Saturday, May 24, 2008

Linda Taaffe speaks out

Linda Taaffe writes in classroom teacher Linda was on the National Executive for years but the tired old left thought she was a bit too outspoken. To use a suspect sexist term, she had more balls than the lot of them put together!

In Central Hall Westminster at the April 24th strike rally in front of two thousand teachers, with many more thousands locked outside, wild cheering and applause greeted any platform speaker even hinting at further joint action.

It seemed that the NUT was on a roll. After years of trying, the Left on the NUT National Executive apparently had won a small majority in the elections. Also by a quirk of fate a left general secretary took the helm, joining an already established left treasurer. We then got the news that UNISON were going to ballot, and others were lining up to join those that had already shown willing.

At the same time discontent is being fuelled by more rising prices. Our case is strengthened daily. And to cap it all the government has come under real pressure. With the massacre in the local elections, now Nantwich & Crewe, and Gordon Brown's poll ratings at absolute rock bottom what a chance to extract another u-turn on public sector pay to add to the 10p tax fiasco.

Trade unions rarely get a favourable combination of circumstances to pursue a strike. It is never the right moment. But given some other situations this was a golden opportunity. Incredibly some, or rather quite a few, including those calling themselves Left, have voted against calling action now. They have let teachers down. They have let the government off the hook. They have quite possibly caused a negative impact on the rank and file of other unions.

We recognise that there might be complicating factors, but the overriding factor here was a chance for the coordinated action that the whole of the trade union movement has been campaigning on for such a long time. Shame on those who have shown such a lack of judgment that they voted against a strike in July.

Leadership is all about judgment. Of course we all want the same thing in the end, but timing is everything in politics. Now it seems we have a situation where some 'on the left' have joined with others on the right with similar 'honestly held views' to effectively kick our pay battle into the long grass for now.

Experience in the Left Caucus on the National Executive has shown me that there are some whose views are barely 'Left' at all. There are others on the Left like myself, Martin Powell Davies and others especially in the Socialist Party, who faced a somewhat different, quite unsympathetic reaction to our 'honestly held views'. Martin stood for General Secretary because we reckoned that the views of the candidate backed by others on the Left would fall short. Were we right? As an Executive member I spoke out against some of the methods of many in the Left Caucus who believed that those in the then majority of the Executive really wanted the same thing as us and would see the error of their lackadaisical ways and be won over by our more energetic campaigning.

Unfortunately, the result of this vote could demobilise teachers. It certainly gives the government time to re-group. It may well be that the relentless pressure of events can bring action to the fore again. I certainly hope so. The Div. Secs on June 17th might have much to say. Hopefully Divisonal Secretaries who wanted to see united action in July will not go shy in taking up the arguments of those on the left as well as those on the right.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Early Years News

From Early Year News

Angela Ahern writes:

I attended Early Education's Annual Conference in Sheffield at the weekend. The theme was "Trusting children's thinking: reflecting on Dispositions for Learning". The keynote speakers were Professor Cathy Nutbrown : School of Education, University of Sheffield and Mick Waters : Director of Curriculum, QCA.
Cathy Nutbrown's talk was entitled "Respectful educators, capable learners". Cathy is an interesting and stimulating speaker, quoting Christian Schiller, Alec Clegg and Robin Tanner, amongst others. She expressed her view that education should be through the Arts, encouraging creativity and expression. Art - in terms of music, dancing, painting should be seen as a pedagogy. "Creative children need creative adults with wide eyes and open minds". Creative education in this sense is an "orienteering expedition, not a route march", with adults as "orienteering guides", providing tools and resources for the journey and opportunities to be a pioneer. Creative assessment is seen as a series of checkpoints on the learning journey.
Cathy quoted from an essay by Fulgham (1990) entitled "All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten", "live a balanced life - learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance - every day -some". Put things back where you found them and clean up your own mess - have milk and cookies at 3.00pm followed by a nap - hold hands and watch out for traffic - what else do we need to know?

Mick Waters from QCA has been described as the "Mick Jagger of the education world", so the audience weren't too sure what to expect, and he did not disappoint. Mick had separately also decided to quote Fulgham, so had to find another poem to illustrate his point, which was essentially that it is vital that educators do not lose their playful joyful spirit! Mick advocated applying the principles of early years education in secondary schools. He commented that to some "education is seen as a cold shower - unpleasant and hateful but good for you". He made the point that the curriculum should fit the learners, not the other way around.
Mick had helpfully made a list of childhood essentials, "make, do and mend........
*a collection
*tending plants
*taking things to bits
*caring for creatures
*enjoying the weather
*an adventure
*being in a club
*making something to use at home or at school
He posed the question, "is there anything living in your classroom?"
For further information on Mick's view of the early years curriculum, see the QCA website.

