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Socialist Party Teachers Bulletin

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Pensions
Remodelling
Sacked for being sick
Sri Lanka
Conran's Academy defeated
RIG = proposed pay cut

WE CAN’T WORK UNTIL WE’RE 65 !

STRIKE TO STOP PENSION ROBBERY

IF the Government succeeds in its plans to raise the normal pension age for public service pension schemes from 60 to 65, teachers and lecturers paying into the Teachers Pension Scheme would be left facing an impossible choice.

Do they risk their health by struggling on to 65 to gain a full pension ? Or do they retire earlier but lose out on the full pension entitlement that they have worked so hard to earn?

For most teachers, working on to 65 under the stressful conditions in our underfunded education system will simply not be a realistic option – and the Government know it. Instead teachers will be forced to retire "early" on a reduced pension. New Labour will have got away with millions of pounds of pensions robbery. We can’t let them succeed.

It’s hard enough to work until 60 – let alone 65!

While Ministers try and justify their attacks by saying they have to take account of longer life expectancies, they are happy to ignore the effect of longer working hours on teachers’ working lives. As even the editor of the Times Educational Supplement pointed out, "if this "modernisation" was really about catching up with "recent developments in society and employment in education", as the schools minister says, it would be lowering teachers’ retirement age, not raising it" (TES 5/11/04)

Over the last decades, successive Governments have piled the pressure on school staff. The pressure to improve results, policed by league tables, OFSTED inspections and bullying management, has never been matched by the additional resources schools need. Instead, teachers have been forced to work longer hours and at an unbearable intensity.

All the Government talk of "remodelling" schools to reduce teacher workload has been a sham. Their real agenda was always about forcing low-paid support staff into taking on teaching roles. It has done nothing to reduce working hours. Even the Government’s official figures show that primary teachers’ working week has actually got longer – to over 52 hours on average.

Early retirement already blocked

Small wonder that many exhausted teachers already struggle to work on until 60, let alone 65. But the escape route to early retirement has already been blocked for most teachers.

From 1997, cash-strapped local authorities had to start paying towards the costs of the pensions of teachers retiring before 60. As a result, the numbers being granted premature retirement have been slashed. Harsh restrictions have also meant ill-health retirement numbers have also fallen to under 3,000 successful applications per year from the teachers’ scheme – despite rising stress levels. Government proposals to raise the minimum age for premature retirement to 55 will make matters even worse.

The only other option left open to teachers who are simply unable to continue in the classroom has been to take "actuarially reduced benefits". This is a desperate step to take, because it means giving up so much of your pension entitlement. For example, choosing this route at 55 already means reducing your pension entitlement by over a quarter – for each and every year of your retirement.

Yet, the pressures of teaching mean that while only 861 teachers took this route out of teaching in 2000/01, 2,113 took this option in 2001/2, 3.174 in 2002/3 and 4,189 in 2003/4.

The cost of "early retirement" at 60

The Government’s proposals to increase the retirement age will mean that not just thousands, but perhaps a majority of teachers, could be forced out with an "actuarially reduced pension". That’s because the goalposts will have been moved by five more years.

Moving the "normal pension age" to 65 would make choosing to retire at 55 almost out of the question. Instead of losing a quarter of their pension, a teacher could stand to forfeit perhaps half of their entitlement. But, unless the Government are stopped, leaving at 60 would also now count as "early retirement". It would be allowed, but only at the cost of an actuarial reduction that robs teachers of the deferred pay that has been put aside for their pension.

Calculating the exact effect of retiring at 60 if the increased pension age goes through has been complicated by the Government’s decision to simultaneously consult over changes to the way a teachers’ pension will be calculated. Roughly speaking, the Government concede that teachers will now have to work to 62 ½ to earn the same pension that they would previously have been given at 60. This is bad enough but even this isn’t comparing like with like. Teachers will have had to work for longer to get access to their pension and will have fewer years of retirement ahead of them.

