Teachers threaten fresh wave of strikes

Teachers threaten fresh wave of strikes

BBC |May 28, 2012

By Sean Coughlan BBC News education correspondent
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NUT’s Christine Blower says Mr Gove has a“window of opportunity” for talks

The two biggest teachers’ unions are threatening strikes in the autumn in England and Wales over workload, cuts, pensions and plans for local pay.

The NUT and NASUWT announced a wide-ranging joint campaign over what they call the “denigration” of teachers.

The two unions, together representing 85% of teachers, said they would mount an “unprecedented” campaign.

Schools Minister Nick Gibb said that the disruption of strike action in schools “benefits nobody”.

The heads of both unions have written to Education Secretary Michael Gove warning of the “deep concerns” of teachers and calling on him to engage in talks with this joint campaign.

They say if the government refuses to “negotiate sensible arrangements” they will “move to escalate industrial action, including jointly coordinated strike action and action short of strike action in the autumn”.

‘Wild west’

The two unions – now forming their own coalition against Coalition education policies – described their alliance as an“historic joint agreement”.

It throws down a gauntlet to government – offering a “time limited” window for talks, followed by the threat of a campaign to oppose education policy.

This could include strikes in the autumn term – but the union leaders suggested it could also mean refusing to co-operate with some government initiatives.

At a joint press conference at the British Library in London, NUT leader Christine Blower and NASUWT leader Chris Keates, said the teaching profession was in “crisis”.

They set out grievances on a wide range of issues – including pay and pensions – but they focused on their belief that teachers were being subjected to unfair public attacks from government.

Such an undermining of their position made them feel that “there was more stability in the wild west”, said Ms Keates.

She said unlike other areas of public service reform, changes in education were characterised by “an almost daily denigration” of professional staff.

Ms Blower also asked what head of a private company would publicly criticise their own staff.

Such pressures were “damaging to teachers’ health and well-being”, said the joint union declaration.

Local pay deals

This compounded the impact of the increasing cost of teachers’pensions and the “threat to jobs” from spending cuts and the“privatisation” of services, said the teachers’ unions.

“Since the government came into office, there has been a relentless and unprecedented assault on teachers’ pay and conditions of service,” said Ms Keates.

“This assault on teachers is damaging standards of education. Our two unions… are united in our determination to defend education by protecting teachers.”

The NUT leader said: “Occasionally saying we have the best generation of teachers we’ve ever had in no way compensates for the onslaught of attacks and threats to pay, pensions and working conditions.”

Earlier this month, the government submitted proposals for teachers’ pay that would mean far-reaching changes.

Schools minister Nick Gibb: “It is surprising…(strike action) benefits nobody”

The submission to the teachers’ pay body – the School Teachers’Review Body – suggested that pay could be set at a local rather than national level and would be more strongly linked to performance.

Such plans – which could be in place by autumn 2013 – were criticised by teachers’ unions and would be likely to become another area of dispute.

In response to the union declaration, the Schools Minister Nick Gibb said he was “disappointed” and surprised at the announcement -as there were already regular opportunities for teachers’ unions to talk to government.

Mr Gibb said that strike action “benefits nobody”.

“It doesn’t benefit teachers and it certainly doesn’t benefit the children who will miss education.”

Labour’s Shadow Education Minister, Sharon Hodgson, said:“Clearly no-one wants to see schools being disrupted. We urge all sides to continue dialogue so as to avoid industrial action.

“Both sides need to avoid adopting ideological positions, and it’s important that the government ceases its dogmatic attacks on the teaching profession.”

Five-term plan for Nottingham schools to be reconsidered

Five-term plan for Nottingham schools to be reconsidered

BBC |May 31, 2012

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Nottingham City Council has agreed to reconsider plans to switch to a five-term school year after talks with a teachers union.

The National Union of Teachers (NUT) opposed the changes, which included a shorter summer break, and held a series of strikes earlier this year.

