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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

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.”

National Union of Teachers leader attacks free school ‘vanity projects’

National Union of Teachers leader attacks free school ‘vanity projects’

The Guardian World News |by Hélène Mulholland

Christine Blower

Christine Blower renewed her call for a merger of teaching unions, on the closing day of the NUT annual conference. Photograph: Sean Smith for the Guardian

The National Union of Teachers has accused the government of wasting money on “vanity projects” after finding that £337m has been spent on the academies and free schools programme in less than two years.

The NUT is strongly opposed to reforms that it says are leading to the privatisation of state education and putting national pay and conditions under threat. It says there is no evidence that academies and free schools will drive up standards, and says some free schools are being set up in areas close to existing high performing schools.

The union’s figures show £337.2m has been spent in support of the government’s policy on academies and free schools since the general election in May 2010, with the Department for Education (DfE) spending £305.6m on the programme up to February 2012.

Last week the DfE revealed that the majority of England’s state secondary schools were, or were about to become, academies. Primary schools are far more reluctant: 5% are, or are about to become, academies. To date, 24 free schools have been set up and 70 more are in the pipeline.

A total of £2.6m was paid to 27 free school groups between November 2010 and February 2012 to support their opening. Five former private schools that converted to free schools received£4.26m between them, and 19 new free schools that opened last September shared a total of £5m for their 1,664 pupils, which the union claims is equivalent to the size of one average secondary school.

The figures were drawn from totting up payments released under the “open government” commitment, under which individual payments of £25,000 or more listed on monthly spreadsheets.

The NUT leader, Christine Blower, unveiled the figures in her address to delegates on the closing day of the union’s annual conference in Torquay, which on Monday heard calls for measures including industrial action over the changes.

Blower said: “As we know, because the government tells us all the time, we are in a time of constrained budgets and money is tight. So you might reasonably expect the DfE to be watching every penny. It might come as a surprise then to find that a whopping£305.6m was spent on the academies and free schools programme between April 2010 and February 2012.

“An increasing amount of staff resource is being used at the DfE on these vanity projects when the department, as a whole, is shrinking. Little wonder that Michael Gove is known as the secretary of state for free schools and academies.”

Blower renewed her call for a merger of teaching unions to bolster their strength in the face of what she feels is a multi-pronged attack on the profession and state education. Both the NUT and the NASUWT have resolved to take further industrial action in defence of pensions and pay if the government presses ahead with plans to move away from national pay scales.

“We will continue to work to achieve the maximum unity and unity in action with all organisations but never lose sight of the prize that is a single unified teachers’ union,” Blower said.

The union said at the weekend that it was considering lodging an appeal to the information commissioner over Gove’s refusal, following a freedom of information request, to disclose the assessments of the impact on nearby schools that he is legally required to obtain when considering whether to approve the opening of a free school.

Academies and free schools have greater freedom to change the timings of the school day, teachers’ pay and the subjects they teach, and are accountable to the education secretary rather than to their local authority.

Education System Could Be Completely Privatised By 2015, Union Predicts

Education System Could Be Completely Privatised By 2015, Union Predicts

The Guardian World News|by Hélène Mulholland

Downhills primary school

The government has come under renewed attack for trying to force Downhills primary school in north London, to turn into an academy. Photograph: David Levene

England’s education system risks being completely privatised within three years, the leader of one of the country’s largest teaching unions has predicted.

Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers (NUT), whose union will strike in the capital over teachers’ pensions on Wednesday, said the trade union movement could be haunted by “the spectre of a completely privatised education service by the end of the coalition’s first term in government” unless it took significant action.

Blower said she was alarmed by the pace at which ministers wanted schools to cut links with their local authorities and become academies and free schools.

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.

Some 40% of secondary schools in England are now academies, and Michael Gove, the education secretary, has recently come under renewed attack for forcing Downhills, a primary school in north London, to turn into an academy.

Blower said: “Unless we, as the trade union movement, in conjunction with community campaigning, are able to mount a significant campaign … to put the brake on this and unless the Liberal Democrats start behaving consistently with their own policy, which is to oppose academies and free schools, there is the spectre of a completely fragmented and privatised [education] service that is not in anybody’s interest,” she said.

