NEC Elections 2021

UCU Left calls on members to vote for candidates who are committed to fighting for Health and Safety, workers’ rights, equality and protecting the planet.  

In the coming UCU NEC elections it is important all members vote.  Low polls comfort only the employers, who use them as an argument for ignoring union reps.  

Five Key Issues

We recommend voting for the following candidates:

Honorary TreasurerProfessor Paul Anderson
Midlands HEAlan Barker
Rhiannon Lockley
North West HESunil Banga
Saira Weiner
South HE Mark Abel
Richard Bradbury
Dr Deepa Govindarajan Driver
South FE Philip Wilson
UK-elected HE Sunil Banga
Maria Chondrogianni
Marion Hersh
Lesley McGorrigan
UK-elected FEMargot Hill
Saleem Rashid
Representative of Disabled Members Marian Mayer
Representative of LGBT+ MembersBee Hughes
Representatives of Black Members Dr Deepa Govindarajan Driver
Juliana Ojinnaka
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Organising for No Going Back: Fighting for control of education under lockdown

A UCU Left Open Webinar 

Register here

Watch this space for speaker updates.

The latest lockdown has been forced on the Tory government against their will. Just a day after proclaiming that schools were safe, Johnson was forced by the teachers’ unions to heed the warnings of scientists and close schools and colleges.

There are huge lessons for UCU in the successful organising tactics of our sister union NEU. The battles are not over. College and university managers will want to misuse the exemptions in the rules to force some staff to continue unsafe teaching which is not essential. 

More widely, they will want to maintain control over staff and established pedagogical norms even while they are teaching online from home.

The pandemic has exposed the crisis in education from top to bottom. It gives us the chance to end exams-based teaching give more power to teachers to develop more innovative and productive ways of learning and to decolonise the curriculum. But this won’t happen without a fight.

Come to this open webinar to hear speakers on these issues and discuss how we can take control of our work.

No return to unsafe workplaces – ballot to defend education workers, students and communities

Jo Grady’s statement in today’s papers threatening strike action against any premature return to campus and face-to-face teaching should be applauded.

UCU is saying clearly that we will not allow employers to put staff and students at risk as they did at the start of last term. Johnson’s original plan was to lift the lockdown after the February half term. With infection and death rates still at speeds and rates worse than at any time since the pandemic began moving back to face-to-face teaching by the half term would be disastrous. Already the right-wing press and Tory back bench MPs are attempting to build a campaign to force the government to stick to its plans. 

To protect the lives of our staff, students and communities we must act collectively and if that takes industrial action then so be it. UCU branches have already shown on several occasions that they can organise ballots and successfully break through the Tory anti-union ballot thresholds. 

To lay the basis of our ability to do this we now need the kind of mass meetings of reps and members that were called by the National Education Union to arm them with a strategy that can win and give confidence to put the General Secretary’s words into action.

We need every branch moving to ballot on safety and be prepared to nationally coordinate action if their employer attempts to move universities or colleges back to face-to-face on-site teaching prematurely. This is why an NEC must be called to outline a clear programme of action that members can have confidence in. This must also include the collective use of section 44 so that members can act immediately to protect themselves and their students as the NEU did so effectively.  

Yesterday’s impressive UCU Solidarity Movement conference called for student staff assemblies on every campus – this can help us to create the kind of alliance represented by Jo Grady and NUS President Larissa Kennedy’s statements suggest.

School educators have halted the government’s plans to return to unsafe schools twice through a mass campaign and the threat of action. Now we need to do the same to defend staff, students and the future of education.

Busting 3 myths about the ‘superiority’ of exams

It is time to abandon our obsession with exams being the best form of assessment


Education secretary Gavin Williamson’s announcement two weeks ago that GCSE and A-level exams would be cancelled this summer has rightly been welcomed by many within education. Teachers also welcomed his statement that we should “trust in teachers, rather than algorithms”.  Indeed – great news. Last year’s exam fiasco with Ofqual’s attempt to grade students according to an algorithm, rather than teacher assessment, shone a light on the inadequate and discriminatory assessment system currently in place.

Although, in the same speech, Williamson’s call to trust teachers revealed itself to be superficial with another call for parents to contact Ofsted if they feel that their children are not getting the education they deserve. Predictably, this backfired with Ofsted instead receiving messages from thousands of parents expressing thanks for all the work teachers have done.

Not all exams were cancelled, though. Btec exams were not, revealing once again the elitism within the exam system. The DfE clearly forgot about these exams. Btecs, after all, are not GCSEs or A levels – Btecs are for someone else’s children.

Then the government did half a U-turn, placing the decision to cancel them with colleges. It is shocking to hear from the Association of Colleges that a significant proportion of colleges refused to cancel despite infection rates surpassing those of March/April last year and the number of deaths reaching over 80,000. Reading college leaderships’ attempts to justify their decision was torturous and embarrassing. Apparently, it’s about placing the students at the “centre of the learner journey”….  