Now the authority has said it will meet with all school trades unions to look at “alternative models”.

It follows talks between the two sides led by conciliation service Acas.

Nottingham City Council said altering the school year would boost attainment, but the NUT viewed the change as disruptive.

A joint statement said: “Following constructive discussions, under the auspice of Acas, over proposed changes to school terms and holidays pattern, it has been agreed that a further meeting will be called with all of the schools trade unions to look at alternative models of terms and holidays.

‘Progress made’“The outcome of these discussions will then be considered by executive councillors.

“The NUT has agreed to suspend any further industrial action while discussions are ongoing. Collective agreement on a way forward is still being pursued by all parties.”

David Mellen, portfolio holder for children’s services, said: “I am pleased that progress has been made in our aim to best meet the needs of our city children in the way our terms and holidays are arranged.”

Christine Blower, NUT general secretary, said: “I am pleased that the NUT has reached agreement which provides for all options to be considered, to form part of constructive negotiations which will now involve all unions representing school staff.”

More than 87,000 racist incidents recorded in schools

More than 87,000 racist incidents recorded in schools

BBC |May 22, 2012

By Divya Talwar BBC Asian Network
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Nearly 88,000 racist incidents were recorded in Britain’s schools between 2007 and 2011, the BBC has found.

Data from 90 areas shows 87,915 cases of racist bullying, which can include name calling and physical abuse.

Birmingham recorded the highest number of incidents at 5,752, followed by Leeds with 4,690. Carmarthenshire had the lowest number with just 5 cases.

A racist incident is defined as any situation perceived to be racist by the victim or any other person.

In response to the local authority figures, obtained under a Freedom of Information request, the Department for Education said racism needed to be “rooted out”.

Lawrence inquiry

Following the inquiry into the murder of teenager Stephen Lawrence, the previous government said schools in England and Wales must monitor and report all incidents of racist abuse to their local authority.

However, the coalition government has changed that guidance and schools now have no duty to record and report the data.

Between 2007 and 2010 – the last year that heads had an obligation to record cases – recorded racist incidents in schools in England, Scotland and Wales rose from 22,285 to 23,971.

Many areas including Luton, Oldham, Croydon, Bedford and Middlesbrough saw an increase of 40% or more over the period 2007/08 to 2009/10.

In Cardiff, there was a 32% increase in cases of racism in schools in that time from 186 to 246.

In Aberdeenshire, cases rose by two cases in the same period from 22 to 24 and in Angus from 13 to 16.

In 2010/11, when the new reporting guidelines came into force, reported cases of racist bullying fell to 18,996.

‘Tip of iceberg’

Sarah Soyei, of the anti-racism educational charity, Show Racism the Red Card (SRRC), said: “Unfortunately, the numbers of recorded racist incidents are just the tip of the iceberg.

“Racism is a very real issue in many classrooms around the country, but cases of racist bullying are notoriously underreported.

“Often teachers may not be aware of racism in their classrooms because victims are scared of reporting them out of fear of making the situation worse.”

Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: “These numbers are disappointingly high – we would really hope this is not the tip of the iceberg.

“Clearly were would not want any cases of racist abuse or racism in any of our schools.”

Many local education authorities say that the increase in reported incidents – up until 2010/11 when the guidance changed -is due to better recording methods.

However, anti-racism charities say that it is a growing problem in many regions.

“We are seeing a real increase in racism in some areas which is down to factors like a growth of Islamaphobia in society which is filtering into classrooms,” said Ms Soyei.

“Racism towards eastern European and gypsy and traveller communities is also on the increase,” she added.

Teaching unions say the key to tackling the problem in schools is through education for both teachers and students.

Charities have been delivering anti-racism lessons in schools across the country in an attempt to educate young people against racism.

‘Box-ticking’

But both unions and anti-racism charities fear that the government’s new reporting guidance of racism in schools is a mistake.

“It is not just a box ticking exercise, we absolutely do need recording and reporting of all racist incidents,” said Christine Blower.

