Campaign update 29/11/2018

Some initial success!

We found out late last week that College Education Committee were planning on approving a new GTA policy on Wednesday 28th, that had implications for our training, pay, and ‘status’. We successfully lobbied the Committee to withdraw the paper and return to meaningful consultation with GTAs – thank you to everyone who sent an email to the Commitee! We will let you know when a time, date, place for that meeting is secured. We will also arrange a strategy meeting for GTAs to get together and decide on approaches and priorities. In the meantime, please keep sharing the GTA survey with your colleagues or teachers (and fill it in yourself if you haven’t!): http://tinyurl.com/kclgtasurvey

We have asked the College Education Commitee to share the proposed GTA policy document with us. So far, we’ve only been allowed to look at it, but not have a digital or real copy (nope, we don’t understand either). We will circulate a copy for comments as soon as we can.

Help us keep the pressure up

Email the Vice Principal, nicola.phillips@kcl.ac.uk, the head of Doctoral Studies, Nigel.Eady@kcl.ac.uk, and principal@kcl.ac.uk to urge them to work with GTAs closely, share the draft policy with us, and to reiterate the demands of the campaign (you could just link them to our press release http://roarnews.co.uk/?p=26714). BCC our email address (kclgtacampaign@gmail.com) in too so we get some idea of how many people are emailing!

Keep circulating the petition to PG and UG students. 152 signatures and counting! Let’s make it 300! https://www.kclsu.org/representingyou/campaigns/ourcampaigns/fairpaygtas/

Keep circulating the surveys! It’s really important we get as many responses as possible. 50 respondents so far… can we make it to 100? http://tinyurl.com/kclgtasurvey

Give us a tweet of support! Find us @KingsGTAs.

Fair Pay for GTAs

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Campaign update 23/11/18

**Emergency Picket – Institute of Psychiatry, Wednesday 28th November, 1:30-2pm**

Why?

Nigel Eady, administrative director of the Centre for Doctoral Studies is submitting a plan for approval for GTA pay and training to the College Education Committee next Wednesday. We haven’t been able to get a copy of the document but have been told it has big implications for training, pay, and working conditions and reveals how KCL views GTA work. It may very well contain good stuff. But we think that GTAs should have been consulted. The College promised the Fair Pay for GTAs campaign back in 2016 to work more closely with GTA reps, but the College hasn’t even bothered to recruit any this year.

Action

1. We need as many people as possible to get to the Institute of Psychiatry, Camberwell, IoPPN Boardroom, Denmark Hill Main Campus, for 1:30pm on Wednesday 28th, to insist to those attending the meeting to withdraw the paper or vote the proposal down, and to consult with GTAs before decisions are made. The Committee meet at 2pm, so we want to catch them as they arrive.

Meet at the IoPPN at 1:30pm, or catch the bus with us at 12:30 from outside the Strand campus. We’ll bring some banners.

2. Send an email to the committee members explaining why you think the paper should be withdrawn until GTAs are consulted properly. People to copy in are: Nigel Eady; Nicola Phillips; Debbie McCarthy; the principal Ed Byrne; doctoralstudies@kcl.ac.uk; and KCLSU officers, vpp@kclsu.org; president@kclsu.org; vpeas@kclsu.org. You might want to refer them to info in the recent Roar article we put together: http://roarnews.co.uk/?p=26714

Please email us kclgtacampaign at gmail dot com to let us know if you can make it to the picket, whether you can meet us at the IoPPN or you want to travel together from the Strand. Let us know if you’ve sent an email to the Committee members, too!

kclgtacampaign@gmail.com

@KingsGTAs

Campaign update 20/11/2018

150 signatures reached!

Thank you so much to everyone for signing and sharing the Fair Pay for GTAs petition. We’ve reached (and gone beyond!) the 150 signatures needed to become a KCLSU supported campaign, giving us access to support from students’ union staff and a budget.

More signatures will show the College how important the issue is to the whole community. Ask your friends/ colleagues/ teachers/ students sign up here: https://www.kclsu.org/representingyou/campaigns/ourcampaigns/fairpaygtas/

What now?

