Friday, 30 October 2015

Ballot papers are out. Vote!

Attention all!
Ballot papers were dispatched on Wednesday so they should start dropping through letterboxes any minute now. Please vote Bridget Chapman 1 & Jane Nellist 2. Every vote will count so please return your ballot papers as promptly as possible and encourage other NUT members to do the same. Thank you so much for all your support!

Stop The Agency Rip-Off!

I was proud to speak at the rally before the NUT lobby of supply agencies earlier this week. I've been asked to post up the speech I made, so here it is:
Good morning everyone, and welcome to what I hope will be the first in a series of lobbies of rip-off supply teacher agencies.
My name is Bridget Chapman and I’m Chair of the NUT Supply Teacher Network, a group of supply teachers working within the NUT to highlight the appalling working conditions of supply teachers and to push for measures to improve the situation.
First of all can I say that this is not just an issue that affects supply teachers. The amounts of money being siphoned out of the education system by these agencies are huge, and that is money that isn’t being spent on education but is instead lining the pockets of fat cat agency bosses. At a time when education budgets are facing further drastic cuts this is of greater concern than ever before.
Agencies will charge schools as much as possible – often in the region of £250 a day – while seeking to maximise profits by paying teachers as little as possible. I have personally been rung up by an agency and offered just £60 for the day. That difference, between what the schools are charged, and what teachers are paid isn’t benefitting teachers and it isn’t benefitting students. It is public money into private pockets. It is a scandal!
And of course the government is currently legislating, through the draconian and anti-democratic trade union bill to use supply teachers to break strikes. Well let us send a clear message now. All teachers, regardless of employment status, stand together. We will not be used to undermine strike action.
Supply teachers are on the receiving end of relentless poor publicity and negative judgement from the national media. All supply teachers are, in fact, qualified, experienced teachers; often working in schools where there are significant problems and high staff turnover.
Agencies do not pay into the Teachers' Pension Scheme. Teachers working through agencies are actually barred from access to it. We have a ludicrous situation where a teacher at Eton has access to the Teachers Pension Scheme, and a supply teacher doing vital work every day in a state school is barred. Let the injustice of that sink in for a moment.
We are increasingly employed on long-term placements, in restrictive contracts, with no access to sick pay, maternity pay, holiday pay, and subject to dismissal without notice. There is now a hidden, privatised layer of teachers in our schools, which is further dividing and undermining our profession by casualising the workforce.
We have less chance of being employed full time due to prohibitive agency transfer fees. These exorbitant finders or introduction fees of four to five figure sums are charged by agencies, creating a barrier to finding permanent, sustainable employment.
Furthermore, an increasing number of NQTs work for up to five years as supply teachers. If they are unable to find a post suitable for induction, they are forced to leave the teaching profession.
In many areas of the UK, schools have no choice but to do business with agencies as there is no alternative source for temporary staff.
So what can be done?
We believe that the NUT should urge local government to establish a central register of supply teachers which would be publicly accountable, non-profit making, paying teachers to scale, with access to TPS. Schools would thus be able to hire supply and temporary staff directly as is already the model of practice in Northern Ireland.
We all need to be working locally after the lobby, writing to LEAs, MPs and school governors, letters to newspapers, social media, interest groups like mumsnet etc.
We need to ensure that supply teachers are co-opted onto NUT branch committees as supply rep. Every branch needs a supply rep. Every one.
We need to support the NUT Supply Teacher Network priority motion for Conference, get the word out and keep the pressure up. More people are realising that this issue affects us all. More supply teachers are realising they are not alone. Make them feel that they are valued by the Union even if their employers are ripping everyone off.
Stand up for education. Stand up for our profession. Stand up for supply teachers!

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Report from the NUT Supply Teacher Conference - 27 June 2015

“We are all only a term away from being a supply teacher” Kevin Courtney, Deputy General Secretary, NUT speaking to NUT Supply Teachers’ Conference 2015

This was positive day in so many ways.  First of all, it was full weeks ago, and there was a great turn out on the day with around 150 supply teachers giving up a Saturday to attend this important event which is now in its third year.

I was personally delighted to see that a number of the Executive had also given up their time to attend.  I’m not sure how many were there last year, but I’m pretty sure the numbers had at least doubled this year. That’s great because it shows supply teacher issues are starting to be taken seriously.

The date for the lobby of supply agencies was agreed as 28 October. This has been the subject of much debate, owing to the lack of movement in promoting it before the onset of the summer holidays and there was a suggestion that it should be moved back to February. However the clear view of the conference was that we should stick to October. It is now up to the Executive to work with the staff at Hamilton House, and associations and divisions around the country, to ensure that this important lobby, which will highlight the poor pay and insecure working conditions of supply teachers, is given the full weight of union backing. This is an event for all teachers, not just supply teachers. It’s time we all showed solidarity with our supply teacher colleagues.