A spokesman for the Department for Education said: “Racism needs to be rooted out wherever it occurs, and particularly in schools, where every child has the right to learn in an environment free from prejudice.”

The department defended the change in its guidance for schools.

“It is teachers and parents – not central government – that know what is happening in their schools, and they are best placed to deal with racist behaviour when it happens.

“We would expect all schools to implement their own processes to ensure they are dealing with racist incidents in the most appropriate way, rather than being bogged down with paperwork from the centre – which can sometimes mean that the most serious cases of racism are not dealt with.”

Ofsted warns over early entry to maths GCSE

Ofsted warns over early entry to maths GCSE

BBC |May 21, 2012

By Hannah Richardson BBC News education reporter
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Too many schools are entering pupils for maths GCSE early, says Ofsted in a major report that is critical of the way the subject is taught and tested.

This is preventing too many able pupils from fulfilling their potential, says chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw.

And many who get off to a poor start never catch up, he warns.

The report also says maths exams have become less demanding and that teaching standards vary unacceptably.

In the report: Mathematics Made to Measure, Sir Michael warns that “the extensive use of early GCSE entry puts too much emphasis on attaining a grade C”.

This is the benchmark grade used for schools’ headline league table measures.

Early entries

But the quest for this grade “is at the expense of adequate understanding and mastery of mathematics needed to succeed at A level and beyond,” he says.

The report claims there has been a vast increase in the number of pupils sitting GCSE early. With early entries rising from 5% in 2007 to 25% of all GCSEs in 2010.

And it warns the full extent of early entry to GCSE examinations is under-represented by these figures. Ofsted pledged to challenge such practices where it uncovered them.

Schools might use early entry to get some bright pupils’ GCSE exams out of the way, or to give greater focus to pupils they may feel are at risk of drifting out of education or being switched off.

The report adds that some schools are even entering pupils into GCSEs by two different exam boards “exploiting the flexibility of exam arrangements” in the hope that they might get a C in one of them.

The report says thousands of pupils who had reached Level 5 by the end of primary school – the standard expected of a 13-year-old – still did not go on to gain any better than a grade C at GCSE.

‘Never catch up’

Sir Michael adds: “Our failure to stretch some of our most able pupils threatens the future supply of well-qualified mathematicians, scientists and engineers.”

But he is also concerned about how well the least able are taught.

“Too many pupils who have a poor start or fall behind early in their mathematics education never catch up,” he says.

“The 10% who do not reach the expected standard at age seven doubles to 20% by age 11, and nearly doubles again by 16.

“Schools must focus on equipping all pupils, particularly those who fall behind or who find mathematics difficult, with the essential knowledge and skills they need to succeed in the next stage of their mathematics education.”

Inspectors visited 160 primary and 160 secondary schools and observed more than 470 primary and 1,200 secondary mathematics lessons between January 2008 and July 2011.

‘Ambitious’

They judged that more than half the schools were outstanding or good in maths.

Schools Minister Nick Gibb said given the importance of maths for the economy and for the individual student, he would be asking schools to be even more ambitious when it comes to maths attainment at every stage of a child’s education.

“It is vital that we reverse the decline that has seen us fall from 8th to 27th in maths internationally. This is what drives our commitment to reform our curriculum and qualifications to world class standards.

“We are also attracting the brightest maths graduates into teaching with the highest ever bursaries.”

Last year, the Advisory Committee on Mathematics Education raised concerns about the number of schools using early and repeated entry to GCSE examinations.

“We are delighted that the Ofsted report has indicated that school inspections will challenge these practices,” it said in a statement.

But National Union of Teachers general secretary Christine Blower said: “The report stresses the fact that schools need time for long-term improvement in maths to occur, yet many schools feel under pressure to improve grades rapidly.

“What they do not go onto say is that this pressure comes directly from Ofsted.”