1. Campaign meeting – Wednesday 28 November at 5pm-6pm, Virginia Woolf Building (22 Kingsway) room 7.20.

How should we escalate the campaign? This all depends on you! We (Julian and Fran) are focussing our efforts on getting the survey out there. But there are other actions/ activities we could do with more hands on deck. Undergraduate, MA, and PhD students, GTAs and non-GTAs all welcome.

On the agenda already: 1) FOI request the College to find out how much labour is done by GTAs. 2) Create short videos to share on social media to encourage people to fill in the survey. 3) Lecture shout-outs to encourage more signatures on the petition. 3) Composing, and disseminating, a letter to collect staff support.

Bring your ideas, and we will bring the snacks.

2. Surveys!

Our most important goal is to collect as much evidence as possible to present to the College. Not only do we want to show how their current policies are failing GTAs, but we want to suggest solutions too – so share your experiences, ideas, and comments on any best practice you’ve noticed around the College as GTAs.

Are you a GTA, or you’ve been a GTA in 2017/2018? Please share your experience on our anonymous survey https://goo.gl/forms/zplDZpLg2L2C7yTu1

Are you a PhD student who has taught before, but decided not to do it again? Or perhaps you’ve never taught before? We’re collecting reasons why here: https://goo.gl/forms/ahwpyU4m6PgB0uEB3

When you’ve filled it in, pass it on to your PhD friends! The survey is based on the Fair Pay for GTAs 2015 survey, so we’ll be able to compare the results and add weight to our lobbying. The dream is to present a big document to College Council of problems and solutions, and a short press release of the headline figures and anecdotes for circulation with the national press.

Three things you can do to help the campaign that take 20 minutes:

– Forward this email to 5-10 PhD colleagues, or the GTAs that teach you, and ask them to fill in the survey. Personalise the email, we have found that this helps!

– Print out a few flyers – download from our blog https://kclgtas.wordpress.com/posters-and-flyers/ – and share them with colleagues or your seminar groups. (If you’ve got an eye for design, why not make us a new poster?)

– Share the Roar newspaper article on your social media, and tag the campaign @KingsGTAs http://roarnews.co.uk/?p=26714

Let us know if you’ve done one of these things (for instance, if you’ve flyer-ed the history department/ Maughan library/ Waterloo cafe, that will save one of us the trip!).

kclgtacampaign at gmail dot com

We’re now on Twitter! @KingsGTAs

Fair Pay for GTAs: Demands 2018

The Fair Pay for GTAs campaign is focussing on the following demands for 2018/2019.

1) Essay marking

  • AIM: 2,000 words per-hour
  • Current rate: 4,000 words per-hour

Fair Pay for GTAs has always lobbied for for 2,000 words per hour. While the College negotiated the rate from 5,000 to 4,000 words per hour in 2016, we are contining to demand 2,000 words per hour.

Calculating a precise, fair ‘average’ for essay marking time is tricky. Some GTAs are quicker than others and essays are of variable standard, with some requiring more detailed feedback.

While we accept the difficulty of standardising pay structures for marking across a range of subjects, our recommendation of 2,000 words per-hour is a sober and reasonable figure that we feel reflects the time we put into marking – at least if we wish to do a decent job. This figure would also be in line with the National Union of Journalists’ recommended rate for proof-reading, one of the closest ‘paid-per-word’ analogues to essay marking.

2) Preparation time

  • AIM: 4:1 ratio beween paid prep and teaching hours
  • Current rate: 2:1 ratio between paid prep and teaching hours (excepting multiple seminars on the same module)

Currently GTAs are expected to perform all their lesson preparation in just two hours per week, including for subjects where weekly reading can be entire novels, as well as a range of secondary material. And teaching preparation isn’t just about doing the reading: planning materials and resources, and devising seminar activity takes time.

As with marking, the variety of demands on GTAs in different departments makes it difficult to calculate a standardised pay scale for prep. Our 4:1 recommendation is intended as a fair medium, accepting that for some GTAs it would be a generous provision and others less so.

All lecture attendance across all faculties must also be paid: as it stands, some faculties pay for this work, while others do not.

3) Training and development

  • AIM: Paid, improved, department-based training for teaching and assessments. Paid opportunities for further College and Faculty-wide training though Skills Forge. The opportunity to work up to a King’s accredited qualification.
  • Current provision: The College-wide ‘Preparing to Teach’ course, and ‘paid departmental inductions and training with a specific focus on best practice for marking and teaching’. Apparently.