The conference heard from Felicity Thomas and Stephanie Harding from Earlham Early Years Centre, Norfolk in the afternoon, who have developed their own way of planning and assessing young children through focusing on their dispositions for learning, such as curiosity, persistence, co-operation, being rich and flexible in communication and playfulness.

The conference closing address was given by Margaret Edgington, who is the Vice President of Early Education. She stressed that those of us who work in the early years need to be firm about what are our non-negotiables, such as a curriculum that encourages an orienteering approach rather than a route march through targets, and to stand by and defend these - to both the Government and Ofsted - where applicable. She urged us to trust our own thinking - we are the connoisseurs of young children's learning and we need to exert our spirit strongly!

Next years conference will be held in Swansea and is entitled "Childhood Regained".
Look forward to seeing you there!

Monday, May 12, 2008

Peace march from Brighton or Seaford

This is a chance to get some fresh air and exercise, even if you think the United Nations has a rather poor record in securing world peace (Korea!) the sentiment is right. I will probably start from Seaford rather than Brighton.

The walk will start at the entrance to Brighton pier at 8.30am with a send-off from Brighton's Mayor for Peace. We aim to end up at Beachy Head for the Plaque install at 6.30pm attended by Eastbourne's Mayor for Peace. The Mayor of Seaford (Also a Mayors for Peace town) will meet us at around 1.30-2pm at the Seaford Museum.

We shall carry the plaque on a bespoke carriage all the way except for the Ouse crossing at Newhaven where we plan to have a lift to bring us from the western to the eastern bank thus saving us the extra two miles inland for the bridge crossing. At all times we shall use the coastal path.
The Peace Memorial commemorates all who lost their lives in the wars of the last hundred years, whatever their gender, age or nationality, military or civilian, and invokes the wording of the United Nations Charter, "...we the peoples of the United Nations, determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war ......". It is sponsored by Eastbourne United Nations Association and Eastbourne for Peace and Liberty.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

No Academy in Midhurst or Easebourne

Letter to the grandly titled "cabinet member for education" for West Sussex. You can write too if you live in West Sussex and you are concerned:

I am concerned at the haste with which the academy proposals in West Sussex, in particular in Midhurst/Easebourne, are being railroaded through. Once the decision has been made the academies will be outside the control of local people and as we saw recently in Barrow ignoring the concerns of local people can lead to councillors losing their seats.

If councillors are seen as out of touch with local people and abdicating responsibility for education to unelected religious bodies local people may well feel councillors do not deserve their support or trust.

As a teacher I am also concerned that teachers' organisations have not been consulted about this drastic change in their wages and conditions of service. New staff at the academies will not have the wages and conditions of service laid down in the STPC document and local agreements with teachers' organisations will be torn up.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Onwards and upwards = the NUT pay campaign.

The National Executive today unanimously agreed:

1. to reaffirm its committment to the decision of annual conference to ballot members for discontinous action

2. to discuss timescales for a ballot and also of forms of strike and non strike action at its next meeting in 2 weeks time.

3. to seek a meeting with Govt to put forward our demands on pay and on workload.

4. to congratulate div and assoc secs for the work done so far and encourage them to work for the petition ( deadline May 23rd) and the lobby of Parliament on June 9th.

Discontinuous action means that the NUT will be able to act in UNISON with other unions in the public sector. The government has said it want to "listen" and "feel our pain" so feel this Gordon!

Sunday, May 04, 2008


A strange way to celebrate Mayday by electing a load of Tory councillors. I have taken for going for a walk every time Boris appears on the box. However there was one small bit of good news from a friend in Cumbria:

THE anti-academy campaign has sensationally ousted veteran Barrow Borough Council leader Bill Joughin in the local elections.

And his deputy, Jack Richardson, only managed to hold on to his town hall seat by one vote after three recounts.

The Tories were shaken by this result. They had ignored local feeling against the academy and they have paid the price. It also shows people who stand up and fight can beat the Tories while New Labour goes down to ignominious defeat.