Autumn Term Bulletin 2004

South African teachers strike

"There may be trouble ahead ”

- that was the verdict of the Times Educational Supplement review of the year ahead, as New Labour look set to push ahead with a series of threats to teachers and education in the run-up to a General Election.

No to Teaching on the Cheap

Without the funding to employ more qualified teachers - but under pressure to introduce new rights on covering absence and non-contact time - a growing number of schools are looking to ask classroom assistants to provide “teaching-on-the-cheap”. This means that the NUT – and its new General Secretary, Steve Sinnott - will soon be put to the test. The Union has been right to speak out against “remodelling” but now it’s time to move beyond sloganeering to the programme of action needed to defend education.

Defend the Public Sector 

Alongside other public sector workers, teachers are going to see further threats to their pensions and pay. The DfES are embarking on a “consultation” exercise over plans for “modernisation” of the teachers’ pension scheme. To sweeten the pill, some new benefits are now being proposed but, in essence, the proposals still mean that teachers - especially colleagues now in their 20’s and 30’s - will have to work on beyond 60 to get the pension they would get under existing rules. Meanwhile the Government is pushing ahead with plans to limit Management Allowances while threatening to break up national pay scales with dangerous local pay proposals.

It looks like New Labour’s immediate attack is going to be on civil servants. They have announced 104,000 job cuts – that’s a fifth of the entire workforce ! The Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS – the main union in the civil service ), where a leading role is being taken by Socialist Party members, put out a call for solidarity from other trade unionists at the TUC conference. School staff must let their local PCS members know that they have their backing as they ballot for strike action, planned for Nov. 5th. They must also call for their unions to support co-ordinated action with PCS.

Labour’s “Five year strategy” 

Parents and teachers will be faced with a General Election campaign where all the main establishment parties will offer the same diet of cuts and privatisation. New Labour’s expansion of “Academies” and promises of more “independence” for schools will further undermine comprehensive education and widen the gap between the schools at the top and bottom of their divisive league tables.

Winning a fighting leadership 

The critical question is – will teachers be able to turn back the tide of attacks from New Labour ? More than ever, it’s time to build a leadership that is prepared to stand firm for teachers and education !

As “workforce reform” begins to take hold on schools,



he Government is set on implementing a schools “remodelling” agenda which they promise will benefit everyone – schools, staff and pupils. But the only real winners will be the Treasury – who want to drive down the cost of education – and the Labour advisers whose real aim has always been to cover-up teacher shortages with underpaid and underqualified staff.

The Government have employed a clever strategy. By promising that “workforce reform” will meet the long-standing grievances of school staff, they have won the support of the leaders of all the school staff unions – apart, thankfully, from the NUT.

Support staff hope to finally gain recognition for the important role they play in the classroom – along with improved pay and conditions. They certainly deserve far better than the miserly wages and term-time only contracts that many have suffered for too long. However, rather than being paid properly for their current duties, pay rises for many will depend on them taking on the work of a teacher – but without earning a salary to match.

Many support staff are questioning what their union leaders have signed up to. So much so that UNISON’s Annual Local Government Conference in June agreed that “the experience of school remodelling for our members has been largely negative …. and underlines the argument of those who saw it as an attempt to use our members to provide teaching on the cheap”.

Any teachers that still believe in this Government’s promises may have hoped for a real “work/life balance” at long last. But the only genuine way of “raising standards and tackling workload” – as the Government claims to stand for – is to recruit more teachers.

With adequate budgets and staffing, every school could employ enough additional teachers to release colleagues for non-contact time and, together with pools of qualified supply staff, the ability to limit cover as well. Class sizes – a big factor in workload – could also be reduced, particularly as the overall pupil population falls. But, when it comes to expanding teacher numbers, the Government’s “Time for Standards” consultation paper put it bluntly, “this is not an option”.

Labour’s real agenda has always been about introducing “teaching-on-the-cheap”. As long ago as 1998, then DfES minister Margaret Hodge stated that “We should be thinking of employing fewer teachers, not more”.

Remodelling is a direct attack on teachers’ jobs and salaries. Instead of assisting teachers, support staff will start to replace them. Supply teachers will be first in the firing line – but they won’t be the last. It threatens a future where those schools with the biggest budget problems, most likely those schools teaching the pupils with the greatest needs, are unable to guarantee their pupils a qualified teacher. Staff and parents must unite to defend this attack on children’s education.