The Fair Pay for GTAs campaign has worked hard to improve training provision – and secure payment for the little training that already existed. However, although the College promised improved departmental training, our surveys are showing that PhD students still feel under prepared.

The survey responses from GTAs tell us that provision is often too little – one or two hours thinking over general classroom techniques – or too late, with marking training given when the marking period has already started. We demand training that is timely, thorough, practice-based, and ongoing.

The College must make greater use of the experise that it has in teacher training to provide GTAs with not only a foundation when they begin teaching, but opportunities to develop as we teach. There are currently additional training sessions on offer to teachers at King’s, offered through the ‘Skills Forge’ staff portal, but these opportunities are unpaid. GTAs who want to improve their practice should be renumerated for their work.


Further campaign aims

Beyond our key demands around pay and training, we are working on the following areas:

4) Representation

While the College and Students’ Union have adopted the policy of creating two elected GTA rep positions in the King’s Post-Doctoral Forum, who would be invited to senior management meetings, in practice this system is not working.

The GTA rep positions have been poorly advertised and remain unfilled as of November 2018. Both the College and the Students’ Union must take their responsibility to reach out to GTAs seriously. The Fair Pay for GTAs campaign is working hard to make sure these structures are used. Contact us via email on on Facebook if you’d like to work on these College structures.

5) An end to outsourcing

GTA work should be brought entirely in-house as a matter of simple principle against the increasing casualisation of the higher education workforce. Casual teachers employed via direct temping are not eligible for the workplace protection that membership within the UCU affords King’s staff.

Furthermore, on a purely administrative front, being paid via direct temping can make simple matters (such as chasing up an incorrect tax code or if the university fails to submit documentation on time) into an unnecessary hassle, as direct temping will pursue the employee in the event of irregularities, resulting in more work for them. For this reason, some departments (including Geography) have already discontinued this practice.

We stand in solidarity with the Justice for Cleaners campaign as they continue to hold King’s to account for its promises to bring all cleaning staff in house. All King’s staff must be in house staff.

6) Addressing the situation of all casual staff

GTAs are not the only causalised staff members at King’s. The reality of the academic job market for most post-doctorates is up to a decade of piecemeal work, fixed-term contracts and minimal job security. This kind of work is also extremely transitory, with teaching fellows and hourly-paid lecturers forced to migrate all over the country (and beyond) at yearly, six-month and even three-month intervals in pursuit of employment.

We will continue to work with our UCU colleagues to lobby for improved conditions for staff on fixed-term contracts.

7) Reaching outside of Arts and Sciences

The Fair Pay for GTAs campaign has mostly been based in Arts and Sciences. There are practical explanations for this: the bulk of GTA labour is concentrated in Arts & Hums and the campaign began in Arts & Hums departments, meaning this was where our initial building took place.

However, we have been contacted by GTAs from a number of other faculties with horror stories about their working conditions. If this is something you can recognise, and you’d like to help bring the campaign to the Health schools, we would love to hear from you.

Contact the campaign:

kclgtacampaign@gmail.com

@KingsGTAs

Closed GTA facebook group

Support Fair Pay for GTAs

1. Undergraduate, MA, or PhD student at King’s? Sign the petition to support the campaign here.

2. Current GTA? GTA in 2017-2018? Share your experience on the GTA survey.

3. Not at King’s? Send us a note of support

 

The campaign continues!

Since 2014, King’s students have campaigned for better training and pay that reflects the work GTAs really do. Thanks to the perseverence of campaigners, the College has met some demands halfway (such as a few hours of ‘training’, and some increase in hours paid for preparation and marking).

But there’s still more to do. We’ve picked up this campaign to make sure that we keep up the pressure and demand that King’s College properly supports its GTAs.

 

What do we hope to achieve?

GTAs are professional teachers, and as such we should be trained at a professional level. Of course, PhD students are all experts in their fields, and we develop classroom techniques and pedagogical theory ‘on the job’. But many GTAs are new to teaching and would benefit from a structured training programme to complement their self-study.

It’s an open secret that GTAs work far more hours than they are contracted for, just to fit in the basics of preparing classes and marking. So, many GTAs end up working for below minimum wage. We think that GTA wages should reflect the real hours put in.