Speaking in Parliament, Williamson stated that: “Exams are the best form of assessment.” Of course, he offered no evidence for this statement. He clearly believes that he does not need to because it is overwhelmingly accepted that exams are synonymous with education and without them the standard of young people’s education would deteriorate rapidly.

Williamson has now written to the head of Ofqual urging the watchdog to incorporate externally set and assessed “tasks or papers”. We need to ensure that the consultation does not turn this into mini-exams.

In April last year, I wrote that it was time to close the exam factories and introduce new qualifications driven by teacher assessment.

Around the same time, the UCU put forward an alternative to exam-based qualifications based around project-based learning. 

Surely, as we enter our third lockdown and all teaching is moved online and exams are cancelled once again, it is even more important that we dispense with the obsession that exams are the most superior assessment model.

What are the main arguments in support of exams being the most superior assessment model?

Misconceptions about exams

First up is the idea that exams are more rigorous. Anyone who has taught syllabuses that are dependent on exams and ones that are dependent on project-based assessed learning will say that exams are a lot less rigorous. Teachers are forced to teach to the exam. Managers attempt to shoe-horn practitioners into teaching the same scheme of work at the same time to ensure compliancy, stifling any attempt at creativity within the classroom.  All of which leads to the stifling of critical thinking. 

Second, exams stop cheating. Teacher assessment of project-based work, the argument goes, is open to teacher prejudice and cheating. Parents write their children’s work for them and students plagiarise work. The vast majority of young people want to do well at school and college. They want to learn how to do the work themselves. When, as a result of the pressure to pass and avoid failing, which determines future life chances at 16, some students go online and cut and paste, it is not difficult for teachers to detect this. What this argument against teacher assessment really shows is that those who adhere to such a position don’t trust our staff or our students. Distrust is the foundation of the exam model.

Third, exams create a level playing field. This is clearly wrong on a number of levels. The algorithms that are put in place by awarding bodies build in inequality. It has been well documented that class, gender and race all impact on how well students do in an exam. Students from wealthier families can afford to pay the £40 an hour tuition fee to help get their child through an exam, but many cannot.

Exams not only bring down standards but they also raise significant mental health issues amongst young people. Suicide rates and self-harm rise dramatically during exam periods as young people’s anxiety rises as they fear failure. This is abuse.

The exam model does not even help the economic development of society. Countries in which there is less reliance on examinations within education have been more dynamic economically than the low-wage and precarious UK economy.

But exams have never been preferred because they raise standards, stop people cheating or create a level playing field.  They were introduced and are maintained to “educate” young people to accept that competition rather than collaboration is the natural order of things. 

As we await Ofqual’s guidelines on how this year’s exams will be assessed,let’s do all we can to ensure that the authorities do trust the teacher and not the algorithm, and campaign for a new education system where exams are consigned to the dustbin of history. 

Sean Vernell is further education committee vice-chair at the University and College Union

UCU Left statement on the current lockdown

Just one day after declaring that he had no doubt in his mind that schools were safe, Boris Johnson closed schools and colleges as part of another national lockdown. Johnson and the Tories have shown that despite 75,000 deaths from Covid-19 they were prepared to see tens of thousands more lose their lives in the pursuit of herd immunity and profits for the bosses as workers were forced back into workplaces. 

It is clear that the government was forced into this belated action by the NEU schoolteachers union, which organised to ensure that most primary schools would not reopen to all pupils whatever the government said. This represents another impressive victory by our sister education union over a government that has repeatedly dragged its feet over action necessary to combat the virus and has consistently put the profits of bosses ahead of our class’s safety. 

This result was achieved by the NEU taking the bold strategic decision to organise collectively around health and safety. They wrote to all schools demanding they close or face the threat of members unilaterally deciding to work from home. They wrote to members calling on them to join the campaign and add their voices to the submission of Section 44 letters under the 1996 Employment Rights Act. Their success was not due to having friendly employers, as our General Secretary claimed this week. The corporations which run academy chains are no more sympathetic to trade unions than those running FE college groups. It was achieved by breaking through the worry and hesitation we all have as individuals and leading a collective stand.

At New City College, London, where management were trying to force staff to go in to teach this week, the branch organised a 200 strong union meeting and agreed to submit Section 44 letters. This courage paid off. Before Johnson eventually announced the third lockdown management met union officers and agreed not to force anyone back onto site.  

The fact that nurseries remain open even under this lockdown proves the role of trade unions in forcing the government’s hand. Nurseries are vectors of transmission of the virus into the wider community, but because nursery workers are generally not unionised, Johnson can get away with keeping them open to allow parents to work. Only collective organisation and action by workers can ensure that the health and safety of ordinary people is taken seriously.

Although FE colleges have been closed as a result of Johnson’s U-turn, there is little change to the situation for universities where online teaching has already become the norm. The exemptions for particular subjects remain, and it is around how these classes are delivered that there will be battles. 