The proposed pension changes will affect all new teachers from September 2006 and all service for existing teachers after September 2013. That means the younger the teacher, the longer they will be working after 2013, so the bigger the effect on their pension.

For example, a teacher now aged 40 retiring at 60 on a £35,000 salary stands to lose around £1,000 per year from the pension they would have earned under the existing scheme, £3,000 a year from the lump-sum payable on retirement. But a 29 year-old stands to lose around £2,000 from their annual pension and £6,000 from their lump-sum.

New Labour saving millions from our pensions

While the "lump-sum" cut would be a one-off robbery, a cut in the annual pension robs a teacher of earnings for every year of their retirement. If the 29 year-old quoted above lives on until they are 84, they will have over £54,000 stolen from their pension in total! When those figures are added up for all the thousands of teachers who will have no choice but to retire at 60, it isn’t hard to see that why the Government is so keen on its proposal. They will be saving millions of pounds by robbing our pensions.

Teachers should have little sympathy for the Government’s arguments that they have no choice but to make cuts in the rising cost of pensions. It has been our hard work that has kept schools running despite chronic underfunding. Is it too much too ask for a decent pension after a lifetime of helping youngsters gain a decent education ? MPs have made sure their pensions are well-protected, why not ours? And, before they plead poverty, why has Gordon Brown happily thrown over a million pounds a day into occupying Iraq?

Hitting older teachers too

While teachers retiring before 2013 will be protected from the increased retirement age, other proposed changes could hit them hard. Ill-health retirement would be further squeezed with the introduction of a "two-tier" approach. Only those judged to be so ill as to never to be able to work again would be given full benefits. However, teachers deemed to be still able to carry out some form of employment would have no enhancement to their pension. They could be left living off a small pension and whatever low-paid job they could find. Ministers are also looking at reducing severance payments and access to pensions when teachers over 50 are made redundant. With schools facing budget pressures, particularly where there are falling rolls, older teachers could find themselves dismissed and struggling to find a new post in competition with younger colleagues.

Even the minor improvements could be at a cost

To cut across opposition to their pension proposals, the Government carried out a spurious "consultation" exercise, ending in December, about "modernisation" of the teachers’ pension scheme. However, the increase in normal pension age to 65 wasn’t even in the consultation – this was taken as read ! Instead questions focused on the more technical aspects of how the scheme might operate in future, including the changes to ill-health and severance proposals outlined above. The consultation did propose some reforms to the scheme that unions have long been campaigning for. For example, dependants’ benefits would be payable to unmarried partners, not just spouses – but only for service after 2013. The "death grant" might also be increased to three times (rather than two times) the salary of a teacher dying in service. Of course, if stressed teachers are forced to work on until 65 there might have to be more take-up on this particular benefit than anyone would want to see.

These are changes that every teacher would support - but at what cost ? At present, teachers pay 6% of their gross salary to the Teachers Pension Scheme. The Government consultation paper stated that it wanted to find out whether "teachers would be prepared to pay more than the current 6% contribution for improved benefits?". In other words, would we accept a pay cut ! Increased contributions could see more staff opting-out of the scheme altogether, particularly younger teachers already struggling to pay their bills.

Willing to fight – waiting for a lead

Teachers – and other public sector workers – have been united in their opposition to the Government’s attacks on our pensions. There is a growing feeling that losing this battle would be a defeat that we simply cannot afford to allow to happen. An increased pension age wouldn’t just be a crushing loss to overworked teachers today. It would be a lasting attack on the future pensions and working lives of the school students we are teaching as well. And the attacks wouldn’t end there. There are already rumours that the Government might also want to stop teachers’ pensions being based on final salaries.

Unions have tried writing postcards and letters, organising lobbies and demonstrations, but the Government show no sign of giving way. That’s why there is now no other path than to organise united strike action to defend our pensions.

The socialist leadership in the PCS, representing civil servants, and NATFHE’s National Executive, representing lecturers in the Teachers Pension Scheme, have already said they would support such joint action. UNISON are discussing taking action in March.