Shadow Education Secretary Stephen Twigg said the report highlighted the variation in maths teaching even within schools.

“There is clearly a need to look at training and ongoing professional development for maths teachers.”

Downhills Primary School teachers strike over academy plans

Downhills Primary School teachers strike over academy plans

BBC |May 22, 2012

Teachers at a north London school resisting academy status have gone on strike, closing it for the day.

The National Union of Teachers said 20 members were taking action over the proposal by the government to make Downhills Primary a sponsored academy.

The school in Haringey was placed in special measures in February after an Ofsted report ordered by Education Secretary Michael Gove.

The Department for Education (DfE) said Downhills has been under-performing.

The Oftsed report, ordered by Mr Gove, declared the school inadequate.

Governors sackedThe DfE said the school, which was last placed in special measures in 2002, had struggled to reach the required standards and has told Downhills it must become an academy.

Since the latest Ofsted inspection, the head teacher, Leslie Church, has resigned, and the board of governors has been dismissed by Mr Gove and replaced.

A parent of a pupil at the school has begun legal action, challenging Mr Gove’s decision to sack the original board.

The school has claimed Mr Gove is illegally attempting to force academy status on it and that attainment records from an interim Ofsted report last September suggested standards were improving.

A spokesman for the union said: “The strike action being taken by NUT members is largely supported by the community and its purpose is to bring to the attention of the wider population in Haringey, the local authority and the government that this type of intervention has no place in the running of education.”

A spokeswoman for the DfE said it was disappointed by the“damaging” strike, adding: “Downhills has been under-performing for several years.

“Most recently Ofsted found that it is failing to give its pupils an acceptable standard of education and that those responsible for leading, managing and governing the school are not demonstrating the capacity to secure the necessary improvement.”

Michael Gove proposes that schools set own teachers’ pay

Michael Gove proposes that schools set own teachers’ pay

guardian.co.uk |by Jessica Shepherd

  • Jessica Shepherd, education correspondent
  • guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 16 May 2012 11.10 EDT
Michael Gove

The education secretary Michael Gove has suggested that schools set their own teachers’ pay. Photograph: David Jones/PA

England’s state schools could be allowed to set their teachers’ salaries themselves, the education secretary has proposed, leading to the end of a national pay scale for the profession.

Michael Gove made the suggestion in a submission to a review on teachers’ pay due to report this autumn.

His idea would trigger one of the biggest shakeups in teachers’working conditions for a generation and was deeply unpopular withtrade unions.

Gove said the current national pay scale for the profession was too rigid and meant that schools in some parts of the country struggled to recruit good teachers, while others significantly overpaid their staff.

Academies are already allowed to deviate from the national pay scale, but just 35% have chosen to do so.

Government research shows a wide variation in teacher vacancies and turnover across the country. In London, there are at least 40% more vacancies than across the rest of the country. Salford, in Greater Manchester, has several schools with a large number of vacancies, but in 90% of its schools there are no vacancies. Teacher turnover is above average in east London, London and the south-east, but low in the north-east.

These regional discrepancies are “indicative of the challenges that exist at an individual school level”, the government’s submission to the school teachers’ review body states.

Abolishing the national pay scale for teachers would enable schools to “accommodate local market-facing pay fluctuations and any school specific issues that might affect the school’s ability to attract and retain high quality teachers”, the submission says.

It would also allow schools to manage their budgets more effectively and pay good teachers more, earlier in their careers. However, the submission admits there are considerable disadvantages to a system of complete deregulation.

The government could not oblige all schools to take account of the local labour market, for example, and schools could pay qualified teachers at a significantly reduced rate. Other suggestions include giving headteachers and their governing bodies a larger degree of pay flexibility than they currently have.

At present, teachers’ pay automatically rises according to their experience.

Gove has also asked the school teachers’ review body to look into whether teachers’ pay should be more closely linked to performance and whether there should be local pay, triggering threats of strikes from the National Union of Teachers (NUT).