Blower said her union was examining whether it was possible to use the tribunal system to challenge the government’s moves to force schools to become academies.

Delegates at the National Union of Teachers’ annual conference in Torquay next week will call for industrial action against academies in some parts of the country. Others will argue that academies represent “the biggest attack yet on comprehensive education by any national government”.

The NUT and the University and College Union, which represents lecturers, are staging a London-wide strike on Wednesday against government plans they claim make their members “pay more, work longer and get less in retirement”.

Teachers will have to contribute 50% more to their pensions over the next three years at a time when top earners can look forward to a cut in the 50p top rate of tax, said Blower.

She will tell strikers the pension changes are “nothing short of a tax on public sector workers, given that teachers’ pensions are sustainable”.

The NUT leader warned that government proposals to award teachers a different salary according to where they live would become a “very big issue”. This would lead to pay cuts at a time when teachers were already in the throes of a two-year pay freeze on top of the controversial pension changes, she said.

George Osborne, the chancellor, confirmed in his budget statement last week that he wanted to see public sector pay “more responsive to local pay rates” to help the private sector to fill jobs and expand.

But the NUT has warned that any move away nationally set rates for the job would lead to a major shortfall in teachers prepared to work in some parts of the country

Local Pay Rates Would Create ‘Real Teacher Shortages’, Says Union

Local pay rates would create ‘real teacher shortages’, says union

The Guardian World News |by Hélène Mulholland

Christine Blower

Christine Blower said teachers, trained in the same way and doing the same job, should be paid ‘the rate for the job’. Photograph: Sean Smith for the Guardian

One of the country’s largest teaching unions has warned that plans to introduce local pay bargaining in education will lead to “real teacher shortages” in areas where pay is dragged down.

George Osborne, the chancellor, confirmed in his budget statement on Wednesday that he wants to see public sector pay “more responsive to local pay rates” to help the private sector to fill jobs and expand.

But the National Union of Teachers (NUT) warned that any move away nationally set rates for the job would lead to a major shortfall in teachers prepared to work in some parts of the country.

The view is echoed by TUC union umbrella group, which says that moving towards local pay risks complex, costly and inefficient pay-setting for public sector employers as well as regional skills shortages as public servants opt to work in areas where pay rates are higher.

Christine Blower, the NUT general secretary, said the issue will be part of a priority motion being drawn up for the union’s annual conference over Easter, which will bundle together a number of grievances over pay.

Blower said teachers, trained in the same way and doing the same job, should be paid “the rate for the job” and adding that most high performing education systems have national pay scales and there was no evidence that “messing with pay” would improve the system.

The NUT says that national pay scales in teaching serve as a benchmark widely used by independent schools.

Her deputy, Kevin Courtney, said: “Private sector employers don’t use regional pay or local pay by and large – all the research shows that. So the idea that we are now going to impose it on the public sector we think will lead to real teacher shortages in some areas of the country if it actually is implemented.”

The chancellor sent evidence to pay review bodies on Wednesday to make the case for moving to local pay rates. The document suggests a pay “premium” of around 8% exists for those working in the public sector compared with similar jobs in the private sector, and that the public sector “pays more than is necessary” to recruit, retain and motivate staff.

It goes on to say: “The evidence suggests that the quality of public services would directly benefit if public sector pay became more responsive to local labour markets. In places where private sector firms have to compete for workers with public sector employers offering a large pay premium, the introduction of more local, market-facing pay could help private businesses, particularly in some sectors become more competitive and expand.”

But the TUC warns in its own submission to the consultation on local pay that a combination of pay freezes, pay caps and pension contribution increases will already have resulted in public sector workers taking an average 16% real-terms wage cut by 2015, and holding back pay even more will place a real strain on family finances and force them to spend less money in local shops and businesses, hitting the private sector hard.

“Reducing public sector wages by 1% would hit local economies by at least £1.7bn a year,” the TUC submission warns. “This would take nearly £200m out of the north-west economy, for example. Reducing public sector wages year on year would hit local businesses and lead to more business failures and job losses.”