Reducing teacher workload?

Teachers have been promised a staged program of workload improvements, starting with the removal of “clerical and administrative tasks” in 2003. However, with few schools able to afford to employ more support staff to take on this work, many teachers are still carrying out tasks that are supposedly now beyond their contractual responsibilities.

The next “reform” is the intro-duction of a maximum annual limit of 38 hours covering absences from this September – still, on average, once a week. As many secondary teachers would not have expected to cover this often in the past, their main battle is likely to be to make sure that the “no detriment” clause prevents their cover burden actually getting greater. The limit could have more effect in primary schools since continuing with the common practice of “splitting classes” of an absent teacher could mean colleagues quickly soon clock up 38 hours cover. Unfortunately, a common alternative now appearing is for a teaching assistant to be asked (or bullied) into taking the class instead.

The new Staffing Regulations mean schools don’t have to use a qualified teacher. Instead they are being encouraged to employ more “cost effective” (i.e. cheaper) support staff – either as “cover supervisors” (who aren’t expected to even “actively teach”) or as Higher Level Teaching Assistants (HLTAs) - who will be specifically expected to teach and assess whole classes. Of course, many TAs are being told to take classes without any kind of negotiations over pay and J.D.’s at all.

Guaranteed Non-Contact Time

The list of transferred tasks were never going to make a major difference to teacher workload because they don’t cover the issues that really take up so much time in teachers’ evenings, weekends and holidays – particularly lesson planning and marking.

Real workload reduction would mean limiting the excessive planning and assessment demands on teachers. But the expectation of “individualised learning” mean these pressures are getting worse, not better. Now, the pressure to prepare suitable material ready for support staff to use to take classes may further increase workload – especially if teachers are then expected to “supervise” them and make time to jointly plan the work.

Nevertheless, the promised introduction of a guaranteed minimum 10% “PPA time” (i.e at least half-a-day a week’s non-contact time) from September 2005 would mark a significant gain for many primary teachers who, despite all the heavy demands of the primary curriculum, often get little, if any, non-contact time at present. The question schools are now asking is, “how can we afford it?”

The NUT have been demanding non-contact time for every teacher for years (and at 20% of the week, not 10%) – but schools have never been adequately funded to introduce it across the board. Now the Government is instructing schools to introduce PPA but without the funding necessary to employ the additional qualified teachers that would be needed. They expect schools to use cheaper HLTAs instead – and thereby implement their longer-term agenda for “teaching-on-the-cheap”.

Why should we accept the unacceptable?

For too long, schools have learned to “make do and mend” with insufficient resources and meekly implement damaging reforms such as SATs and performance pay. Are schools now about to let things get even worse by accepting the inevitability of “workforce reform?”

Even putting aside educational objections, replacing teachers with unqualified staff is fraught with practical difficulties. Teaching is a craft that can take many years to develop, even for a graduate teacher with years of training. Expecting an HLTA or cover supervisor – many of whom will be given minimal training – to take a whole class is asking a great deal.

Defending the importance of a qualified teacher is in no way to underestimate the skills of support staff. Teachers certainly aren’t the only “professionals” in the classroom. But rather than having to “teach on the cheap”, those TAs that want to teach should be given the opportunity to train to be a teacher.

But unless a firm stand is taken urgently by teachers, support staff and parents, the creeping spread of classes being taken by unqualified staff will become harder and harder to stop – particularly where Heads face ever tighter budget pressures.

The NUT has been right to stand out against these threats but, up to now, its opposition has been largely restricted to propaganda and press advertisements. What is urgently required is for the NUT to go beyond just publicity. We need to build a fighting strategy - including industrial action - to win the funding our schools really need.

Billions for war … so where’s the money for schools ?

Fiddling the figures

Worried by the threat that some of their trade union “partners” might pull out of the “workforce agreement”, Labour have been trying to pretend that schools will have the extra resources they need. But the figures simply don’t add up.