Only absolutely essential and unavoidable face-to-face teaching should be taking place in universities and colleges, and where it is we must be insisting it is covered by updated risk assessments that address the fact that the new variant of the virus is 70% more transmissible. It is a legal requirement for employers to update risk assessments in light of changing risks, and no education worker should step into a classroom, shared offices, or student-facing services such as libraries, without appropriate measures relating to travel to and from the campus, ventilation, PPE, mask wearing in class, testing etc. being in place for the new variant.

There will also be battles over the nature of the work we do from home. The pandemic has exposed all the flaws of our education system from the disastrous marketised funding model in HE to the reliance on exams in FE. The crisis gives us an opportunity to fight for control over all aspects of education. 

We need to be resisting management attempts to reach into our homes to control our working schedules, while demanding that we have the necessary equipment to do our jobs effectively and safely. There must be clear reductions in workloads and recognition of the inequalities of homeworking through the use of equality impact assessments.

We need to use the space opened up by the cancellation of exams and the opportunities provided by online forums to push for more creative, innovative and exciting ways to teach and learn. For too long we have had to put up with governments and managements telling us how to teach and what should and should not be on the curriculum. We have had to endure impositions and inspections based on arbitrary metrics. In reality, it has always been staff who have known what is best for the educational and intellectual development of our students.

We also need to organise with students to ensure that managements cannot pit students against staff. This means defending students’ demands for rent rebates, reductions in fees and for additional support to make on-line learning effective. We have to recognise that whilst in-person provision might be preferable the safety of all comes first.

We should build on the brilliant victory by NEU and begin to assert a different agenda for post-16 education, one based on meaningful learning and genuine intellectual inquiry, which properly addresses the issues raised by Black Lives Matter and other liberatory movements and treats students as equal partners in the educational process rather than ‘customers’ who can be milked for every possible penny in fees and rents.

Alongside defending jobs and fighting for decent pay, these are the issues that our union should now be taking up. The NEU has again provided a fantastic example to us of how to use technology to organise effectively and win. The holding of a mass members meeting of 400,000 and the recruitment of 14,000 new members in just 48 hours shows the potential that exists for trade unions that act in bold and decisive ways.  UCU nationally has rightly campaigned for remote learning to be the default position for colleges and universities. What the mass member meetings will do to is to give confidence to members at branch level to campaign to implement this demand if management fail to agree.

This is  why UCU must follow suit with mass reps/members meetings to create a movement that fights for control of education by its staff and insists that there is no going back to the pre-pandemic business-as-usual model.

The pandemic: A critical point – we must act to save lives

Covid-19 in the UK

2021 has started where 2020 finished – in chaos, confusion and fear for millions of people. What we do now will determine the future for our students’ education and our members lives.

It is shocking that the death rate has reached over 70,000 and daily contagion rates continueto surpass those reached in March/April last year. Thousands have died unnecessarily due to the government’s refusal to listen to the advice of scientists and education unions but instead put the needs of profit before people’s lives.

Whilst the news of the Oxford Astra Zeneca vaccine availability is welcome, the short to medium term prospects are still ones in which many people will contract the virus and die from it unless strict safety plans are implemented.

The government’s latest last-minute announcement on schools, colleges and universities has once again led to confusion and despair amongst all those who work in the sector.

SAGE (government scientific advisors) leaked minutes from Dec 22nd make it clear that they (the scientists) believe keeping schools open will allow transmission rates to rise:

It is highly unlikely that measures with stringency and adherence in line with the measures in England in November (i.e. with schools open) would be sufficient to maintain R below 1 in the presence of the new variant. R would be lower with schools closed…’

Once again, the government ignored their own scientific advisors’ advice. For full leaked SAGE minutes click here.

The government’s plans do not go far enough to protect lives. If they had followed the science and UCU advice we would be in a much better position to control the spread of the virus and therefore ensure a lot less disruption to the education of our students in the last few months.

Unfortunately, they didn’t and now, once again, we will be moving more students onto remote learning. Government ministers’ recent discovery that many young people can’t access remote learning due to poverty and therefore the best place for them is on site, beggar’s belief. A government that cut EMA, raised tuition fees and has watched food banks grow, now tells us that for our student’s sake they need to be taught face-to-face, clearly has no credibility.

It is a shame that the government’s argument too often found an echo within the sector from people who should have known better.

We would all prefer to be back in the classroom, but it’s not about what we prefer it is about what is safe.

In March last year many employers worked with UCU in the colleges to ensure mitigation measures were put in place. Unfortunately, from September onwards too many college leaderships moved away from collaboration with the unions and fought to implement a business-as-usual approach. When the second lockdown came in November and schools and colleges were not included college leaderships did very little to resist this irresponsible decision.  In fact, many moved to increase the amount of face-to-face teaching.

It was a serious mistake for government and the leadership of the sector not to move to online learning in November. If they had have done, we would be in a far better position now.

There are reports of some colleges preparing to bring in staff and students from this Monday to teach face to face which even the government are not arguing for! Let us be clear. It won’t be just the government that have blood on their hands – it will be college leaderships too if they continue with this negligent behaviour.

We hope the leadership of the sector recognises that we can’t rely on government to make the right choices when it comes to staff and students’ safety. Councils like Brighton and Hove and Birmingham have ignored government plans to keep their primary schools open.