We hope this campaign will secure the training and pay that GTAs deserve, that will benefit GTAs and the students we teach.

It’s important that we continue the fight to end precarity and low wages, as the treatment of GTAs is just one symtom of King’s placing profit above all else. Rises in tuition fees, increased class sizes, more and more teaching staff on casual contracts, pay freezes for professional service staff (in departments and libraries), and the use of outsourced companies for vital College work are all linked. We are proud that King’s students and workers joined together to bring cleaners in-house, and we hope that this will be a first step in the College taking its ethical responsibilities seriously.

 

Why should people show their support?

Current and future GTAs will benefit from better training and pay.

Postgraduates who have turned down GTA positions because of other (better paid/ supported) work will be able to see GTA work as a viable option – this is especially important for Part Time or self-funded postgraduate students who might otherwise miss out on this vital academic experience.

If GTAs were to be treated fairly and as professional teachers, the quality of teaching and feedback for Undergraduates and MA students would improve enormously.

GTA working conditions are everyone’s learning conditions, and student-wide support is vital for the success of this campaign.

Read more about what the campaign has achieved so far, and what remains to be done here.

 

How will we win?

1. Sign the petition so that KCLSU will support the campaign (meaning we’ll have more access to campaigning resources and meetings with King’s management to make change happen!).

2. If you’re are currently or have been a GTA since 2017-2018, we are collecting testimonies to help the campaign. Complete the survey here.

3. If you’re a PhD student who has considered GTA work but not applied, or turned down an offer of work, we’d like you to tell us why. Complete the survey here.

4. Join UCU for FREE if you’re a GTA. One of UCU’s many campaigns is around casualisation and fair pay. The current ballot is about many issues that affect GTAs – so if you’re a member already please vote YES.

5. Not a GTA? Send us a note of support

6. We will organise further campaign activity throughout 2018-2019. Check the blog for updates!

Victory for King’s College London GTAs (but the fight isn’t over yet…)

What has been won and what remains to be done? In our final post of 2015/6, Fair Pay for GTAs takes stock of our achievements thus far and outlines plans for the future.

The academic year is winding down and those Graduate Teaching Assistants who’ve signed up to teach again in the new term will notice some improvements to their contracts! These significant gains were made possible by the courage and dedication of all those who contributed to our campaign.

From the organisers to the GTAs and students who signed our petitions to the union reps who fought alongside us, each and every one of you deserves a well-earned pat on the back.

First thing’s first: what exactly have we managed to win for GTAs in 2016/7 and how does it compare to where we started/what we asked for?

1) Essay marking

  • 2015/6: 5,000 words per-hour
  • What we asked for: 2,000 words per-hour
  • What we got: 4,000 words per hour (20% pay increase)

The improved pay structure for essay marking – ratified by the Senior Leadership/Executive Teams and the Resources and Expenditure Review Committee – is our biggest win in sheer cash terms. Considering this change applies to all essay-based subjects (and thus affects the majority of GTAs across the College), it represents an investment in teaching on the order of £350,000.

While this is an exciting result, for which we are justly proud, the new deal is a bit more complicated than it first appears…

The arbitrary 5,000-word per hour figure from last year didn’t come close to the actual amount of time it takes to mark essays to any reasonable standard. We estimated that GTAs working ‘to contract’ at 5,000 words per-hour would, on average, have between 10 and 20 minutes to mark a 1,500-word assignment.

Calculating a precise, fair ‘average’ for essay marking time is tricky. Some GTAs are quicker than others and essays are of variable standard, with some requiring more detailed feedback.

While we accept the difficulty of standardising pay structures for marking across a range of subjects, our recommendation of 2,000 words per-hour (unlike the original 5,000 word per-hour) was not sucked out of anybody’s thumb. It is a sober and reasonable figure that we feel reflects the time we put into marking – at least if we wish to do a decent job.

4,000 words per-hour was first offered following a meeting between campaign representatives and the Arts and Sciences Senior Executive Team (ASSET) – the first and only proper ‘negotiation’ meeting to which we have been invited. Subsequently, we told ASSET that the College should at the very least consider meeting us in the middle at 3,000 words per-hour as a show of good faith. This figure would also be in line with the National Union of Journalists’ recommended rate for proof-reading, one of the closest ‘paid-per-word’ analogues to essay marking.