School Standards Minister David Milliband announced in July that primary schools would receive between 0.8% and 1.5% extra in 2005-06 to implement the additional costs of the National Agreement. How are schools meant to fund 10% PPA time for every teacher with that ? Research for the NUT suggested primary schools would need far more – perhaps an 8% budget increase – to be able to use qualified teachers to release colleagues for PPA.

What teacher shortage ?

The supporters of “workforce reform” argue that it is the only way for schools to cope with teacher shortages. But there has never really been a “shortage” as such - just a shortage of teachers prepared to still work under the stressful conditions in our underfunded schools.

The latest reports, revealing that many newly trained primary staff are struggling to find a permanent post this September, shows there is even less excuse for “remodelling”.

A strategy to defend education

Socialist Party teachers have put forward the following suggestions for a programme of action that can defend education - and also ensure that teachers win the workload reductions we need:

The Government’s “workload deal” is a sham. Teachers are working as long hours as ever. We must fight for 20% non-contact time for every teacher, cover for the first day of absence only, and real limits on workload – not just the limited restrictions on “clerical and administrative” tasks. The NUT should expose empty Government promises and draw up tough workload action guidelines that teachers could implement in their schools to enforce real limits on the work they have to do outside the working day.

School staff should unite in calling for all TUC Unions – teaching and non-teaching – to withdraw from the Workforce Agreement and fight for a new deal that really offers decent pay and conditions to all. NUT Associations should seek to set up joint committees of school staff unions to build unity against “teaching-on-the-cheap” and to make sure each others grievances are commonly understood. Reps should also build similar joint committees at school level.

Unions should get out on the streets and leaflet parents, governors and other trade unionists to expose how New Labour are denying children the right to be taught by a qualified teacher.

When setting work for cover, teachers should make sure it does indeed require “active teaching” from qualified teaching staff.

The NUT needs must write to every member saying the Union will back requests for a ballot for strike action where school groups or Local

Associations are ready to act to oppose the imposition of cover supervisors or HLTAs.

The PPA (non-contact time) guarantee must be implemented in full by Sept. 2005 at the latest. Where necessary, unions should ballot members for a programme of half-day strike action to enforce their right to 10% PPA time.

Where – as is all too likely – it becomes clear that schools do not have the money to employ qualified teachers to release staff for PPA time, the lack of funding must be exposed. Schools mustn’t cover up the problem by merging classes so that one teacher takes two classes at once, with the support of TAs. Nor should specialist SEN and EMAS staff be taken away from the jobs they are employed to carry out.

Instead, as part of a campaign to win the permanent funding needed to employ additional teachers, schools should announce that, as a last resort, they will be closing early, say on a Friday afternoon, in order to allow staff the PPA time they are entitled to. This might well run into opposition from parents – both educationally and for the childcare problems it would cause. However, schools and unions would have to explain why they were standing firm to defend the rights of a child to be taught by a qualified teacher – and for staff to have a tolerable workload – before even more resign.

A one-day strike would send out a clear signal to parents, staff and Ministers that unions were no longer prepared to stand back and see cuts and “remodelling” undermine education. The NUT should announce plans for a one-day national strike and put in all the preparation necessary to win the strike ballot.

Only with such a campaign will the threat to education really be brought home to parents, the seriousness of our opposition made clear to colleagues in other unions, teaching and non-teaching, and Heads and Governors be persuaded to stand firm and to refuse to implement the Government’s agenda.

Uniting to fight New Labour’s cuts –

an interview with Mark Serwotka, PCS General Secretary.

PCS civil service trade union members are in the frontline of the attacks on public-sector jobs and services, with 104,000 jobs being threatened. Their general secretary, Mark Serwotka, spoke to ‘the Socialist’ at the recent TUC conference:

Q: Mark, you must be pleased with the reception you’ve had this week in support of the campaign to save civil service jobs. What do you now expect from the other unions after the TUC?

Mark Serwotka: We are delighted with the unanimous passing of the composite and the fact that we had 200 delegates packed into a fringe meeting with 12 general secretaries. The key thing though is that it can’t just remain a resolution that stays on the order paper that nobody takes any notice of. The PCS must ensure that all the unions are asked to deliver on the composite.

Next week I will write to every general secretary of all the TUC affiliated unions setting out some practical measures during our ballot - ordinary stuff like writing to MPs, the letters of support, making contact with all our reps in all the towns and cities around the UK.

