After 26 years in the job of Bradford NUT Secretary, I continue to ask myself:
I am confident that all of us active in the NUT in Bradford continue to work hard to achieve these goals. Sometimes our success can be measured in specific gains achieved. Sometimes it can be measured in bad things prevented. Sometimes we just have to satisfy ourselves that we are working to change a political climate in which some bad things happen.
Often the easiest achievements to measure are when being in a union empowers colleagues to be protected from individual or collective abuse.
In the early part of 2006, some teachers in Bradford continued to be threatened with loss of pay as a result of the introduction of the TLR system. The intervention of the Union protected teachers from loss of pay in many schools. Sometimes teachers stood to lose more than £5,000 p.a., and were eventually protected.
These successes were not just the product of skilled negotiations. They depended on colleagues who were not going to lose out being willing to stand up for those who would. In three cases in Bradford, we reached the stage of successful indicative ballots for strike action. Thankfully, in each case this expression of solidarity allowed the problem to be resolved without actually having to take action.
Less visible is the work we do every day to protect members individually and collectively from bullying by that minority of headteachers who lack the skills or the judgment to treat their staff caringly and responsibly. It is a vital role of the Union to be there when members find themselves the victims of bullying, or when personal or professional difficulties mean that they need help in dealing with unfamiliar and threatening circumstances.
We also once again avoided any teacher in Bradford being made compulsorily redundant.
Protecting Teachers and Education
The Government’s determination to make state-funded education a marketplace with competing providers came to Bradford in the form of a drive to turn a number of our existing secondary schools into academies during 2006.
The NUT opposes Academies for very good reasons:
Academies in Bradford will affect all teachers, not just those who work in them. We wrote to all secondary members explaining the potential implications, and held meetings in schools identified as possible targets.
We also decided to engage in a public campaign locally to challenge the validity of the claims that the Government makes for academies.
In February we held a public meeting in Bradford with Christine Blower, the NUT Deputy General Secretary, Terry Wrigley of Edinburgh University and dissatisfied parents from an existing academy. This and other campaigning we did led to a reopening of the Scrutiny that Bradford Council had held of the Academy proposals, to which the NUT submitted evidence. A report very critical of the potential impact they might have was the outcome. A number of Academy proposals came to nothing.
At Rhodesway School, Lord Bhatia was found as a potential sponsor, and the Governing Body was removed from the school by the DfES, preventing direct refusal by the school itself of being taken over. A vigorous campaign of opposition has taken place with our NUT representatives in a leading role, including a demonstration by the staff.
At the time of writing we know that potential sponsors of an Islamic Academy in Bradford are still seeking a school or schools.
Bradford NUT has also fully involved itself in developing a national campaign against academies through the Anti Academies Alliance.
Tony Blair signalled his decision to “enhance” his legacy by doubling to 400 the target for state schools to be replaced by academies (£14 billion of public assets to be handed over!), with big implications for a relatively poor city authority like Bradford. So we need to be vigilant.
From Academies To Trusts
The Education Bill that came before Parliament in 2006 ratcheted up a good deal further the removal of publicly funded schools from democratic control.
This Bill, now an Act, creates a further category of self-governing Trust Schools, with ownership transferring to businesses, faith groups, groups of parents, and anyone else who fancies having a go. These schools will have a high degree of independence from the local authority. They will have the right to select a majority of the governors, they will take over the ownership of the school buildings and land, and will have greater freedom in admissions than local authority schools.
Staff will cease to be employees of the local authority,and may lose their right to have their pay and conditions determined by collective bargaining. Their risk of redundancy will increase.
Fetishism for “competition” and the “market” is behind these proposals.
The idea is that parents will send their children to popular schools, which by definition must be better, and that unpopular schools will close. Schools will be encouraged to attract pupils from beyond their traditional catchment areas to enable competition to work properly. In order to prevent the better-off, more articulate parents from securing all the places in the popular schools, some families will be entitled to financial help towards bus fares.
In this free for all between schools, the successful ones are to expand quickly enough to reflect parental choice (those in built up areas presumably getting permission to demolish the surrounding housing estate), and the local authority will be expected to ”move quickly to close schools that are failing to attract sufficient pupils.”