This week, an international study by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development showed there was no clear link between awarding teachers performance-related pay and improving standards in schools.

Gove’s proposal to scrap teachers’ national pay scale was greeted with anger from trade unions.

Christine Blower, general secretary of the NUT, said a national pay scale gave the profession transparency and ensured “much greater fairness and non-discrimination than pay levels determined at school level”.

“Education is a nationally-delivered service so local pay for a teacher is completely inappropriate. It would reduce teacher mobility, create shortages in areas of lower pay, hit recruitment and retention, and create needless extra expense and bureaucracy for schools. The most disadvantaged parts of the country would be hit by a double whammy of government cuts and lower pay,” she said.

Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said teachers’ pay should be more closely linked to performance. “Good teachers ought to be able to progress more quickly on the basis of a rounded and objective judgement of their performance,” he said. But he rejected the idea of schools setting their teachers’ pay. “This will force schools in our most deprived communities to pay staff less,” he said.

Pay teachers according to performance, MPs propose

Pay teachers according to performance, MPs propose

The Guardian World News |by Jeevan Vasagar

Headteachers consider strike

MPs are to recommend that schoolteachers’ pay should be tied to their performance: Rui Vieira/PA

Teachers’ pay should be more closely tied to the value they add to pupils’ performance so that the best are rewarded while the weakest are discouraged from staying in the profession, MPs on the education select committee are to recommend.

The MPs say there are “huge differences” in the performance of teachers but express concern that the pay system rewards poorly performing teachers at the same levels as their more successful counterparts.

In a report, the committee urges ministers to develop proposals for a pay system that rewards the teachers who add the “greatest value” to pupil performance.

The report says: “We believe that performance management systems should support and reward the strongest teachers, as well as make no excuses (or, worse, incentives to remain) for the weaker.”

The MPs acknowledge there would be practical and political difficulties in such a system, but say the relative impact of an outstanding teacher is so great that such difficulties must be overcome.

Performance-related pay for teachers was first introduced under the last government. Before that, teachers were paid according to a nine-point salary scale, progressing up the scale with annual increases.

After the reform, teachers at the top of the existing scale could increase their salary with merit-based rises. A study by the Centre for Market and Public Organisation, a research centre at Bristol University, found the scheme introduced by Labour improved pupils’ results “by about half a GCSE grade” per pupil.

Schools minister Nick Gibb said the government has asked the school teachers’ review body– which considers matters relating to teachers’ pay, duties and working time – to make recommendations on introducing“greater freedoms and flexibilities” in teachers’ pay, including how to link it more closely to performance.

The minister said: “We welcome the committee’s report into this important area, and will consider its recommendations in full and respond in due course.”

However Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers (NUT), said: “Payment by results is total nonsense. Children are not tins of beans and schools are not factory production lines. Successful schools rely on a collegiate approach and team working.

“Performance-related pay [PRP] is not only inappropriate but also divisive. Children and young people differ and class intakes differ from year to year, making it impossible to measure progress in simplistic terms.

“PRP will create even more difficulties for schools facing the most challenges because teachers will realise that they will get no thanks for teaching their students but will get more money by going elsewhere.”

The MPs’ report also calls for candidates for the teaching profession to be observed in the classroom before they are offered a training place to check their suitability for the job. The MPs say that allowing young people to try out teaching could improve the quality of applicants and lead to a lower drop-out rate.

The government should consider developing a formal “internship”system, similar to one run in Singapore, to allow youngsters to experience the “content, benefits and career potential” of teaching before committing to it, the report says.

These “taster sessions” should include actual teaching, rather than just observing lessons, the committee said, with students given feedback afterwards.

“Applying to do teacher training is a ‘high stakes’ decision and the purpose of these sessions is to give people a chance to try out their own aptitude before committing,” the report said.

“We believe this approach could help both deter some people who are not best suited to teaching and persuade others to consider it.”

