The threat of strikes by teachers in seven secondary schools in Lewisham, south London, has forced school managers to withdraw an unfair pay policy.
The NUT’s national dispute on pay, workload, and pensions, provides a framework for union groups at school or borough level to escalate action in order to “secure an acceptable pay policy”, and the victory in Lewisham shows that, by standing firm, teachers can force concessions from local managements.
Schools in Lewisham had wanted to peg teachers’ pay to Ofsted grading of lessons, which the NUT described as “arbitrary and unfair”.
Union activists said that performance-related pay policies tied to Ofsted criteria could result in pay cuts for teachers. They argued that, if a child happened not to be paying attention in a class that was observed and graded by Ofsted, it could cost the teacher £2,000.
The new policy remains performance-linked, but will now be based on progress towards defined appraisal targets within the schools themselves rather than Ofsted criteria.
The threat of strikes also forced management to withdraw a stipulation that teachers must submit a “mainly paper evidence base” for applications for higher pay grades, which would have substantially added to the degree of bureaucratic paperwork teachers already have to contend with.
Strikes had been due to take place on Thursday 28 November, Tuesday 3 December, Wednesday 4 December, and on 7, 8, and 9 January. Following negotiations, the November and December strikes were suspended. As Solidarity went to press, union sources said the January strikes would be kept on until the commitments made in negotiations were seen to be implemented.
A union statement said: “The fact that teachers have shown that they are prepared to make such a firm stand over policies will hopefully help dissuade any school who might have been thinking about taking advantage of Gove’s damaging legislation to unfairly block pay-progression next September.
“The successful outcome in Lewisham shows what can be achieved through pursuing co-ordinated escalation of action, paying careful attention to the issues being raised by members across different schools at each stage of the campaign. It shows again that the depth of anger at performance-pay still runs deep.
“Now that anger must be harnessed into further escalating national action to defeat the national legislation which is still at the heart of our national dispute with Michael Gove.”