We have to take control and act now to protect lives.

The government plan as it stands for FE:

From Monday 4th Jan preparations for mass testing for all staff and students and all teaching to move online.*

UCU have real concerns about testing is going to be carried out.  The lateral flow testing method that will be used is not always reliable. One report [see: Evidence summary for lateral flow devices (LFD) in relation to care homes – GOV.UK (] revealed up to 50% of true positive cases were not detected (and was dependent on the training and experience of the testers).

  • ‘A’ level students to be taught face to face from the 11th   Jan and everyone else from 18th Jan. This will do nothing to reduce the spread of the virus and will put staff lives at risk.
  • January Exams to go ahead as planned. This is scandalous. Many students will not be able to attend due to ill health or looking after family members who are ill.

What needs to be done:

  • All teaching to be moved online immediately except the children of Key workers and vulnerable students.
  • Remote learning to continue after the 18th Jan and remain until there is at least a 5-week continuous decline in infection rates.
  • All qualifications based on exam assessment to be scrapped and replaced with teacher assessment.
  • Flexibility must be introduced in how remote lessons are scheduled. For some students and staff keeping to existing timetables might work – for others it might not.
  • As front-line workers all FE staff to be prioritised to be vaccinated before any attempt to increase face-to-face teaching.

UCU must act now nationally.

The NEU nationally have recommended to their members that they should not return to work on Monday and move immediately to online learning.  200,000 people have signed the petition in support of this position already. Sign here to support our teachers. They have organised all members meeting were 100,000 teachers and support staff attended.

UCU has been right to campaign for remote learning to be the default position. We must now act collectively to force the government and our employers to protect staff and students lives. Of course, the new variant of the virus means that new risk assessments need to be reassessed.

However, this is only central if we agree that colleges need to continue a ratio of face-to-face and remote teaching. But we are not in this situation at this moment of time. All colleges must move to remote learning for the vast majority of teaching. There is no other way that we can keep our staff, our students and our communities safe from the virus.

UCU must not hesitate to make the same recommendations as the NEU. UCU must call an all members online meeting this week. UCU must, like the NEU, advise its members not to go into colleges and move all teaching online from Monday.

Also like the NEU, UCU must call upon its members to use Section 44 if employers refuse to move to remote learning. This is not the time to second guess what the legal ramifications of such a call may or may not have. Lives are at risk. FE has a much older workforce compared to other education sectors. Many are in their mid-50s and mid-sixties and many from BAME backgrounds – groups that are finding themselves more likely to be hospitalised by the virus compared to others.

On Tuesday London Region UCU has called an officers meeting to discuss what steps we need to take to protect lives. Vicky Blake will be one of the speakers. Click here to register.

The NHS is in crisis. Doctors are worried that they are moving towards a situation where they will have to decide who they save and who they don’t.

We must act now to save the NHS and lives.

Sean Vernell UCU Further Education Committee Vice – Chair.

*Except children of key workers and vulnerable students.

UCU motion: Act now to save lives


1)     Over 70,000 people have died and daily infection rates have surpassed those reached in March/April.

2)     Cases, admissions and deaths are surging at a time when hospitals are reaching or have passed capacity.

3)     All medical advice, including SAGE, believe hat colleges are sites of contamination and will spread the virus.

4)     The NEU call to advise their members not to return to work and move all teaching online.

5)     Government demands that all January exams to go head.


1)     The government have been irresponsible in their handing of the pandemic by refusing to follow the science.

2)      It is not safe to teach face-to-face in colleges when the infection and death rates are rising so rapidly.

3)     To protect staff, students and our communities remote learning is the only safe delivery model for all except vulnerable students and children of key workers.

4)     Government refusal to scarp exams and replace them with teacher assessment is unfair and will lead to students’ from low-income backgrounds being disadvantaged.

Resolves to:

1)     Call on management to move all teaching (except vulnerable students and children of key workers) online immediately and not to return to blended learning until there has been at least a five week decline in infection rates.

2)     Failure of management to implement the move to remote learning UCU advise all members to send in a Section 44 letter to management.

3)     Calls on UCU NEC to support the call to move to remote learning and support its members acting collectively to refuse to teach face- to -ace.

4)     Call on UCU to campaign to scrap all exams and replace them with teacher assessment.

5)     Send a message of solidarity to the NEU for  their stance in challenging the government to force education workers and students into unsafe schools.


LBGT+ Members’ Conference 2020


The LGBT+ conference took place on Saturday 5th December, via Microsoft Teams. It was attended by around 50 colleagues, and we heard from four guest speakers across two panels. Five new members were nominated and elected to the LGBT+ Members Standing Committee, including UCU Left Chair, Bee Hughes.

We also paused for a 30 seconds silence, proposed by Peter Evans, to remember Nita Sanghera. Chair, Ryan Prout spoke of Nita’s impact across the union and her allyship with the LGBT+ community.