Wherever Local NUT Associations such as Bolton, Lewisham and St.Helens have organised indicative strike ballots, the results have shown over 80% support for taking action.

Yet the NASUWT and NUT leaderships are still trying to find reasons not to organise official ballots. They argue that these local ballots are not typical of the mood of the national membership. But the only difference is that in these Associations, members have been given a clear lead. It’s time the national union leaders showed the same resolve.

As this article is written, teachers are looking to the NUT National Executive meeting on January 27th to vote for the Union to take the action needed to defend our pensions. If the Executive still fails to pursue action, then NUT members have to keep up the pressure. If a ballot is called, then we have to go all out to win it. We can be confident that, given a clear lead, teachers and lecturers would build the determined national action that could make the Government think again.

 

 

"Remodelling" - a progress report :

… the same long hours,

… the same lack of money,

… the same threat to education.

Martin Powell-Davies, Lewisham NUT.

The signatories to the national workforce agreement claimed "remodelling" would reduce teacher workload, benefit support staff and improve education. Two years on, even the "official" evidence tells a different story.

STRB Report even longer hours

Last term, the School Teachers’ Review Body released its latest survey findings on teachers’ working hours. Guess what – it shows that the promises of reduced workload have been the sham we knew they would be !

They reported, at best, marginal reductions to the working week of secondary and special school staff. But they found that the average primary teacher is now working 52.5 hours a week, up from 51.8 hours in 2003.

OFSTED question "progress" as well

In December, OFSTED produced its latest report on "Remodelling the school workforce". As you might expect, it is not a document intended to be critical of the Government’s agenda. However, this makes its comments on what they have found in schools even more revealing:

Where’s the work/life balance ?

"The expectation of the first phase of the national agreement that administrative and clerical tasks be transferred from teachers to non-teaching staff has, in most of the schools, been largely achieved. [OFSTED obviously talk to Heads rather than classroom teachers !] The great majority, however, have made less obvious progress with the other objectives: reducing overall excessive working hours; ensuring that all teachers enjoy a reasonable work/life balance; and providing time for teachers to focus on their leadership and management responsibilities".

Where’s the funding for non-contact time ?

"The great majority of headteachers saw school funding as a key factor in their ability to implement the national agreement fully. There was a wide variation in the ability of the schools to fund the workforce reforms. Few of the primary schools provided teachers with the proposed planning, preparation and assessment time. Most of the head-teachers viewed their ability to achieve this objective with some scepticism and considered that they would be unable to do so without additional funding".

Too much planning

"Primary headteachers, in particular, often contributed to the workload pressures by having excessive expectations of teachers, such as overly detailed planning. These unnecessary demands often arose from a misplaced fear of criticism by the LEA or from inspection".

Too much pressure on "middle managers"

"Few of the schools had yet provided additional leadership and management time for their staff as a result of the workforce agreement. Most middle managers felt they had received little benefit from the reforms. Many subject leaders in secondary and primary schools, for example, had received little or no additional time for their leadership roles. The responsibilities of special educational needs co-ordinators, in particular, entail a high clerical workload and few had support staff to whom they could delegate this to allow them to concentrate on their leadership role."

"Resolute opposition" to using TAs to teach classes (!)

"Only a very few of the schools use teaching assistants to teach whole classes, and then often under the close supervision of a teacher. Most of the senior managers and teachers are, at present, resolutely opposed to using assistants to teach whole classes. Most consider that classes should, wherever possible, be taught by trained teachers as they have the necessary subject knowledge, classroom skills and behaviour management strategies on which to draw. They also report that many of their teaching assistants are reluctant to take on these additional responsibilities. Indeed, a small number of the headteachers are reluctant to use them even with small groups and prefer to invest any budget surplus in additional part-time teachers".

A raw deal for support staff

"Many support staff reported that the introduction of the national agreement had dramatically changed some of their roles and responsibilities. They attributed a perceived increase in their workload to the fact that they had assumed additional responsibilities, including the administrative and clerical tasks transferred from teachers, without any balancing reductions."