We are asking Labour Party affiliated unions to ensure that the matter is debated at the Labour Party conference because we want the government to be asked searching questions in its own backyard. But on the industrial front we have made it clear that we need solidarity if we are to have any chance of winning in this campaign. And I was heartened to hear Dave Prentis (general secretary of UNISON) talk twice this week about pensions being a common issue which may involve industrial action.

So what I am looking for is the usual expressions of solidarity and practical help but particularly that the public-sector unions who face attacks, on pensions for example, are asked to co-ordinate their response with us. It seems to me that if education workers, health workers, local government workers and civil servants are facing attacks on their pensions then our response should be a united one.

Q: Would you envisage that happening on 5 November (the date of the proposed one-day PCS strike) or later?

MS: I would be delighted if it was on 5 November but I do understand that these things can take a while to organise. But I have been clear that if it’s not possible by the 5th then if other unions are prepared to consider action then I would also want the PCS to consider a further strike in co-operation with others. And if that can’t be in November, then maybe December or even in January. So that’s the discussion that I want to see in every union, in the branches and at the leadership level.

Q: You have mentioned that you will not accept compulsory redundancies but even if the government were to concede that, what’s your bottom line in the provision of public services and minimum staffing levels that you could mobilise the public around ?

MS: We have got six reassurances that we have demanded and ‘no compulsory redundancies’ is one but it has to be seen in the context of the others. I’m not interested in negotiating no compulsory redundancies in isolation, still leaving 100,000 jobs lost. That would be devastating.

Our pitch has been clear to protect the workforce and the services they deliver. So what we have said is that, aside from no compulsory redundancies, that all staffing levels must be agreed in consultation with

the unions. That’s on a basis to avoid any job losses.

The logic is if you cut 100,000 jobs and you are trying to maintain a level of service, it can only be done through privatisation.

Q: What efforts will you be making to get to agency workers and involve them in the strike?

MS: My message is if you are a casual, temporary or agency worker you should join the union. An easy way to make a quick hit with cuts for the government is to lay off all the temporary workers who don’t have proper employment rights. We don’t want those people laid off, we want them unionised and to be made permanent. Yesterday, I was speaking to one of our reps who showed one good practical example of the problems we face and she said that in her office incapacity claims were taking so long to deal with that in many cases the terminally ill were dying before their case had been assessed and that the officers’ response had been to fast track the terminally ill claims.

That tells me these are offices which haven’t got the staff in them now to deliver the full range of services. It will be far worse if the cuts take place on top.

Q: Many trade unionists are questioning whether their unions should continue to fund and support the New Labour government. Some unions have disaffiliated from Labour and there is the beginnings of looking for a political alternative to Labour. Where do you stand in these debates?

MS: I need to make clear that the PCS isn’t affiliated to the Labour Party. But, on a personal level I’ve been on record for a long time that there needs to be an alternative to Labour because an industrial response alone is not enough. I’ve done the fringes at the Congress this week and I’ve spoken to the Labour Representation Committee [ who hope to reclaim the Labour Party from the Blairites] and whilst I wished them well, I made it clear that they need to understand that there are thousands of people who don’t want to reclaim the Labour Party, they want an alternative.

My message to people who are working on an alternative, whether it’s people in the Socialist Party or people in Respect is that we need to work together. We need to ensure that there is a legitimate alternative voice.

If the Scottish Socialist Party can make the massive gains it has made in Scotland then it can be done in England and Wales. I think a new political alternative is absolutely vital and I hope that those who agree with that analysis can work together to try and make that a reality.

Model Resolution for your school group / Association:

Five-Year Strategy:

Labour lets loose the “market” on our schools

The release of Labour’s “five-year strategy” for education in July marked a sharp lurch in Government policy towards allowing the market to have free rein over children’s education.

We believe in our headteachers having maximum independence. It would mean a greater control over admissions and the hiring of staff”

Sir Cyril Taylor, Specialist Schools Trust

The centrepiece is the acceleration of the ‘academy’ programme – semi-independent schools funded by taxes and private sponsorship. On top of this, most secondary schools will be given complete freedom to opt for foundation status, where the school becomes the employer, rather than the LEA.