For now, the 4,000 words-per hour figure stands and while far from what we asked for, a 20% pay increase is not insubstantial.

2) Number of weekly working hours

  • 2015/6: GTAs’ working week capped at 6 hours in total
  • What we asked for: the removal of this cap
  • What we got: cap removed

It was a long time coming but we have finally convinced King’s to accept reality.

The six-hour weekly cap on GTA work, which was supposed to encompass everything from marking to prep to contact time, was a complete fantasy. The logic was to ensure that GTAs were not putting their teaching duties before their own research: a reasonable concern that this imaginary cap did absolutely nothing to ameliorate.

The College has now changed this stipulation so that it only applies to contact time between GTAs and students (seminars, office hours and the like). In effect, the cap has been binned.

3) Preparation time

  • 2015/6: one hour of preparation time per week
  • What we asked for: 4:1 ratio between paid prep and teaching hours
  • What we got: 2:1 ratio between paid prep and teaching hours (excepting multiple seminars on the same module)

That GTAs were expected to perform all their lesson preparation in a single hour per week, including for subjects where weekly reading can be entire novels, was a scandal. Frankly, the new deal is still a scandal – I struggle to imagine even the swiftest of skim-readers being able to polish off Ulysses and plan a lesson on it in a couple of hours.

As with marking, the variety of demands on GTAs in different departments makes it difficult to calculate a standardised pay scale for prep. Our 4:1 recommendation was intended as a fair medium, accepting that for some GTAs it would be a generous provision and others less so.

While the 2:1 ratio represents a rough doubling of paid prep time for GTAs in most departments, the College should have climbed down to at least a 3:1 compromise.

4) Training and development

  • 2015/6: one-day, unpaid, mandatory ‘Preparing to Teach’ training day and PGHAPHE discontinued
  • What we asked for: improved, bespoke training on a paid basis (if mandatory) and the restoration of PGCAPHE or a qualification of equal value
  • What we got: paid, improved departmental inductions and training with a specific focus on best practice for marking and teaching, limited reintroduction of PGCAPHE (now fully discontinued).

In some respects, training and career development have formed an even sorer point of contention than pay, given many of our concerns about College’s attitude towards casual staff crystallise around these issues.

When we initially reached out to GTAs to discuss their experiences of work, a recurring theme was that standing in front of a room full of undergraduates, expected to provide them with an education, having received virtually no pedagogic instruction, made student teachers feel ill-equipped to perform their duties.

We have already commented extensively on KLI’s ‘Preparing to Teach’ training day in previous posts, so I shan’t recount its inadequacies in detail. Suffice it to say that cramming English teachers alongside dentists in a single classroom for a couple of hours to discuss best teaching practice in the most general possible terms isn’t an adequate provision.

The removal (with little explanation) of the PGCAPHE qualification – a narrow but essential bridge to meaningful employment in the increasingly-overcrowded HE sector – was another blow to GTAs’ morale. PGCAPHE was far from perfect, but as a two-year teaching course delving into pedagogic theory (and with a recognised qualification at the end), it at least felt like a meaningful addition to our CVs. Certainly more than KLI’s ‘Preparing to Teach diploma,’ which has spent the past year languishing in my drawer.

Before Christmas, under pressure from our campaign, King’s offered to reintroduce the PGCAPHE on a first-come-first-served basis to 20 applicants from the faculty of Arts and Humanities. This gesture felt like an afterthought, indicative of an institution less interested in nurturing its postgraduate staff than with shutting them up.

It also bares mentioning that, following its college-wide ‘review of the GTAs experience’ last year (in which no GTAs were actually asked about their experiences), King’s took to describing GTAs as ‘apprentices.’ The following definition was put before us in a focus group with College representatives before Christmas:

“GTAs are current PhD students who undertake paid undergraduate teaching work (as well as, in exceptional circumstances, PGT students). The opportunity to undertake this work is provided primarily in order that the GTA may acquire experience of teaching and related duties to better equip them for a possible academic career. Being a GTA is therefore to be regarded as an apprenticeship and is not regarded as the means for PGR students to support themselves while undertaking their PhDs [my emphasis]. The provision of GTA work should never be at the possible expense of the students completing their doctorate.”