Staff "resisting innovation" (!)

"Some headteachers view some of their teachers and support staff as very conservative and resistant to change suggesting that they act as a barrier resisting innovation. Headteachers in such situations will need to maximise their management and leadership skills to ensure that all the staff work together constructively".

Stand firm against remodelling

Reading between the lines, it’s clear that even OFSTED have had to report the reality in schools. Firstly, without adequate funding, there have been few real benefits for school staff. Secondly, opposition to support staff being used as "teachers-on-the-cheap" remains strong. Far from retreating, Steve Sinnott and the NUT leadership need to stand firm in opposing such "workforce reform".

But, over the next few months, schools will be finalising plans to give all staff the 10% non-contact time promised from September 2005. Primary Heads know that the additional 1% given to primary budgets will be nowhere near what is needed to employ qualified teachers so staff can be released.

Instead of leaving schools to cave-in alone, the Union should be giving a lead so that schools have the confidence to stand firm together.

 

 

Sacked for being sick ? –stand up to management bullying

Robin Pye, St.Helens NUT

eachers at Newton High School in St. Helens have asked their union to ballot them for one day’s strike action in protest at the way in which one of their colleagues has been treated under new sickness policies.

The council had to impose the policies because the NUT refused to agree to them. In particular, the union objected to a clause in the short term sickness policy which required Headteachers to warn all teachers who had a third instance of sickness absence in a 12 month period, that a further instance of absence could lead to a formal warning.

This has left teachers coming into work when they feel ill because they are worried that they may need to be off sick later in the year with a more serious illness. With teachers leaving the profession in droves because of workload, hounding teachers who are sick seems like an own goal. Indeed many Headteachers seem to be ignoring the policy because they recognise the affect on morale its implementation would have. Newton High School, however is run by the LEA after it went into special measures and the policies have been implemented there with gusto. As a result, the school has become the focus of the union’s fight against these polices.

Many teachers have experienced harassment because they have been sick, but the case that triggered the request for a strike ballot was a teacher who was dismissed on ill health grounds after a 6½ month absence resulting from a nervous breakdown. The colleague was a well-respected teacher who was also the union’s rep in the school. Teachers were shocked at the way she was treated. Another teacher who has been absent following injuries sustained in an assault by two pupils has been warned that unless her consultant can say when she will be ready to return to work, she too will be dismissed. She has returned to work once because she had been threatened with dismissal, but fainted at work and had to go home again.

The union is arguing that this runs counter to national terms and conditions which states that teachers who suffer industrial injuries are entitled to 6 months on full pay, 6 months on full sick pay, which amounts to the same thing, and 6 months on half sick pay. In the case of the teacher who had the nervous breakdown, medical reports suggested that she was likely to make a recovery soon, yet her dismissal was upheld at appeal.

Why on earth is the LEA behaving in this way? The answer is in the preamble to the St. Helens sickness policy. One sentence reads, ‘Under Government Best Value Performance Indicators, Councils are required to set annual targets for improvement (of attendance) consistent with achieving the top quartile for their family groups over 5 years.’ In other words, all councils are under pressure to reduce sickness absence in order to do well in the local government league tables. This means that if St. Helens Council are allowed to get away with this policy the pressure will increase on other councils to follow suit or risk missing out on the upper quartile of the league table.

This attack on teachers’ terms and conditions of service will wreck the lives of teachers all across the country. At the moment the union has no clear national policy to protect members from this attack. Too often, sickness issues are dealt with as case work where a representative from the union goes in to argue the best deal for an individual member. Harassment through sickness policies needs to be made a collective issue. If one teacher has had a nervous breakdown in a school the chances are that all the teachers in that school are suffering from work related stress. By getting teachers in that school together and presenting collective grievances members are in a much stronger position to protect their lives from excessive workload, poor pupil behaviour and the other causes of stress.

