1997 was a year typical of the last 10 for teachers. We faced cuts in services, increasing workload, declining pay compared with other professionals, the spread of casualisation and public denigration of teachers when someone had to be blamed for the failings of the system.
These national problems were all found in Bradford, usually in an exaggerated form. It would be nice to say "but that was only until the General Election", especially as we did quite a lot of putting forward our "manifesto" for education during the election campaign. However, though things have changed and are changing at an even more rapid pace than previously since Labour was elected, only some of the change is for the better as far as teachers are concerned.
The inequities, injustices and idiocies of the market system introduced by the Tories are not significantly challenged in Labour's proposals for education or employment or trade union legislation - points that we made to our new team of local Labour MPs when we met them in the Autumn. It is not clear yet that education funding or teachers' pay have even stabilised yet, let alone begun to make up lost ground. We will continue to fight under Labour as under the Tories for justice for teachers and for children. Therefore in Bradford our campaigning work, as well as our work on behalf of individual members, continued undiminished throughout the year. As a local branch, have remained strong and have continued to grow.
We played a large part in a campaign at the beginning of the year to persuade the council not to worsen nursery class ratios. As a result of its success, £2milion extra was put into schools, but budgets still faced a shortfall of around 2%. Many schools cut staffing, others protected it by spending their reserves or moving into deficit. By the end of the year schools had spent about £3million more than their income and an overall deficit in schools' budgets was being forecast - something for which their is no provision in LMS regulations. Large cuts were made in central services employing teachers - particularly the Learning Support Service and the Community Languages Team.
Redundancies were once again avoided, but class sizes continued to rise as our own well-publicised survey revealed. NUT Officers visited a number of schools with classes well into the 30s. At the time of writing we are seeking sanction for a ballot from the National Action Committee to refuse to teach oversize classes in one large school. We have also continued to support the activities of FACE (Fight Against Cuts in Education) the umbrella group for teachers, other school staff, governors and parents. It was with them that we held candlelit nursery activities outside Council offices in Bradford and Ilkley in March to maintain pressure for properly funded nursery education.
We continued to campaign at national and local level against worsening arrangements for retirement pre-60. After a lot of lobbying and a consulative ballot on members' willingness to take action to retain a scheme, the local scheme for early retirement with enhancement in potential redundancy situations was extended for a year. A permanent scheme for this and for "ordinary" early retirement is still being negotiated, after a period of nearly a year in which the Authority would not talk to us.
At the same time as retirement on grounds of ill-health was made more difficult, the Authority put forward a "Managing Sickness Absence" scheme which would have made it easier to sack people on grounds of their health. This was strongly resisted by teachers' unions and has been substantially amended, though it still remains unreasonably threatening.
One of the welcome changes made by the new Government was the abolition of nursery vouchers, though some unwelcome aspects of the arrangements that they were part of remain. Together with UNISON, the NUT has maintained a group in Bradford to look after the interests and concerns of Nursery staff.
NUT Conference at Easter unanimously adopted a motion written and first put forward in Bradford which called for a list of 11 contractual rights for all teachers, ranging from the right to a permanent contract, to the right to maximum class sizes, to a limit on meetings of one per week after school. It focused on having such rights enshrined in everyone's contract. Teachers in many schools have "signed up" to the contract, and there is a national campaign planned for this year in pursuit of it.
We opposed yet more proposals to change the structure of the Union to a much more centralised one, which we believed would have given the General Secretary and the National Executive too much power at the expense of local branches. We believe they work well in most cases to represent their members. These changes were not carried, and do not appear on the 1998 agenda.
Immediately after the General Election, Bradford's Labour Group made clear its intention to press ahead with major changes to the school system - "The status quo is not an option" has been the most repeated statement. Options on offer have all included a big reduction in the number of schools in the district, with the added possibility of either all or some parts of the Authority getting rid of middle schools.
We have been concerned at the quality of some of the evidence offered in support of some of the changes. We have also been concerned that they are being offered to staff and parents for consultation without vital information such as the plans for nursery places and what will happen to sixth forms, the resorces available for new buildings and improvements, not to mention how staff would be assimilated to any new structure. The real ructions will start when detailed plans are published around Easter 1998.
We have continued to protect staff from assaults and threatening behaviour by individual pupils, and to intervene when we believed that there were unsafe situations in schools. We have done this successfully in most cases without seeking publicity that could damage the school.
We met regularly with local authority officers and councillors on behalf of individual members and schools as well as on general issues affecting all teachers.
We are currently negotiating on protecting early retirement in Bradford, discouraging and regulating the involvement of agencies in the employment of teachers, and protecting teachers from the Government's desire for "fast-track sacking".. We have represented virtually all of the categories of centrally employed teachers this year, during the seemingly endless process of reorganisation of the Authority's centrally provided services. We continue to issue advice and offer support to schools and teachers before and after OFSTED inspections.
Two of our local Officers were elected as the Teacher Representatives on the Bradford Education Committee for 13+ (Stuart Davies) and 13- (Sue Arloff).
We have a very active and well-organised group of Health and Safety Representatives. As well as inspecting schools and getting hazards removed, we concentrate on those aspects of the teachers' job that can damage their health.
This year we held a meeting about bullying of staff, and issued advice on the subject. We also played a significant part in the Authority's survey of stress amongst its staff.
This survey, using well established measures, revealed teachers in Bradford to be the first major group of employees ever surveyed in which stress was the norm. The findings are horrific.
We wait to see what Bradford LEA intends to do. For our part we are demanding a range of things from further research, to redefining the content of a teacher's job, to better funding, to better occupational health services.
We held two training courses for school NUT representatives. We have produced more than 20 newsletters for members. The Office has been staffed to allow members with problems or issues to raise to come and see an experienced Officer. We answer dozens of phone calls every day from members, and visit several schools every week at the request of members to discuss issues or raise problems with management.
As in previous years, our team of local Officers - Cedric Binns, John Howarth, Sue Hoyle, Miriam Murch and Jane Rendle and our clerical assistant Lynne Thornton - were unstinting in giving their time and energy in supporting members. The pressure that teachers are under is reflected in ever-increasing demands on their time, and the work that they have to do in supporting and representing members has its own stresses. We are very fortunate that we can draw on their experience and commitment. we are also very fortunate that we have so many school and service NUT Representatives, willing to take up individual and collective issues on behalf of their colleagues.
Cedric Binns and Sue Hoyle retired in the summer after many years of invaluable service to the Union in various capacities.
Cedric was probably the most knowledgeable person in the field of health and safety in the whole Union, and his tenacity in getting things done was legendary. We no longer have the full benefit of their services, though they are both continuing to help out.
The gap in the Officer team was filled by Miriam Murch and Jane Rendle taking over Cedric's Health and Safety Role, with Stuart Davies (Information Officer) and Sue Arloff (Equal Opportunities) taking over their previous positions. We have two other new Officers in Vernon Addison as President and Irshad Ahmed as Vice President.
I am now in my 18th year as Bradford NUT Secretary. This is not a post in the Union's full-time structure. Like my role as National Executive member, it depends on re-election, and I am employed and paid as a teacher in Bradford. Carrying out these roles under such an extended period of a Government utterly unsympathetic to teachers has not always been easy or comfortable. Things may not have changed as much as I would have liked, but there is a sense that teachers and parents expect a lot more of this Government, and I look forward to playing my part in making sure that these expectations are fulfilled.