The MPs backed ministers’ plans to toughen up the literacy and numeracy tests taken by trainee teachers but advised caution over the introduction of a test of candidates’ personal skills.

The report suggests the creation of a sabbatical scheme to allow outstanding teachers to take time out of the classroom to work in a different school, undertake research or refresh their subject knowledge.

Teacher numbers fall by 10,000 in a year in England

Teacher numbers fall by 10,000 in a year in England

BBC |April 25, 2012

By Angela Harrison Education correspondent, BBC News
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The number of teachers in England’s state school system fell by 10,000 in the year to November, new figures show.

Government data on the school workforce shows teacher numbers have dropped for the first time in years.

Ministers say three quarters of the reduction is among teachers employed directly by local councils – for example as tutors or schools advisors.

The head teachers’ body ASCL says budget pressure means heads are making difficult decisions to cut staff.

The drop of 10,000 is 2% of the full-time equivalent teaching posts in England’s schools.

Teacher numbers had been growing steadily in recent years, increasing by 32,000 (7.9%) between spring 2000 and November 2011.

The total number working in England’s state school system is now 438,000 – a fall of 10,000 from 2010, a workforce survey taken in November shows.

Meanwhile, numbers of teaching assistants in schools have almost trebled since 2000, rising to 219,800 in November 2011.

Academy expansion

A government spokesman said most of the reduction in teacher numbers was due to the loss of teachers from council posts and this was related to more schools becoming academies.

When schools become academies they are generally less closely linked to local authorities and may choose to “buy in” or provide for themselves services previously organised by local councils.

Under the expanding academy programme, schools are funded directly by central government and are given extra money which would have previously have been spent on their behalf by councils.

Among other things, councils would have spent the cash on tutors for sick or excluded pupils, or on “super teachers” who might help to train or advise teachers in schools.

Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said head teachers were feeling pressure on their budgets and were having to make difficult decisions.

“This [fall in teacher numbers] will be mostly explained by a fall in school budgets,” he told BBC News.

“In recent years, there has been more funding to bring people in for intervention work, but heads now have to reduce that.

“We are picking up from a lot of school leaders that they have to reduce staff. It is obviously worrying.”

A spokesman for the Department for Education said: “The main reason for the drop in teacher numbers is because local authorities do not need to directly employ as many teachers, because more schools are becoming academies.

“Schools though are free to organise themselves as they see fit- they are best placed to make these decisions without undue or unnecessary influence from government. Head teachers are best placed to use their professional judgement to decide the most appropriate staffing structure for their school, including what role support staff play.”

The general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, Christine Blower, said the census showed the “huge loss in teaching expertise and local authority support” that was occurring as a result of the government’s “disastrous cuts agenda”.

“Centrally employed teaching staff are very important to many aspects of teaching and learning from music lessons to SEN support,” she said.

Head teachers’ pay

The government’s data also shows there are about 700 state school leaders earning more than £100,000 a year in England. About 200 of those earn more than £110,000 a year.

The average salary of a school leader in England’s state schools is £55,500, according to the survey, which was carried out in November.

And 1,600 school leaders earned less than £40,000 last year; they were mostly in primary or nursery schools.

On average, a classroom teacher earned £34,400 a year.

Teachers’ union criticises phonics tests

Teachers’ union criticises phonics tests

The Guardian World News |by Hélène Mulholland

Phonics lesson

Phonics teaching focuses on sounds rather than recognising whole words. Photograph: Murdo Macleod for the Guardian

A teachers’ union has called for a campaign against the government’s new reading tests, including a possible boycott, as it said some pupils would be labelled as failures.

Delegates at the NUT’s annual conference in Torquay passed a resolution warning that the mandatory testing of phonics – a system that focuses on sounds rather than recognising whole words– was “unnecessary and inappropriate”.

The government has championed phonics as the best way to boost reading standards. It announced plans for the test last year amid fears children with poor reading skills were slipping through the net.