In fact, the union should be going on the offensive in all schools on the question of work-related stress. Members should be getting together to identify the causes of work-related stress and then demanding that Headteachers, Governors and LEA’s do something about it. Following recent court cases, employers are under some pressure to respond to causes of work-related stress once they have been identified. By identifying them collectively, members are protected from individual victimisation.

Teachers like those at Newton who want to take strike action to protect a colleague are taking a stand in the finest tradition of trade unionism. They regard an injury to one as an injury to all. They realise only too well if their colleagues are victimised in this way, then they can expect the same treatment if the same thing happens to them. They deserve the support of the union and of all union members.

Tsunami devastation –support Sri Lankan socialists

The response of ordinary people around the world to appeals to support those hit by the devastation around the Indian Ocean has shown tremendous humanity and international solidarity. Anger is also beginning to replace sadness, especially at the lack of early warning systems that could have saved the majority of lives and at the way that both the distribution of aid and deployment of troops are being used as political weapons by regional governments.

Members of the Socialist Party’s sister organisation, the United Socialist Party in Sri Lanka, have been badly affected. While dealing with the very survival of its communities, the USP will also be trying to get out with posters, leaflets, and papers to expose the real causes of this disaster. A big struggle will be to forge unity amongst workers and poor people and prevent any outbreaks of communal conflict as the struggle for scarce resources continues. Donations should be made to:

‘Campaign Sri Lanka’

Lloyds TSB, Leytonstone Branch,

Account no. 0023293, Sort code 30-95-03

For more news and analysis on the tsunami: www.socialistworld.net

 

Senan, a Sri Lankan socialist, reports on the aftermath:

" People have reacted far quicker to the tsunami disaster than their government. Unexpectedly, it has provided an opportunity for the Tamil and Sinhalese masses to work together and to realise that co-existence is possible and to experience it. Unfortunately, the authorities are not using this opportunity to forge unity on the divided island, but the opposite.

In the devastated East, the majority in some communities of Tamil-speaking people are Muslims. The USP has members in that area, many now displaced and living in camps. They will be fighting against any manifestations of discrimination with regard to aid and for democratically-elected committees of displaced people, together with local trade unions and political parties, to run the camps and relief centres.

Given the scale of the destruction, the reconstruction task is enormous. The Sri Lankan government estimates it would cost them more than $1 billion in the first year alone. In this situation there are always cases of misappropriation of money meant for relieving the suffering of ordinary working and poor people by corrupt bureaucrats. Prices of essential goods and fuel have already rocketed.

The government of Sri Lanka is already spending too much money on war efforts. All war resources should be allocated for reconstruction.

All foreign debts should immediately be cancelled. The IMF and the World Bank should pay back for reconstruction the massive sums which they have stolen."

VICTORY ! Conran’s Academy plans defeated

By Linda Taaffe, Waltham Forest NUT

Millionaire Jasper Conran designer of fashions, homeware, jewellery and fragrances can now no longer add McEntee Secondary School to his long list of assets.

A vigorous local campaign of parents, support staff and teachers, spear-headed by a socialist leadership in the local NUT, and backed up by UNISON and T&G has forced him to withdraw as sponsor of one of Blair’s proposed academies in Waltham Forest. At this point it is not clear whether a new sponsor, in the form of the United Learning Trust (the church schools company), will be stepping in.

The lesson from our experiences so far is that, while all the usual forms of opposition need to be thoroughly pursued, the vital ingredient is to take the campaign outwards. Make it visible and noisy. In our case, the DfES probably promised Conran an easy ride. The school had a history of problems (although at the time it was improving significantly) and they estimated that an academy would be meekly accepted in a socially deprived area.

And it might well have gone through, but for the intervention of a small, but organised force, whose message easily found an echo amongst the wider community. People already knew what privatisation had meant in the NHS, railways etc. They did not want their children’s only chance for a secondary education to be subjected to such experimentation. This in turn motivated a really strong group of parents, whose participation was decisive. One community leader declared that she would get 200 parents chained to the school railings if an academy was agreed!