Panel One: Intersectionality

The first speaker, Sen Sunil Raj, gave a detailed and vital presentation on the intersections of LGBT+ experience and seeking asylum. His presentation highlighted the ways in which hostility towards LGBT+ people, racist and homophobic and transphobe stereotypes, and racism in the LGBTQIA+ community can significantly worsen and amplify the effects of the UK’s hostile border environment. Sen also detailed how UK law has changed, demonstrating that homo/transphobic practices have long been entwined with the law, though there have been some recent positive precedents, including the UK’s first granting of asylum based on nonbinary gender.

Next, we heard from Rohit Dasgupta, who explored ‘Queer Spaces, Racialisation and Belonging in East London’, drawing on his experiences as a Labour Councillor, ethnographic, and the art of Raisa Kabir. Rohit’s presentation reflected on the ‘limits of British multiculturalism’ and the production of queer spaces which exclude queer Muslim people, closing with a call to imagine new modes of queer Muslim belonging.

A detailed discussion followed, covering the impact of gentrification, how we can improve our work as activists and professionals, the need for legal recognition of nonbinary genders, workplace bullying, and how we can make our IT systems work for inclusion rather than exclusion.


Panel Two: LGBT+ in FE & HE Now

The second panel began with a presentation by Trude Sundberg, sharing results from their ‘Report from LGBT+ Pilot Survey “Working conditions for LGBT+ Staff in HE”’. The results from this survey explored the impact of the covid-19 crisis on the wellbeing of LGBT+ staff laid bare a shocking and sobering view of how the LGBT+ community has been effected by recent changes including working from home. The survey demonstrates the wearing accumulated effect of ‘indirect’ or ‘everyday’ discriminations, such as misgendering, and derogatory language, the increased feeling of being ‘outed’ by working from home, and the intersection of racism with homo/transphobia which impact Black LGBT+ colleagues immensely.

The final guest speaker for the conference, PhD researcher Samuel J. Heyes, spoke movingly on the experience of being a trans student in post-16 education. Samuel shared his experience of continuing to support trans siblings through the university system, while taking care of himself as a trans student. He highlighted the huge emotional investment and labour it takes to perform these acts of (self)care and of simply being a trans person in a world where public discourse is often overwhelmingly hostile.

During the discussion many attendees expressed solidarity with Samuel, the impacts many at the meeting have experienced since working from home and online, the inflexibility of IT systems which do not accommodate gender diverse people’s identities, feelings of institutional gaslighting, and questions about the impact of covid-19 on those living with HIV. Bee Hughes proposed that LGBT+ Members Committee, and any other members present, to work together to develop good practice guidelines for the union, and for branches negotiating and workplace policies which impact trans and nonbinary people. The proposal was welcomed by a number of attendees who will take up this work together.


Motion: Campaign for GRA Reforms and Against Asylum Seeker Persecution

Megan Povey moved the motion from Leeds UCU, which has introduced so well through the context provided by Sen Sunil Raj’s presentation, resolving to ‘raise the profile of the UCU campaign for reform of the GRA’ and ‘to campaign for an end to the persecution of asylum seekers’. The motion was formally seconded by Bee Hughes. Though there was a small minority of conference delegates who opposed the motion, with one person speaking against, the overwhelming majority of attendees indicated support, with multiple speeches decisively for the motion. Voting on the motion is underway online.

UCU Higher Education Sector Conference 2020 Report

Members pay and pensions are under threat but is UCU’s leadership capable of resistance?

The Higher Education Conference, originally timetabled for May 2020, finally took place in an interim form, with a truncated set of motions and restricted opportunities for speaker’s contributions, on December 15th. Nevertheless, the fact it took place at all, after the cancellation of the originally timetabled virtual conference in October is important. The labour movement is rapidly getting familiarised with video conferencing technology and this time the conference, organised on Zoom, worked better than previous attempts. However, the limited opportunity to discuss and debate, due to delegates having to register to speak in advance, and the voting taking place afterwards are areas that need further consideration.

Overall, the outcome of the voting does not indicate that delegates are yet convinced that the threats to pay and pensions are as serious as the left are arguing or that UCU is yet capable of mobilising a UK-wide fightback. A key motion (HE2) from Yorkshire & Humberside Region on USS to start a campaign for industrial action was remitted by 51 votes to 49. Its two amendments to identify how a strategy could be developed have been marked as lost, but presumably should be also be remitted.

USS is under threat yet again, as USS probably wants to end the Defined Benefit (DB) scheme and employers are not prepared to unite with UCU to defend it or may even support moving to Defined Contributions (DC).  The strategy that the USS crisis ‘will only be resolved through constructive negotiation’ proposed in L1 from Sheffield, which was passed, is insufficient.  It will our willingness to act rather than negotiation on its own that will alter this dynamic and allow us to win.  Voting for a ballot would have shown employers and USS that we are serious and willing to take action as necessary to defend USS pensions.  Remitting HE2 has done the opposite and given totally the wrong signals.  We need to ensure a special HESC, as agreed by the meeting of branches many months ago and implied in HE1, takes place at the end of January/early February to change this.