The test, to be taken by children at the end of their first year of compulsory schooling, will require pupils to sound out or decode a series of words, some of which are made up, to test their reading skills.

The union said the government’s policy of promoting phonics would send a message to schools and parents that other aspects of reading were less important.

A poll for the union found that two-thirds of teachers (66%) thought the test was unnecessary, 67% believed it was a waste of money and 63% said the test was “inappropriate” for many children with special educational needs and those who have English as a second language.

The NUT leader, Christine Blower said: “Our members are saying five is too young to fail.”

Hazel Danson, a phonics teacher and chairman of the NUT’s education committee, said reading involved far more “than just decoding a text”.

“You might as well be giving them quite frankly a page of French and they can decode that but have absolutely no understanding or can ascribe meaning to it,” Danson said. “One headteacher has said he thought it was damaging to give children material they couldn’t read because they would see that as a failure. If you follow that logic, you would never be able to give children any books that had any conversational dialogue in it because the word ‘said’ is impossible to decode phonically.”

A pilot of the test carried out last year saw some bright children struggle as they were trying to make real words out of made-up ones, and failing as a result, said Danson.

“Most adults do not read phonically,” she said. “They read by visual memory or they use context queueing to predict what the sentence might be, so some children who have already got that skill quite early on who were taking the test were left confused.”

Blower highlighted a “very odd, perverse incentive” to drill children in learning non-words, “because if you know that you’re a better, or more advanced, or more able reader you might try to make a word out of a word that’s a non-word.

“Teachers will have a tendency to say ‘well, let’s practice lots of non-words, so when you see a non-word you don’t try to make them be words’. How stupid is that?”

Blower said that if, at some stage, the test results were used in league tables, “you would have people doing the exact opposite of what you want them to do. You would be teaching them [children] to not read, essentially.

“When reading is essential to being able to work with the rest of the curriculum, why would you want to do something that would potentially demotivate not only the children who might have a lot of difficulty with the test because maybe they haven’t reached that level, but also the kids who are actually beyond that who then fail it because they are trying to bring skills to bear which are not useful to being able to do the test?”

A Department for Education spokesman said: “We have been clear that the results for the reading check will not be published in league tables. Schools will be required to tell parents their own child’s results.

“Standards of reading need to rise. At the moment around one in six children leaves primary school unable to read to the level we expect, and one in 10 boys leaves able to read no better than a seven-year-old. These children go on to struggle at secondary school and beyond.

“The new check is based on synthetic phonics, a method internationally proven to get results. The evidence from the pilot carried out last year is clear – thousands of six-year-olds, who would otherwise slip through the net, will get the extra reading help they need to become good readers, to flourish at secondary school, and to enjoy a lifetime’s love of reading.”

While NUT members gathered for the third day of the conference in Torquay, the NASUWT union was staging its third day of debate in Birmingham. A poll showed two-thirds of teachers had experienced or witnessed workplace bullying in the past 12 months, with one in five victims quitting their job as a result. The survey revealed that 67% witnessed or were subject to bullying, harassment and abuse from colleagues.

The country’s two largest teaching unions put the government on notice on Saturday of their intention to continue industrial action, including strikes, in protest at pensions reforms. The motion backed by NASUWT delegates on Saturday also cited pay and workplace-related issues. On Monday the NUT will debate its strategy for opposing government plans to introduce local pay.

Teachers’ union considers legal challenge over free school assessments

Teachers’ union considers legal challenge over free school assessments

The Guardian World News |by Hélène Mulholland

Michael Gove

The union says it is not convinced that Michael Gove has applied the law correctly. Photograph: Chris Ison/PA

The largest teachers’ union is considering a legal challenge over Michael Gove’sfree schools policy amid concerns that it is damaging children’s education.

The National Union of Teachers (NUT) could appeal to the information commissioner over Gove’s refusal, following a freedom of information request by the union, to disclose the assessments of the impact on nearby schools that he is legally required to obtain when considering whether or not to approve the opening of a free school.