A highlight of the conference was hearing from Tony Carlin, of INTO, the Northern Irish teaching union, who came to speak to conference about the supply teacher register run in Northern Ireland. It is mandatory to be on the register, and all supply teachers are paid to scale AND have access to the Teachers’ Pension Scheme. The software used to run the register is so effective that only two people are needed to organise supply teachers for the whole of the region. This keeps running costs low which means that the savings can be passed back to schools instead of lining the pockets of the supply agency bosses. It’s a win-win, and is a model that we need to be using this side of the Irish Sea too.

However, while there were many positives to take away from the day, there were also concerns with the way the conference had been organised and these need to be addressed.

It was strongly felt by the NUT Supply Teacher Network (NUTSTN) that a supply teacher should chair the conference. I don’t think the first session, where out of six people on the panel only one was a supply teacher, lessened that feeling. While the Supply Teacher Network was grateful for Alex Kenny of the Executive stepping in to chair the conference, I don’t think anyone felt that “Kevin asked me if I’d do it” was a democratic way of picking a chair.

There were also serious concerns that Kate Shoesmith of the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC), the body who represent supply agencies, was given 20 minutes of conference time to give an unimpeded sales pitch for their services, and to defend the absolutely shoddy way supply teachers are treated. The NUTSTN had asked that the REC representative appeared as part of an Education Question Time-style event to close the conference. The only forum Kate Shoesmith should have been allowed to appear in is one where her assertions could be properly interrogated and examined.

While Tony Carlin speaking about the Northern Ireland Supply Teacher Register was a highlight, ETeach, the company that provide the software for the register, were not at the conference, despite the NUTSTN asking for them to be invited. This is another example of how an opportunity to move things forward was missed and how the organising voice of supply teachers is being ignored.

I personally felt that a conference which should have been used to motivate and empower supply teachers to organise and take action was, yet again, reduced to a very controlled talking shop. The presentation which started the conference was highly technical and appeared to be setting a context in which the NUT couldn’t be blamed for not taking action to support supply teachers because, hey look, the way they’re employed is so darned complicated. Supply teachers already know that they exist in the dark netherworld of education privatisation where employment legislation doesn’t seem to reach. This seemed to be a fairly demotivating way to start a conference and it was really odd that, although absolutely massive amounts of information was given about the way supply teachers are contracted, none of the information was available as a hand out.

For the past year we have been told that the reason that the Supply Teacher Conference can’t elect its own chair and be organised and planned by supply teachers is because we don’t have an Advisory Committee within the union structure. When we asked if we could have one we were told that we couldn’t because they weren’t effective and a review of the whole structure was taking place. However, at the conference, Kevin Courtney announced that, by next year, there would be a Supply Teacher Advisory Committee. We knew nothing about this and I have mixed feelings. If it means that supply teachers have an input into the policy making and policy implementation of their union, and are better able to organise, that’s great. But if these committees are ineffective as we’ve been told repeatedly, how does that take us forward?

So how can things be improved?

Well first and foremost, if the union is serious about improving the working lives of supply teachers then it needs to work much harder to empower them. If the structures in place are unable to support that, then they need to change, and quickly.

No one in the NUTSTN is afraid of democracy. We welcome any developments that enable as many supply teachers as possible to get their voices heard.

Next year the Supply Teachers’ Conference needs to have a) seen real commitment from the Executive to improving their pay and conditions b) be run bottom up, not top down to ensure that it’s the genuinely proactive, empowering and developmental event it should be.
I will personally be doing all I can to ensure this happens.                                                             
Bridget Chapman

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

New forced academies legislation - What should we do?

Nicky Morgan has just announced legislation which will sweep away any last shreds of democracy in converting schools to academies. Since parents at Downhills School very nearly stopped their school becoming an academy (and almost brought the academies programme down in the process) and parents at Hove Park actually did stop their school being converted, Gove, Morgan, and their fellow ideologues have been determined to stop those pesky parent and community voices being heard at all. 

As far as I can see there is no time to waste. Now is the time to fight. If we don't hit back hard now, we will be culpable in the destruction of our state education system. We owe it to generations past, present and future to fight to protect it.

So what can we do? 

1. The NUT needs to be talking to the NASUWT and the ATL and agreeing in principle that the unions will work together and support joint strike action in ANY school where forced academisation is proposed.

2. Union groups in schools likely to be affected should be calling joint union meetings NOW and taking indicative ballots for strike action in the event that forced academisation is proposed.

3. The NUT should work with the Anti-Academies Alliance to fast-track a public inquiry into the performance of academies. 

4. We have to be working towards announcing a calendar of national strike action, starting later this year and coordinated where possible with other unions. 

Please share if you agree.