Similarly over pay, delegates voted in favour of HE5 Sheffield UCU’s motion (by 72 to 43 votes) on multi-year pay deals, which in the current economic climate would likely mean multi-year pay cuts. It is clear that an undue pessimism from the leadership of UCU, particularly in their interpretation of last year’s 22 days of strike action, weighs heavily on activists and particularly those whose involvement in the union structures originates in the pre-92 USS disputes. Our strikes demonstrated that the union can defend members, can unite its differing sectors and interests together and do have power to disrupt the sector. Our actions continue to see membership growing as those previously not engaged in a trade union see the potential to challenge what is going wrong in the sector. In particular the link between the #FourFights pay campaign and the USS dispute was symbolic of our recognition that unity is strength and no section of the union will be ignored. That we did not win immediate tangible gains has however led many to draw pessimistic conclusions about the inability to fight for change. This ignores the fact that fighting for our rights is hard work and may require several rounds of industrial action.  It would be wonderful, but unrealistic to expect only resounding victories.  We need to keep on when we have setbacks or even defeats.  If we give up at the first hurdle our employers will walk all over us, we will lose UK-wide bargaining and the USS pension scheme. This is why the conclusions of UCU’s Commission for Effective Industrial Action was a rejection of the tokenistic strategies of the past (click here).

This pessimism was also reflected in motion HE4 Queen Margaret University which sought to suggest that the post-92 interests over pay were subsumed into the pre-92 interests over pensions. Post-92 institutions UCU branches are, as pre-92 institutions were over USS, being transformed by strike action. It is instructive that Brighton, Northumbria and Manchester Met, to name a few, are branches leading industrial disputes in Higher Education and smashing through the anti-union ballot thresholds. Importantly, delegates rejected HE4 by 47:66 votes indicating that a willingness to unite the union still is evident. For similar reasons delegates voted unanimously for HE12 University of Winchester, defending members in the Teachers Pensions Schemes in post-92 institutions from rising contribution levels.

HE6 on Local Agreements from the HEC and motions HE8-11 covering causalisation, academic related staff and researchers respectively were also passed overwhelmingly. These together called for the impetus built up around the #FourFights pay inequality elements to be built into local negotiations and not to be abandoned. While delegates may not yet have the confidence to initiate industrial action now these motions suggest there is no appetite to abandon demands for equality in the union. This was also the case for HE13 on supporting Black researchers through mentoring and monitoring of career paths. Other motions debated included HE7 on the use of domestic flights and climate change which was remitted, largely for its minimalist approach to tacking climate change and two further motions on USS from the Higher Education Committee D43 and D44.Both discussed the damaging impact on UCU’s voice in the Trustee Board the adoption of Master trust regulations have and the motions sought to find mechanisms to remove the Defined Benefit scheme from these regulations. D44 was passed awhile D43 was lost by 43 to 49 votes.

Despite some pessimism at UK level, UCU is organising ballots for industrial action in dozens of branches over conditions at work, health and safety in response to Covid-19 and redundancies.  Heriot Watt’s excellent ballot result made their management step down, Northumbria University has now beaten their record for the highest turnout and Brighton has had their first days of strike action.  We need to build on this strength and confidence at branch level and transfer it to a UK-wide campaign on pay, equality, anti-casualisation and pensions.  We can still win and cannot afford not to.  If we do not all members will be affected, but the most disastrous impacts will be on younger, casualised, Black and minority ethnic, Disabled, women and LGBT+ members.

The union finds itself organising ballots for industrial action in dozens of branches over conditions a work, health and safety over Covid-19 and redundancies. This is a time when members are demanding a co-ordinated UK-wide response. UCU HEC is failing to develop this strategy and it is therefore up to activists to build that solidarity and unified response. On the 16th January the UCU Solidarity Movement holds their next conference. This can act as a major staging post in the rebuilding of the confidence and militancy UCU needs. Every activist should seek to build this conference.

Further Education Sector Conference 2020 Report

Collectivise the resistance: Covid Safety, Pay and Working Conditions

This year’s rescheduled UCU Further Education Sector Conference (FESC) met on Saturday the 12th of December online via Zoom under the extraordinary conditions of a second wave of Coronavirus.

In addition to the pandemic, 2020 also saw the emergence of a mass movement of the Black Lives Matter movement globally in the wake of the televised murder of George Floyd at the hands of the police. This was reflected in the agenda with a section to discuss advancing UCU’s work on BLM in our workplaces.

The motions passed at the FESC pave the way for a renewed national profile to UCU’s work in the further education sector and a fight back on Covid safety, pay and working conditions.

A number of colleges were in dispute as the FESC met including CCCG on Covid safety, United Colleges Group over their contract, Brighton College defending jobs and Macclesfield College branch.

The meeting began with a 2 minute silence to remember Nita Sanghera UCU FE Vice President.

37 motions were discussed with most carried unopposed or with near unanimity. The conference went much smoother than on previous platforms and conference was able to debate a number of motions not originally ordered onto the agenda.

