City Mayor, Peter Soulsby, Midlands TUC Secretary, Lee Baron and Leicester trade union secretaries sign the TUC Dying To Work charter this week - campaigning for additional employment protection for terminally ill employees.
Not everything that can be counted counts, not everything that counts can be counted.
The quote above neatly describes the stranglehold the current system of assessment and accountability has on primary schools and teachers.
For over twenty years SATs have been used as the means of assessing children's attainment and making schools accountable. In that time they have instilled a climate of fear in schools, choked the curriculum and created a distorted view of what teaching, learning and achievement should look like. Anyone with a passing interest can see that the system is broken and that we now have a set up which is only meeting the needs of the tests rather than the needs of the child. Our children, teachers and schools desperately need an alternative.
The problems with the 2016 tests were manifold and the chaos and confusion highlighted the problems in the current system.
In 2016 we saw the absurdity of:
• A government minister writing to schools twice to explain the government's view on the use of exclamation marks!
• Crazily, eleven year old children needing to identify, and use, a "Fronted Adverbial"
• Contradictory advice being issued on teacher assessment
• Almost 50% of children about to start secondary school being told they are not at the "expected standard"
Such was the level of concern this year that parent groups have been set up to campaign for change and almost 30,000 children were kept home from school on May 3rd as a sign of protest.
Following everything that happened this year, there is an opportunity to campaign for change. The NUT is now part of an impressive alliance, More Than A Score, which includes the ATL, education experts and campaigners and parent groups all seeking to do this. This was launched in the week beginning October 17th.
We are also working with the NAHT on a ballot of members in the leadership group for a boycott of SATs in 2017, unless the government commit to some fundamental changes, including a independent and expert review of the system. This will start with an 'indicative ballot' this term to gauge members' views. This is a priority campaign for the NUT, which we want to build in schools and with parents. There will be opportunities for you to get involved and give your input; please look out for more details.
On 5th November, the NUT and ATL held separate special conferences to debate the proposed formation of a new education union.
Leicester NUT had submitted an amendment which sought to delete the proposed motion and simply stated that
Conference is proud that the National union of Teachers has represented and spoken out for qualified teachers since 25 June 1870. This was proposed by Jenny Day and seconded by Ian Leaver. This amendment was lost and the membership of the NUT and of the ATL will be balloted over the formation of a new education union (NEU) to commence from September 2017.
We expect ballot papers to be with you early in the new year, but more to follow on that. The wording of the motion that was passed:
Conference welcomes the progress made in negotiations between the ATL and NUT on an amalgamation of our two unions to form a new union. Conference endorses the rules for the new union, the instrument of amalgamation and the transitional rules attached to this motion, subject to members subsequently voting in favour of the amalgamation. Conference therefore instructs the Executive to proceed to ballot members in spring 2017 on the formation of a new union with a recommendation to vote in favour of the proposal.
One of the less publicised problems with the growth of academies and free schools is the erosion of safeguards for Health and Safety.
Local Authorities have the ultimate duty of care to ensure that their maintained schools are safe places for students and teachers alike.
In Leicester this means that the LA regularly sends advisers into schools to audit the management of H&S. They also keep a close eye on risks such as asbestos and water hygiene and require schools to send in detailed accident reports. They inform unions of problems as a matter of course.
Academies may well not have any similar systems and even if they exist they are unlikely to be transparent.
Leicester CC offers H&S support to academies and free schools as a traded service and the majority of schools in the city make use of this, but whilst a nonmaintained school can be advised by the H&S team, they cannot be forced to act on the advice that they receive.
Across the country there have been a number of examples of serious breaches of H&S regulations caused by ignorance or complacency. A school in Chelmsford was fined £26,000 with £20,000 costs after poor asbestos management may have exposed staff to contamination. The last asbestos survey had taken place in 2004. Another school in Ipswich was unable to reopen after the summer holiday because building work revealed asbestos that had not been known about because there had not been a survey.
After a Worcester School was reprimanded by the HSE, because two 18 year old workers were found knocking down asbestos from a building, the school head showed shocking complacency by stating that,
the only thing we didn't get right was that two of the young lads, 18 year old employees, were knocking it down from the roof so the asbestos was falling down, and stated that,
no pupils or staff were at risk.
School leaders are not experts in H&S, people that want to open free schools even less so. Many of them subscribe to the view that H&S is not important in schools because they are not dangerous places. It was refreshing to hear a Leicester primary head state recently in a meeting that H&S,
should be at the top of the agenda, but this attitude seems to be in the minority.
An academy will probably inherit a property that has been well maintained but this is not so in the case of free schools that can set up business almost anywhere.
A free school in Bournemouth attempted to move to premises that had previously been airport buildings, only to find that they were riddled with asbestos. Even then an Education Funding Agency project director advised them to proceed and not to tell parents about the asbestos, until building work revealed even more of it. The premises have now had to be demolished and rebuilt at reported cost of £35M.
Taking away LA responsibility for schools will effectively remove all reliable H&S monitoring. This, coupled with the rush to deregulate H&S that will gather pace should Brexit actually happen, could be a disaster for the health and wellbeing of school staff and children, that will have consequences for future generations.