A Treasury spokesman said: “Independent evidence shows that existing differences in local living costs lead to more vacancies for teachers and nurses in some areas. The introduction of more local, market-facing pay could address this while also supporting the expansion of private sector businesses in some areas. We await the proposals from the pay review bodies, which we will consider carefully.”

The latest flashpoint with the government over pay comes as the NUT prepares to debate the prospect of further action over pension changes at its annual conference.

The union took part in last year’s mass walkout on 30 November, and its London members are due to stage a one-day strike next Wednesday as part of the NUT’s continued campaign against the government’s pension plans.

Strike Pledge Over School Summer Holiday And Term Changes

Strike pledge over school summer holiday and term changes

BBC |March 22, 2012


By Angela Harrison Education correspondent, BBC News

Attempts to shorten school summer holidays and change terms in England could lead to more regional strike action.

National Union of Teachers members in Nottingham City plan to strike over the issue next Thursday and have asked NUT conference delegates to back them.

Nottingham City Council is planning to move schools to a five-term year with shorter summer holidays.

Meanwhile London teachers are to strike on Wednesday over pension changes.

The National Union of Teachers (NUT) said the London action was the “next step” in the pensions campaign – but the Department for Education has called the action “irresponsible”.

The Nottingham City members hope support will be given to them at the Easter gathering.

With holiday prices rising dramatically in the summer and at other peak times, some argue that changes to terms could help families get away.

Most state schools in England have three long terms with holidays at Christmas, Easter and in the summer, as well as half-term breaks. The summer break is typically five or six weeks long.

Nottingham City Council says moving to a five-term year will be better for children academically, partly because the summer break will be shorter.

It says pupils can forget some of what they have learned during the summer holidays.

And it says the change would allow parents to book family holidays outside the peak season.

The plan is that from 2013, children would return to school in late August after a month-long break and then have a two-week break in the autumn, at Christmas, in spring and in late May.

There would be a long weekend break at Easter when this fell outside of the fixed spring break.

However, Nottinghamshire County Council is against making a similar change, meaning families in the area might have children with different holidays. It is consulting on the issue.

Longer hours fearUnder Labour, there was much discussion about schools changing their terms to this model.

And now, under the coalition’s academy programme, where schools take on greater independence, schools or groups of schools will have more freedom to vary their days and terms.

This makes the issue more pressing for teaching unions, who want to protect their members’ pay and conditions.

At its annual conference this Easter, NUT delegates will be asked to back a motion which calls for“appropriate industrial action up to and including strike action”where “negotiations to resist imposed changes have failed”.

The motion says the union is concerned that if the school day and year are extended, teachers may be expected to work longer hours for no additional pay.

It says the government wants to lengthen the school year and the school day, and adds that teachers need a long summer break to recharge their batteries.

“Conference is well aware of the long hours already worked by teachers and the essential need for a period of genuine rest and recuperation only found by many in the long summer break,” it says.

But any action would only take place where there were plans to make such changes.

At a media conference on Thursday, the general secretary of the National Union of Teachers Christine Blower said: “Teachers and pupils in England and Wales already spend longer in the classroom than others.

“We are not saying we want to decrease the time for teaching.

“One of the things UNICEF finds is that children in the UK are the most unhappy children in the world. That isn’t because they want to be in the classroom for longer.”

She added that she did not think holiday companies would cut the price of summer holidays if terms changed.

“I have no confidence that the travel industry would respond in a philanthropic way,” she said.

The government wants schools to have freedom over when they are open. Some of the new academies and free schools are running classes on Saturdays and have made changes to the school day – such as beginning lessons earlier or finishing later.

Ministers are also concerned about parents taking their children out of school during term-time, saying this can damage a child’s education and leave them struggling to catch up.

A DfE spokesperson said it was down to schools and local authorities to decide their own term dates and holidays – not government.

“The education profession and academics have been debating this issue for years. There is an age-old problem of pupils falling back over the holidays because we’ve got a school year designed for children in the 1900s.

“It’s right that schools draw up term times in the best interests of their pupils. Creating four, five or six term school years is not easy. Heads need to make sure it doesn’t penalise families with children in different schools and get teachers on board.”

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