While there is no statutory definition of what is meant by a contract of apprenticeship, the OED deems and apprentice to be “one who is bound by legal agreement to serve an employer for a period of years, with a view to learn some handicraft, trade etc., in which the employer is reciprocally bound to instruct him or her.”

Given that the only mandatory training that GTAs are expected to undertake is Preparing to Teach which to this point we have been expected to attend for free, it is clear that the ‘apprentice’ moniker is simply an excuse for our exploitative pay conditions (remember, all forms of employment involve a degree of personal and professional development, GTA work is nothing special in this regard).

Following our negotiations with the College, GTAs starting in 2016/7 will receive payment for Preparing to Teach (which remains mandatory) as well as for induction days. Student teachers will also receive additional, remunerated instruction at a departmental level on best practice for marking and teaching.

5) Representation

  • 2015/6: departmental PhD reps and a general PGR representative based in the Graduate School. No specific representation for GTAs
  • What we asked for: provisions for GTAs to sit in on senior management meetings so that their concerns can be heard by the College
  • 2016/7: two elected GTA reps will sit on the King’s Post-Doctoral Forum, being invited to senior management meetings where issues pertinent to GTAs are under discussion

The absence of a GTA voice at the level of senior management expressed a general issue with governance, one that also affects full-time staff and that still stands.

The ‘top-down’ command structure by which decisions are made and carried out (resulting in notable debacles like the failed ‘rebrand’ in 2015 and the present furore over Bush House) was what necessitated this campaign in the first place.

At the beginning of next term, GTAs will elect amongst themselves two representatives to a doctoral students’ forum, established under the KCLSU’s democratic restructuring. This independent body will serve as a medium between senior management and GTAs and its elected representatives will be invited to attend staff meetings where ‘GTA issues’ are under discussion.

Finally, we will have a say in the conditions of our own employment.

Caveats aside, these are some major victories. However, there is still a great deal to be done. What remains for us to fight for next year?

1) A fairer compromise on pay and prep

Following ASSET’s provisional offer of 4,000 words per hour pay for marking and a 2:1 ratio for paid preparation to teaching, Ben Hunt of the KCLSU attempted to broker a further compromise of 3,000 words per-hour and a 3:1 ratio respectively. As a show of good faith, we offered to wind up our campaign should these provisions be met and continue negotiations exclusively via the KDSF, rather than continuing with direct action tactics.

Despite all our efforts, including a detailed paper submitted by Ben to RERC proposing a further climb-down, College opted to reject this very reasonable compromise. In the partial minutes forwarded to Ben and members of the campaign, “financial constraints” were cited as the reason for this, although the College accepted there was a “problem” with the proposed pay structure and pledged to review marking and preparation pay again prior to 2017/8.

As far as ‘financial constraints’ are concerned, consider the following…

  • King’s recently made the news for losing a £250,000, three-year legal battle to prevent the disclosure of the job titles and salaries of staff earning over £100,000 a year. At a tribunal, a representative of the College argued that to do so would result in “awkward conversations” and negatively impact “team dynamics.”
  • The procurement of Bush House – a grade II listed building – has set the College back tens of millions. Nabbing prestigious real estate has been a priority for HE institutions of late, who reason that these fancy digs attract more students (particularly lucrative internationals). Unfortunately, when it was surveyed, it transpired that Bush House is “unsuitable for academic use.”
  • The cost of failing to rebrand our university ‘King’s London’ last year, cost the College £100,000.
  • The UCU estimates that a £1.9bn surplus exists in the HE sector. Of course, it is impossible to calculate what percentage of that is sloshing around in the King’s coffers, because there is no transparency over how and why King’s spends the cash it rakes in from the exorbitant fees it charges students.

If College truly does lack the funds to offer GTAs a better deal, that is a result of its own distorted priorities. Rather than reinvesting student fees in teaching, the university sees fit to invest in its ‘reputation’ with showy procurements and daft rebranding initiatives, all while inflating the salaries of senior staff. The recent two-day general UCU strike was partly inspired by the fact that, in the past seven years, the salaries of university management have increased by 15 per cent on average, while those of frontline staff have fallen by 14.5 per cent.