The union says it is not convinced Gove has applied the law correctly, citing a number of cases in which free schools are opening in areas where there are already surplus places or where they will create surplus places, leading to what the NUT said was unnecessary competition.

Separately, the NUT threatened to refuse to co-operate with Ofsted inspections, amid concerns that the school testing regime had a major impact on staff workload and was damaging to morale.

The motion also raised fears about changes that would see weaker schools inspected more frequently.

There are already teachers in Northern Ireland who are refusing to co-operate with their schools inspectorate, the conference heard.

Martin Powell Davies, a teacher from Lewisham in south London and a member of the NUT’s ruling executive, said: “I’m sure there are lots of us who have considered whether we could boycott Ofsted, whether we could have non-co-operation, and perhaps that’s going to be a lot to ask people to do.”

But he said that when the amendment had been discussed there had been excitement among members of “the thought that you might just be able to tell that inspector ‘class, stop what you’re doing we’ve got an unwelcome visitor and we need them to leave’”.

The motion calls for the union’s executive to “reinvigorate the campaign for the abolition of Ofsted”.

The move on free schools follows votes by both the NUT and NASUWT at their annual conferences over the weekend to step up opposition to the government on pay, pensions, working conditions and job losses. There could be strike action as early as this summer.

Kevin Courtney, deputy general secretary of the NUT, said it was in the public interest for the information to be in the public domain.

“What we are talking about is the impact free schools have on other schools, that we think are damaging to education for children in the system.”

The union said that in Bristol and Wandsworth, for example, free schools were adding to the surplus of secondary school places when there was a need for more primary places.

The NUT published research about the “negative impact” of free schools on their neighbours, citing a number of case studies. The Beccles free school in Suffolk, due to open this September, is expected to cost the neighbouring Sir John Leman high school£1m, or 15% of the budget.

Jeremy Rowe, the headteacher at Sir John Leman, which recently converted to an academy, was quoted as saying the proposed free school would be a disaster and a waste of money. Either his school would remain full and the new school empty, “or both are half empty”, he said.

The NUT also cited Becket Keys Church school, planned for Brentwood, in Essex, on the site of a former school, Sawyers Hall College. The union said Sawyers Hall was closing as a result of a local school reorganisation and falling school rolls.

Celia Dignan, of the NUT’s policy team, said: “At a time when huge amounts of schools are facing cuts it seems completely bizarre that they are looking at these applications and thought that they are serving some kind of additional need.”

The study was released to coincide with a debate at the NUT conference in Torquay on what the union branded the privatisation of education under the coalition.

A motion warned that the rapid development of free schools was“creating a market of competing schools that threaten to destabilise existing school provision”.

Teachers are concerned because academies and free schools are accountable to the education secretary, rather than their local authority, and have greater freedom to change the timings of the school day, teachers’ pay and the subjects they teach. To date, 24 free schools have been opened and 70 more are in the pipeline.

Courtney said: “The secretary of state is under an obligation to consider the impact on other schools, to consider the impact on maintained schools, academies, further education institutions, of setting up free schools in any particular area. He is under that obligation in law. But we say that free schools are being set up in areas where they are going to be damaging to existing good provision.

“It goes way beyond the idea that you need some surplus places to allow parental choice, and it is a massive expansion of surplus places in a way that will damage education. It is existing good schools that are being damaged. We have asked the secretary of state to share with us the impact assessments that he must have made about the effect of implementing these schools and he has refused to share that information with us… and so we are now at the stage where we are taking a complaint to the information commissioner because we are convinced that it is in the public interest for this information to be in the public domain.”

A Department for Education spokeswoman said: “Many of the first free schools were set up by talented heads and teachers with years of experience. These professionals listened to what parents had to say and responded with more local choice for children. As a result, the vast majority of free schools are oversubscribed. It is disappointing that the work of these teachers is being overlooked by the NUT.”

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