First we followed the usual channels of information gathering, letter writing, petitions, lobbies and consultation responses. But, we quickly realised that the councillors were never going to change their minds. A persistent rumour was gaining credence. If the councillors rejected an academy no money would be released for refurbishing all the other secondary schools. Some even admitted that if this were the only way to get £24 million, they would have to vote for it, even though they were opposed to the principle of academies! A similar threat had emerged during the campaign against the outsourcing of all the education services to a private company a few years ago.

It was then we decided to take the campaign outwards. We challenged Conran to a debate, but got no reply. Then we organised a picket of Debenhams where Mr Conran has an outlet under the "J" label. Plans were also afoot to take the message to other town centres. However on the eve of the Oxford Street protest, Conran withdrew!

Press and TV coverage gave us chance to claim a well-deserved victory. Some commentators even described it as a possible turning point in the academy programme. With campaigns kicking off in other areas e.g. a primary school in Lambeth had already voted for strike action - and now with the latest information that the £2million sponsors are supposed to be putting in, is beginning to look more phantom than real, more "gifts in kind’ than hard cash - they might well be right. This was how the Education Action Zones eventually petered out.

Our victory comes on the heels of another victory against a second Vardy Academy in Doncaster. There, parents, many of whom had been involved in the miners strike in the eighties warned - they have taken our mines, they have taken our jobs, they are NOT taking our schools! In this spirit we will continue our fight into round two!

So now is the time to keep up maximum pressure. Our belief that if you have a go, you have a chance of winning, remains undiminished.

Do you want:

Contact:

Martin Powell-Davies by e-mail on:

martinpd_uk@yahoo.co.uk

RIG:

cutting teachers’ pay

With Ministers excluding the NUT from negotiations, the other teacher unions involved in the "Rewards and Incentives Group" have had their chance to prove that "partnership" with New Labour brings results.

But results for who – teachers or the Government? First they signed up to "remodelling". Now they’ve agreed to proposals that threaten to cut pay.

As this newsletter is being written, the Review Body is yet to publish its response to what RIG has suggested. But with the employers able to claim they have trade union suport, it seems likely that much of it will be agreed.

The Government had already decided to save money by freezing the value of management allowances. But RIG wants them replaced by a new system of TLR payments for ‘teaching and learning responsibilities’. Whatever the final detail, the intention is already clear – to save money at teachers’ expense.

The RIG proposals are quite explicit about what they hope to achieve - cuts: " the net national cost of TLR payments will be no greater than the cost of allowances - our expectation is that it should be less". In fact, the savings have already been budgeted for ! The DfES expect schools to save £25 million in 2005/6 by "reducing numbers of allowances". That’s the cost of 15,000 MAN 1 Allowances !

If the proposals are agreed, every school will have to review who is to receive the new TLR payments by December 2005. The planned savings are ample proof that it is inevitable that some will lose out.

RIG propose that TLR payments will have to be "for a significant, specified responsibility focused on teaching and learning". But the reality in schools is that thousands of teachers are already carrying out additional responsibilities without extra payment. RIG threatens to make things worse. Posts that previously attracted allowances will now be judged to be without the "significant" responsibility needed for a TLR.

These threats are just the latest step away from an equitable salary structure and towards divisive individualised pay. Instead of salaries based on experience and responsibility, the DfES want to ration awards through performance pay.

All of the Unions – including the NUT – failed to stand firm against the "threshold". With performance management being eased in gently at first, some teachers may have concluded that the Upper Pay Spine wasn’t such a threat after all. But the screw has been turned tighter each year.

The spine has been stopped at UPS3 – but many Headteachers are putting huge hurdles in front of teachers even to reach that level of payment. Now with TLRs harder to obtain, there will be even more pressure on teachers to jump through the hoops of performance pay.

Left unchallenged, these attacks threaten to further demoralise and divide staffrooms. But given a lead, unions could harness the discontent over pay to build the national action necessary to stand up to the robbery of both our pensions and our salaries.