The current (and, under capitalism, expected) trend towards marketization that sees students reduced to exploitable assets and universities to profit-driven business enterprises is concomitant with the casualization of the HE and FE workforce. Chasing after more students out of whom to wring fees, coupled with an unwillingness by the bosses to hire more full-time staff, necessitates more casualised staff, whom in turn universities seek to pay as little as they can get away with. This logic of ‘teach as many as possible at minimum cost’ creates a vicious, self-reinforcing cycle of marketization and casualization that could be the death of our sector.

The local battle for a fairer compromise at King’s is thus indicative of a wider struggle in which both full-time and casual staff are inevitably involved. Given the university’s unwillingness to climb down, we have no intention of shuttering this independent campaign group next year and will keep all tactics on the table.

2) Paid lecture attendance for all departments

Some departments already remunerate GTAs for lecture attendance and we have yet to hear an adequate explanation from the College as to why this is not a recommendation across all faculties. It is a reasonable expectation that GTAs should attend lectures in order to teach module material but they should not have to do so for free.

3) An end to outsourcing

GTA work should be brought entirely in-house as a matter of simple principle against the increasing casualisation of the higher education workforce. As a UCU exec, I find it troublesome that casual teachers employed via direct temping are not eligible for the workplace protection that membership within our union affords King’s staff.

Furthermore, on a purely administrative front, being paid via direct temping can make simple matters (such as chasing up an incorrect tax code or if the university fails to submit documentation on time) into an unnecessary hassle, as direct temping will pursue the employee in the event of irregularities, resulting in more work for them. For this reason, some departments (including Geography) have already discontinued this practice.

4) Demonstrator pay

We see no compelling reason that demonstrator pay shouldn’t be set at the same rate as teaching across Arts and Sciences. ASSET has even acknowledged in some of our correspondences with us that demonstrator tasks are comparable to leading seminars. They have suggested agreeing variances in rates according to “the level of pedagogic independence required”, which seems an unnecessarily awkward metric.

5) Addressing the situation of all casual staff

GTAs are not the only causalised staff members at King’s. The reality of the academic job market for most post-doctorates is up to a decade of piecemeal work, fixed-term contracts and minimal job security. This kind of work is also extremely transitory, with teaching fellows and hourly-paid lecturers forced to migrate all over the country (and beyond) at yearly, six-month and even three-month intervals in pursuit of employment.

In the next academic year, we will endeavour to reach out to other casual staff members at King’s, learn more about their working conditions and determine how best to fight for their interests.

6) Reaching outside of Arts and Sciences

The campaign this year has been mostly based in Arts and Sciences. There are practical explanations for this: the bulk of GTA labour is concentrated in Arts & Hums and the campaign began in Arts & Hums departments, meaning this was where our initial building took place.

The nature of our victories (particularly on essay marking) are weighted towards GTAs from the Humanities. However, we have been contacted by GTAs from a number of other faculties with horror stories about their working conditions. Evidently, we need to redouble our efforts to make this campaign as broad and encompassing as possible in 2016/7.

7) The return of PGCAPHE (or something similar)

This issue has already been covered at length in previous blog posts, but needless to say the removal of PGCAPHE significantly weakens the employment prospects of King’s postgraduates. The university must fill this void with, if not PGCAPHE, then a comparable, accredited teaching qualification so that we can chalk up something concrete on our CVs.

8) Building beyond King’s!

The exploitative conditions faced by GTAs at King’s are not isolated. Across the country, casual staff endure similar or worse treatment. We should look for ways of extending logistical support to GTAs at other universities, possibly via FACE, the UCU (which has just launched a massive anti-casualization drive) or both!

If our broader goals are to be won, we need to learn from successes of the past year. What has been most effective about our approach?

1) Assertive, direct action campaigning

Any successful campaign will utilise multiple angles of attack. While we have largely made use of ‘above-the-board’ methods, we were only invited to formal negotiations after we threatened a marking boycott and with the urging of the UCU and KCLSU. Our attempts to facilitate a proper discussion with management were also frustrated by apparently-deliberate attempts to misrepresent the dispute and keep key people out of the loop.