Unfortunately delegates were asked to notify UCU in advance of their intention to speak to motions. Many delegates expected to be able to raise their hand to speak. This stifled more fluid debate.

Points of order were disallowed and delegates were asked to place their votes a few days after the conference. As the movement learns to use online platforms we need to find more space for discussion and debate to promote democratic processes.

Despite this, the online conference worked well, albeit with room for improvement. The debate reflected the real battles and organisation taking place on the ground to defend safety and conditions. A new emerging leadership of black activists from branches pointed to the potential to revitalise the union’s work in sector and to build a more representative union.

No return to unsafe workplaces in the new year

Over 66,000 people have lost their lives to Covid under the pandemic.
The FESC met following the news of the approval of a vaccine. Whilst this is cause for hope, the reality for those who work and study in Further Education means there could be many months before working conditions are safe or free from instability and stress.

As the spike following the Thanksgiving celebration in the USA and the UK’s Help Out to Eat Out showed. It is almost inevitable there will be a third wave in the New Year.

Rightly, the FESC adopted a motion to implement the strong public stance by UCU on Covid and safe working into the further education sector. This called for online teaching to be the default, to implement UCU’s escalation plan where our colleges are unsafe and to organise an additional national reps meeting on the theme of no return to unsafe workplaces. A second motion called for regular Covid-testing of all staff and students.

Branches will have to come together quickly in the New Year to resist attempts by the employers to roll back on safety measures and ramp up workloads under the optimism of the vaccine and drive to return to ‘normal’.

If branch officers are to feel confident about implementing this motion UCU nationally must be proactive in launching a national campaign over Covid -19, which so far has been missing in the sector.

1% is a slap in the face, the national fight back starts now. 

In the week prior to the FESC delegates. UCU members working in further, adult and prison education learnt that the government would implement a pay freeze on public sector workers.

The Association of Colleges (AoC), the employer’s federation, shamefully declared their intention to compound this insult with a 1% pay award in English Colleges. That is despite the Welsh equivalent supporting circa 8% for new starters, and around 3% for main grade lecturers.

After 10 years of implementing austerity and the damage it has done to our sector. Have they learnt nothing?

After we have gone the extra mile to continue to staff the frontlines, deliver remotely through lockdown and risk our health. This is slap in the face and give the lie to all the faint praise and thanks we have received.

UCU’s Andrew Harden, National FE Official, in his report outlined UCU’s campaign to find the #FEMissingMillions of additional money the employers were given this year.

See how much money your college was given here.

Our pay has been cut by 30% under austerity. The employers promised additional funding would go to restore college pay.

In the last pay  campaign we secured £400m on additional FE funding and part 2 claims to fractionalise casualised staff were successful in securing permanent contracts on improved pay.

Further Education Committee Officers will meet following the FESC to draw up a timetable and plan of action to organise the pay campaign and to advise branches on submitting part 2 claims.

A strong motion was also passed calling for a national industrial ballot if the government attempted to attack TPS pensions.

For the indicative and the industrial action ballots to be successful then UCU nationally will need to ensure that there is a a dynamic social media campaign with materials going into every branch.

Black lives matter in further and adult education

For the Black Lives Matter movement, it was agreed that all regions (and nations, we hope) host briefings and encourage branches to make independent local organising plans to put black lives matter charters to their employers. As well tackling racism and bullying in the workplace should include decolonising the curriculum in further, adult and prison education. Further motions called for research into LGBT+ experiences in FE, race caseload data, and for resistance to surveillance of migrants’ status.

Attendance and workload

There are five motions on workload and stress, asking for unnecessary duties to be abandoned, for all guided learning hours to be taken into account, for a model care leave policy, for annual workplace health and safety surveys and a further motion on the menopause, asking all members to share knowledge about it and ensure each branch works on a model policy for their institution.

Despite the real need to reduce footfall on campuses the employers are using attendance monitoring, relentless duplication of record keeping and tracking, calling parents etc that are all driving up workload at a time members are struggling to adapt teaching to new learning platforms. UCU must implement these motions and campaign to challenge the new methods of managerialism and micro-management.

Defend adult education

Many motions were concerned with lifetime skills and adult education: more funding is urgently needed. Adult education is vital for the mental and physical health of many people and our members providing it must be valued and paid properly, with permanent contracts.


There were three more motions, on the competence of principals and governors, on the threat of closure of BTEC courses and for alternative models for post-16 maths and English.

We finished the core agenda and had time to cover another nine motions from the reserve list. These covered anti-casualisation agreements, adult education, “enforced” well-being, weapons on campus, safety for prison workers, learning support staff pay and contracts and LGBT+ migrants.


Let’s make sure 2021 is a year of resistance. The national fightback starts here!

Link to all the motions can be found here.

UCU Black Members’ Conference Report 2020

BLM protest, London, 6th June 2020.

BLM protest, London, 6th June 2020. Photo by James Eades on Unsplash

This year’s Black Members UCU Conference took place in a world that saw the COVID 19 pandemic, economic recession, climate crisis and the brutal murder by the police in the US of George Floyd. Seen by millions across the world, his death led to the biggest anti-racist movement since 1968, a working class and multi-racial movement of profound power. 

