Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/509/3381
NUT elections: "What are we waiting for?"
Socialist Party member Martin Powell-Davies is standing for election as vice-president of the National Union of Teachers (NUT). The election is running until 21 November. He recently spoke to the socialist about the main issues he is campaigning on.
Pay is one of the big issues facing teachers. Young teachers in particular just can't make ends meet. As I've put on one of my campaign posters, when you compare a beginner teacher's salary with the 50+ hours a week which even the government admit teachers work, then the gross pay works out at £7 an hour!
So it's no wonder that there is a huge turnover of staff. Even the official figures show it's as many as 10% of staff moving on every year. And that obviously undermines education. And it undermines the union as well.
Workload is also a big issue. People are working evenings, weekends, holidays and it grinds people down.
The other frustration is finding that the job is increasingly impossible to do. The government imposes targets which bear no relation to the problems that students in many schools bring with them into the classroom.
We haven't got sufficient resources to meet their needs and schools meanwhile are simply suffocated by a testing regime which anyone who understands education knows has got to be thrown out. But the government insists on it because it is a key component of the machinery by which they are policing schools, bullying staff and managing the divisive performance pay system.
Everything that happens in schools is simply being measured as the result of an imposed national test. Then, as happened over 100 years ago, teachers simply end up teaching to the test.
That's what their school is judged on, that's what their own pay is judged on. Inevitably it completely distorts the curriculum.
Teachers come into the job to get pupils to enjoy learning. Yet they have to teach a curriculum which for many pupils and teachers, is not enjoyable.
The government are breaking up the system and allowing schools like academies and trust schools to select their intake. Then these schools can concentrate on teaching students who are perhaps more motivated and likely to get good exam scores. This leaves the other schools at the bottom of the league tables to struggle with the pupils that the selective schools aren't prepared to take.
The gap between the schools at the bottom and the top of the league tables grows wider and government legislation is only going to make matters worse.
One of the reasons I'm standing is that, at the annual conference earlier this year, I argued very strongly that not only should we be taking national action on pay but that we should be combining all of the issues that we face into one national ballot.
That's what I'm arguing for again in this presidential campaign and it's disappointing that some others on the left didn't back that call because it makes perfect sense to a teacher.
The PCS has shown the way with a number of issues on the one ballot. The NUT should follow the same approach and like the PCS, seek to coordinate action with other unions that are facing the same kind of attacks.
The people responsible for the problems schools are facing are the government themselves. They've got to put in the resources, they've got to stop selection. They've got to support teachers rather than just attacking us.
The national NUT conference agreed unanimously to ballot for national action on pay. Ever since we've been waiting. The NUT leadership says they will be balloting in December. If and when the ballot happens myself and other union members will go all-out to try to win a 'yes' vote but it should have happened already.
Out of touch
The present executive and the present national officers have shown far too much caution and are out of touch with the anger and the frustration of ordinary teachers. What I can do is inject a sense of urgency into the executive. I've put on the front of my leaflet something that I've heard so many teachers say to me: "What are we waiting for?". Every year goes by and our pay and conditions get worse and yet we still haven't used the strength this union has to take national action.
It's not good enough for the union to say "we've got to wait, we've got to be careful, we don't know if the members will back us". If they gave a decent lead and focused the anger and frustrations of teachers there is absolutely no doubt that determined national action could be built. That's what I'm standing for in this campaign.
I've been secretary of Lewisham NUT since 1993. Since then our membership here has doubled. That speaks for itself. I've got a proven record of supporting members and I've always made sure I've kept a day in the classroom every week so I'm in touch both as a classroom teacher and a union representative.
I teach science in a comprehensive school in Lewisham. I know first hand the problems schools suffer when neighbouring academies select their intake. This has affected our school whose intake has been badly skewed.
We've now got the threat of an Ofsted inspection on its way so I have personal experience of the problems that teachers are suffering across England and Wales. It's a bullying regime from the government downwards and it's got to change.
At the moment the union has no political fund. At the NUT conference this year it was agreed that we will have a political fund ballot. The argument though was solely that we should have that political fund to be able to campaign against racist and fascist parties. While that is an important use of any political fund, it begs the question - if you're rightly against racist and fascist parties then who are you going to support?
That's why I'm arguing that we could really strengthen the union's campaigns against academies, cuts and privatisation if the union could support trade union and community campaigners standing against the establishment parties who've all got the same privatising education policies.
Here in Lewisham, we had a parental campaign for a new school which won a local by-election. How much better it would have been if the NUT could have officially backed that campaign and other councillors who are supporting us in our campaigns against academies and against privatisation.
In The Socialist 8 November 2007:
Socialist Party workplace news
International socialist news and analysis
Socialist Party news and analysis
Socialist Party NHS campaign