To quote James Thurber "In this rat race, it's dog eat dog."
Where the NUT stands
The NUT believes that all children should be entitled to free, high quality education that is publicly provided and publicly accountable. We want:
* a good local school for every child
* collaboration, not competition, between schools
* support for schools so that they can be at the heart of their communities
* for all local authorities, the ability to fully support their schools
* fair, equitable and sufficient funding for all schools
* an end to the privatisation of education.
For these reasons, we put in a lot of effort to challenging the Education Bill proposals.
It was clear from a meeting some of us attended early in the year that many councillors and MPs in Yorkshire were fundamentally opposed to what was planned.
Bradford NUT members produced leaflets and a petition in opposition to the proposals. We ran a stall in the City Centre. We wrote to and met MPs. It was a disappointment that the largest Labour rebellion against the Government on any domestic issue was not joined by any of Bradford’s MPs. This is an issue on which we have to say that we are still working to change the political climate post-Blair to a more egalitarian one.
Some Local Issues and Approaches
We continue to work with the increasingly isolated model of a largely privatised set of School Support Services. The begging bowl for another £1.5 million above inflation for services that had not met most of their targets and could not be sold elsewhere was only partially filled this year. There are many good people working for Education Bradford, but it seems at last clear to most politicians that the model does not work.
While spending on Serco grew disproportionately, Bradford schools fell further behind their statistical neighbours in the amount of money they are given per pupil. Anyone concerned about the relative achievements of Bradford’s pupils should start here!
After endless meetings, a lot of work done on staff assimilation, a lot of money spent, and already appointed headteachers no doubt keen to see some pupils, it became clear that the Special School Reorganisation would not come into effect any earlier than September 2009. We are working hard to protect the interests of the teachers in the system.
We have worked to protect the interests of members, as well as of parents and children, in inadequately thought through and inadequately consulted-on plans to close St Mary’s Primary and replace the 3 Catholic Secondaries in Bradford with one school.
We had a lot of work to do trying to arrive at satisfactory arrangements for coping with last winter’s outbreak of Winter Vomiting Virus.
The news that 227 Bradford teachers had been off with an illness described as stress or stress-related in the last year was no surprise to us. Then there are all those others whose illnesses were caused by stress but are not described as such. We talk to them every day, represent or support them in dealing with schools, Occupational Health and the Teachers’ Pensions Agency. This latter support has become even more important since the introduction of a two tier ill-health retirement scheme. We continue to offer support in challenging the causes of stress through things like our school stress audits and our campaign to reduce workload. It’s this kind of support that marks us out as the best teachers’ union.
Bradford NUT Is Alive And Well
Our paying membership in Bradford passed 3000 in 2006, the highest it’s been since we started to keep accurate records.
Our General Meetings held upstairs in the International Restaurant on Morley Street are always well attended and often have lively debates.
Our Equal Opportunities Committee meets regularly. It has helped organise support for schools in Kashmir.
As always, Bradford delegates spoke at the NUT’s Annual Conference, and some of the key motions passed originated in Bradford.
Regular newsletters were produced for members, often containing practical advice, for instance on the professional risks associated with the use of ICT equipment and email in schools. Our website has recently been substantially redeveloped to make access to useful information specific to Bradford teachers more easily available – www.bradfordnut.org
Who Are We?
Our Officers are :
Secretary: Ian Murch
Assistant Secretary: Jane Rendle
Treasurer: John Howarth
Information/Health and Safety: Stuart Davies
Health and Safety: Miriam Murch
President: Alex Leggat
Vice President: Saleh Rahman
And our Clerical Assistant:
And A Sad Farewell…
We Will Remember You, Geoff
Many Bradford teachers will have been saddened to hear of the death of Geoff Robinson earlier in the year. Geoff taught at Buttershaw and Grange High Schools and was a committed and active member of this Union for many years. He could always be relied on to enliven any meeting!
One of the causes to which he was devoted was anti-racism, and in Geoff’s memory the Union has decided to offer an annual prize to a pupil, and their school, who produces an exciting or original piece of work on the theme of community cohesion.