As BLM grew at stunning speed through towns and countries it reignited fresh hopes for racial class justice. Protests across the USA were followed by millions protesting around the world, including the UK, which saw over 280,000 people march, the biggest anti-racist marches since the 1970s. Many people question why racism in all areas of Black Lives, including our education sectors, was not being challenged enough and what could be done now to end institutional and systemic racism. The conference was attended by Black members from across the country. 

Keynote speaker: Labour MP Zarah Sultana (Coventry South) called for immediate online teaching for students in both colleges and universities, rather than face to face teaching, due to the high rate of infections of coronavirus. COVID-19 has had a disproportionate impact on Black frontline workers, racism has also increased significantly over recent months. Zarah felt Black Lives Matter had not been taken seriously enough. Decolonising the curriculum was needed at all schools, colleges, universities and Zarah fully supported this vital call.

Zarah noted that the women and equalities Minister Kemi Badenoch, sought to legitimise the government’s attempts to shut down discussions on how structural inequality is damaging black lives. Badenoch had called out critical race theory and anyone who wants to decolonise the curriculum, Zarah firmly rejected these points from the Minister. Zarah raised concerns about the current issues of academic freedom in relation to Prevent, and to the campaign to support Palestinian people. Zarah supports lecturers in their fight for equality and their jobs under the last round of redundancies. A very inspiring speech by Zarah who has a wealth of experience in community and trade union activism. Sadly Gary Younge was not able to come, and Gargi Bhattacharyya was not able to make the conference due to technical problems. 

Four workshops were organised: 

Protecting and empowering yourself in the workplace
Members raised concerns and shared their stories. The main issues were: it was felt branch reps sometimes were not fully aware of equality issues, being targeted and bullied by middle and senior managers, Covid 19 risk assessments for Black staff, student complaints against staff, and disproportionate workload and loss of jobs facing black staff. Advice was given on how best members could remain safe and protected from this hostile environment. Members should go to their UCU branch for support, or if that is not possible speak to their regional official. If that does not work for you, speak to the UCU national office equality team. 

BLM – Beyond 2020
Meeting the challenges we face as black workers after the resurgence of BLM in 2020. The main issues from members were that they were not being supported enough by their institutions, and felt that key issues were tick boxed. Other issues included, the race pay gap, recruitment of black staff, retention and progression; these issues were often not scrutinised effectively at all. Unconscious bias training has been criticised by many academic reports, and that racism is conscious. Students need to be supported too. Management strategies to box and contain institutional racism were obvious to many staff. A few members highlighted that BLM had opened the door, and that they had been able to meet management to talk and negotiate on their issues.

It was noted that most post-16 education institutions had a BLM statement on their websites. It is now time, one member said, to move to holding the good intentions of employers to account. A national UCU strategy was required, said one member, for effective negotiations. Another member stressed we must keep fighting for more and ensure our voices are heard. Action was now needed to move beyond words for meaningful change. 

Developing black activists – black activists as black leaders
Delegates discussed issues regarding lack of Black leadership in UCU branches and possible ways to increase both Black membership and their active involvement in the union. 

The first issue was communication. Delegates were concerned that anti-racist news, both nationally and locally is always buried at the bottom of the agenda. This needs to change. Branch committee members need to support black activists, to understand what advice is available, and how they can stand for union committee and regional positions, chairing of meetings and helping to set the agendas. Secondly, branches should demand and create Black members reps with allocated time, and use research to look at union density and black membership and how it intersects. The work of the black members committee needs to be publicised to all branches to support union committees, to gain more understanding of structural racism. Third, branches should use the ‘UCU Week of Action against Workplace Racism’ in February as a springboard to organise all members to campaign against racism and challenge racism and discrimination in our institutions. Finally, make sure our UCU branches put anti-racism at the heart of their union work. 

Decolonising Community and Prison education
Addressing the issues faced by black educators in prison and community education. This sector is often forgotten and UCU needs to raise its profile. The workshop started with definitions of decolonisation and asked the question – where do we start with this process of decolonisation? We need to decolonise the whole organisational structures, with management, curriculum and staff. It was highlighted that there are limited basic education provisions in prisons, few education managers, and no opportunities for Black prison educators unlike their white counterparts to progress within the system. There is a need to involve the communities served in the process of seeking changes or reform a member said. We need to show the powers that be, that it is in the interest of society to have an established education curriculum for prisoners to mitigate against re-offending. There is a need to have a survey for all prisoners black and white, younger offenders as well as older adults. This could then be used as a campaigning tool, and taken to the education authorities as evidence to support a call to set up a Black lives matter task force in the prison education sector. UCU was called on to support the initiatives and to help organise a plan going forward. 

The conference ended with a thank you to all the members for coming to the virtual conference. A big thank you to the equality staff at UCU, and to all the existing and newly elected members of the Black members committee. Let’s keep up the pressure for real change for Black Lives Matter UCU. 

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
Martin Luther King.