This threatens the complete break-up of national pay and conditions – aided by the proposed introduction of local pay schemes. Schools with the resources to outbid their competitors will be able to attract staff. Those at the bottom of the pile will be left to rely on “remodelling” – employing unqualified staff on the cheap to cut salary bills at the expense of education.

For parents and students, Labour’s plans threaten an admissions free-for-all with the highest status schools using selection – openly and covertly – to make sure they maintain their place at the top of the league tables. It will be working-class and black families who are the biggest losers.

The trade union movement must put its weight behind local and national campaigns to defeat these attacks on comprehensive education and equality of opportunity. But opposing Labour’s market-driven policies – in education and beyond – will also require challenging them at the ballot box.

Charles Clarke widens the class divide

In the middle of his introduction to the Five Year Strategy, Secretary of State Charles Clarke chooses to lament that “ we have not yet broken the link between social class and achievement”. Indeed, the Strategy contains a damning indictment of education in England and Wales: “the gap between the best and worst performers in our system actually widens as they go through education; and it is both significantly wider and more closely related to socio-economic status in this country than elsewhere”. Yet what is Clarke’s answer – to widen those inequalities even further !

Perhaps he should read the research these findings were based on more thoroughly. For example, they show that there are other European countries, such as Finland, where class appears to have a much lower impact on student performance and where there are much smaller differences between different schools. As the latest NUT Education Review concludes “this is largely due to the fact that these countries have non-selective education systems”. Exactly. Clarke – you’re making things worse!

That’s why Socialist Party Teachers support the setting up of a political fund in the NUT to allow the Union to support trade-union backed candidates that can offer a real alternative – as a step towards building a new mass workers party.

Elect an NUT leadership that fights for its members

Socialist Party member, Martin Powell-Davies, was the only candidate in June’s election for NUT General Secretary still teaching in the classroom on top of his Union responsibilities.

The following article was posted on the Elect Martin Campaign website straight after the election result:

Steve Sinnott’s victory in the election for NUT General Secretary will come as a disappointment to teachers who had been looking for a real change at the head of the NUT.

However, the result is no real surprise given the sizeable machine that Steve could rely on within the Union’s structures, the years over which he has been able to build support, not to mention the considerable financial resources that he clearly had at his disposal to publicise his campaign.

In contrast, the Elect Martin Campaign has only had a few months to build support for Martin, a candidate who was relatively unknown compared to his opponents. He was constantly written-off as an “also-ran” by the press and by both Left and Right within the Union.


Yet his 6,482 first-preference votes are a testimony to the way his stand as a teacher in touch with the pressures teachers endure – and his determination to do something about them – struck a chord with many NUT members.

His opponents did not even expect Martin to win the ten nominations needed to secure his place on the ballot paper, let alone poll as many votes as he did. Yet, where Martin was able to get his message across, teachers were enthused by his call for teachers to vote to break with past failures, his clear program for action - such as his demand for tougher workload guidelines to enforce a real “work-life balance” and united action to defeat the “pensions robbery” - and his pledge to be a teachers’ leader on a teacher’s salary.


The way Martin’s message attracted a wider support is shown - at least as a rough guide - by his vote translating into nearly 500 votes per nomination – a far higher ratio than his opponents, who, despite their far greater number of nominations, could not win the same proportion of votes in return.

Martin’s campaign succeeded, at least in part, in doing what it had set out to do – to sharpen the debate within the Union and to enthuse teachers to take note of this election that would otherwise not have voted at all. However, the overall turnout of less than 22% shows that Martin’s campaign was not able to reach sufficient teachers to overcome their cynicism and lack of confidence and to encourage them to vote for a new way forward. Nevertheless, Martin’s stand helped encourage more teachers to vote for change. With the help of transfers from Martin, Ian Murch’s vote in the final round was 22,134 - up from 17, 483 in the election for Treasurer last November.

Real issue

Unfortunately, this was still not enough to change the overall result. The real issue is why, despite the official backing of many well-organised Left Associations, Ian Murch’s low-key campaign failed to generate the enthusiasm needed to defeat the old guard in the Union.

Some Left Associations even chose to back John Bangs over Ian but John’s decision to publicise himself as the candidate preferred by Doug McAvoy would have counted against him in many staffrooms where teachers feel let down by the current leadership.

