflation increase they had been offered. We made a donation to their funds, organised a collection at NUT Conference and visited the picket lines.
We have issued locally developed advice to members on a number of issues that crop up regularly when people contact us Ė planning, bullying, violence at work, and the rights of expectant mothers at work.
We have given advice and information to members on planned changes to pay and pensions, and called on the National Union to organise campaigns to resist the worsening of the schemes.
We continued to support Leeds NUT in organising the now annual Young Teachersí Weekend for West Yorkshire.
We have tried to get better arrangements for the employment of supply teachers in Bradford. A new system of managing the supply list is in place, and we will evaluate its success in 2004.
We were involved in the development of an Anti Racist Schoolkit, for which Bradford NUT member Jill Wallis was employed for a year. Three of us attended a very effective Conference in Blackburn on challenging racism through education, deliberately timed to coincide with the local elections in which the BNP peddled their brand of bigotry and intolerance. As a warning, we publicised their plans for education to our members in Bradford.
Bradford NUT spent most of 2003 supporting John Illingworth as the candidate for the NUTís General Secretary when Doug McAvoy retires. Johnís enforced withdrawal due to illness forced a rethink. I had been invited to stand by many of the branches that supported John. In December a Bradford General Meeting agreed to support me, and 2004 will see me on the campaign trail.
Our elections for local officers for 2003 returned myself as General Secretary, Jane Rendle as Assistant Secretary and Equal Opportunities Officer, John Howarth as Treasurer, Stuart Davies as Information Officer and Health and Safety Adviser, and Miriam Murch as Health and Safety Adviser. Chris Cheetham (Rhodesway) will be our President in 2004 and Stephen Pickles (High Craggs Primary) our Vice President.
Jane Rendle continued to serve on the Education Policy Partnership as Teacher Representative. Stuart Davies continued to represent teachers on the Education Scrutiny Committee. John Howarth represented the NUT members in Education Bradford. Miriam Murch served on the NUTís national Health and Safety Working Group. Deane Narayn Lee surprised himself by enjoying Annual Conference and recommended other people to go. Lynne Thornton looked up from the desk in the Bradford NUT Office where she answers the phone, as I stood in the room wondering what I had come in for, realised that I did this a lot more often than I did 23 years ago, but was too polite to say so.