Steve Sinnott’s call for “unity” will have won him some support but unity will only mean strength if it is translated into action, not as an excuse to retreat into accepting policies that other teacher unions have wrongly signed up to.

Martin called for unity – but unity in action with others such as the PCS (civil servants) over the pensions robbery and with colleagues in UNISON whose Conference have just voted to oppose the “Workforce Agreement” being used to bully support staff into “teaching-on-the-cheap”.

Give a lead

Teachers will now be looking to Steve Sinnott as the new NUT General Secretary to give a lead that will make sure the Union starts to win on reducing workload, protecting pensions, rejecting performance pay and “workforce remodelling”. If, as many who have worked with him over the years fear, he fails to offer a clear lead, teachers will again be looking to vote for a new leadership that is prepared to stand firm for teachers and education. Next time, we have to make sure the old guard is defeated.

The question that all those disappointed with Steve Sinnott’s victory now have to ask is, “Why weren’t we able to persuade more teachers to vote for a new way forward? ” The result shows the need for an opposition campaign and an organised Left within the NUT to have far stronger roots amongst school reps and Local Association officers.

The Elect Martin Campaign showed how an enthusiastic campaign can be built with a welcoming approach and a clear program for change. Now that must be built upon.

Support Christine Blower for NUT Deputy General Secretary

After the setback of Steve Sinnott’s victory, NUT members will have an opportunity in the election for Deputy General Secretary to vote for a candidate that stands for change.

The election is likely to be fought between defeated GS candidate, John Bangs, and Christine Blower, a long-standing NUT campaigner and teacher.

John Bangs was endorsed in the GS election by Doug McAvoy. His election would mean the continuation of the old leadership that have failed to defend teachers and education for too long.

Socialist Party Teachers will be supporting Christine and helping to take her campaign into schools.

Teachers lead biggest public sector strike in South Africa’s history

Weizmann Hamilton, Democratic Socialist Movement, South Africa

The morning edition of the Johannesburg daily The Star (16th September 2004) reported, “South Africa’s biggest strike kicked off with an extraordinary sight this morning – middle aged white teachers toyi-toying outside one of Johannesburg’s top school. … 57 of 58 teachers at Parktown Girls High Schools, led by principal Anthea Cereseto, waved placards, donned t-shirts and toyi-toyied before heading for Pretoria to join the march.”

The front page headline of This Day read, “Total Shutdown”. Despite claims by Public Service and Administration Minister, Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi, that schools would remain open throughout the country, they were deserted on the day of the strike. All teachers’ unions joined the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union (Sadtu), the 1.8m strong Congress of South African Trade Union’s biggest public sector affiliate, to take mass action in their second “chalks down” in as many weeks.

Marches were organised in over 20 towns and cities throughout the country, as the majority of the 800,000 unionised government employees went on strike in a show of unprecedented non-racial workers’ unity. This was South Africa’s biggest strike in a single sector in history.

The deterioration of conditions of service over the past 5 years, as well as the decline in infrastructure and the reduction in quality of service delivery in health and education, have resulted in an exodus of public sector workers leaving the service to go overseas. In addition, widening class polarisation, particularly within the black population, inflamed the sense of alienation and exploitation felt by the masses.

An important, feature of this strike is the political conclusions workers are drawing. Both in Pretoria and Cape Town, the slogan “viva ANC” was conspicuous by its absence. ANC flags were nowhere in sight. Rank-and-file workers are beginning to witness with their own eyes what the DSM has been warning about for some time – that whilst the Tripartite Alliance (between the ANC, Cosatu and the South African Communist Party, SACP) was being promoted and maintained in the name of unity, it has become a source of disunity. The outline of the consciousness necessary for the re-assertion of the class independence of the working class - through the break-up of the Tripartite Alliance - is beginning to take shape. The situation raises ever more urgently the necessity to build a new mass workers’ party.

Whatever the final results of the strike, public sector workers have been involved in a struggle which has taken place against the wishes of their leaders and through their own pressure. The most conscious sections of workers and youth will search for a political alternative to the capitalist policies of the ANC government through struggles such as these.

For more from the committee for a workers' international:

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