The fact is that under capitalism, workers (and casuals in particular) will only win what they demand, but demands mean nothing without the threat of direct action behind them. This encompasses tactics from the humble petition, to demonstrations, all the way up to strikes and boycotts. At present, 67 per cent of the academic work force in Britain is employed on a casual basis; at King’s, casual staff cover over half the teaching hours on some undergraduate courses.

The truth is that universities cannot do without us, making collective action by casuals – particularly with solidarity from full-time staff and students – extremely impactful. So far, we have not needed to take the final step of an all-out strike, but the intransigence of the College means we will keep this option on the table next year. The lesson going forward is that advancements can be won, but only if we are willing to be bold.

2) Cross-union support

Part of the reason that GTAs are in such a vulnerable position is that we fall in the space between students and staff. This campaign would not have been nearly as effective without a united front from the UCU and the student’s union, both of whom passed motions calling on College to acquiesce to our demands. A further motion of solidarity from Unison also lent us the backing of administrative and support staff. In effect, the largest voices of collective bargaining for all three strands of King’s employees were raised in our support.

It was joint pressure from the UCU and KCLSU that ultimately secured our first proper negotiation meeting with ASSET, while the resources at their command proved invaluable in spreading the word about our campaign. Going forward, it is imperative that we maintain this cross-union solidarity in fighting for a fairer deal for casuals at King’s. I am writing this blog post at the UCU national congress in Liverpool, where I intend to ‘talk up’ our campaign and speak to national organisers about how to build on our success.

At a local level, I am in talks with both the UCU and the KCLSU about how to further student-staff opposition to casualization and marketization. Believe me, the full-time lecturers are no happier about the situation at King’s than we are.

3) Getting the students on-side

If the bosses’ focus on the NSS is anything to go by, King’s is more concerned than ever with ‘student satisfaction.’ The advantage that we have over senior management in this regard is that the students know who we are. We provide their education. We offer them pastoral support. We track down obscure Bazin articles in the early hours before an exam. In short, we (by and large) have their trust.

It is to the advantage of the College that most students don’t even really understand the difference between a full-time academic and a GTA. In my experience, I have found that most are appalled at the exploitation we face when it is explained to them. They are especially perturbed to discover the terms under which we are expected to mark their essays and exams!

Communication with the student body is critical to our campaigning. The support of the student union is, of course, invaluable, but it is always worth speaking openly and honestly with our students about our working conditions and why our campaign group exists. Remember, students also suffer under marketization – just look at Evelyn Welch’s absurd, mandatory £1,000 deposit for MA applicants!

4) Reputational damage

Nothing rattles the King’s cage quite like seeing our university’s name (justly) dragged through the mud. When our survey (which found that 96% of GTAs at the college work overtime for free) was picked up by Times Higher Education and Roar, the College quickly promised a ‘review of the GTA experience’. This review (laughable as it was) proved to be our foot in the door. Publically linking GTA pay to the BME attainment gap – an especially sore point for the College – also paid dividends. In the next academic year, we must keep up this kind of media pressure. After all, the truth hurts!

5) Getting unionised and getting involved!

A united message is always preferable to a thousand independent voices. GTA pay conditions represent a single battle in a much wider fightback against marketization, casualization and exploitation that permeates King’s but goes beyond its walls. If you haven’t already, sign up to your local UCU branch and stand in solidarity with academic staff across the College.

We keep up the regular meetings next year. If you aren’t presently receiving our circulars, please get in touch at joseph.attard@kcl.ac.uk and we’ll put you on our mailing list.

Onwards to 2016/7! Students and workers: unite and fight!

We’ve come a long way – further than many thought possible – but there are still battles to be won. We should be immensely proud of our achievements, but we can’t afford a second of complacency. Going into the new academic year we need to proceed as a disciplined, organised and assertive campaign group.

King’s has shown that it can afford a fairer deal for staff, but will only reinvest in teaching when we stand up and demand it. That’s the nature of being an exploited worker under capitalism, and the only antidote to exploitation is solidarity.

Best and thanks again for everyone’s hard graft,

Fair Pay for GTAs

Prepared to Teach?

Training for Graduate Teaching Assistants at King’s College London is ‘a shambles’

For many PhD candidates, embarking on a life in academia, teaching is one of the big draws of the profession. It is also a daunting prospect. Working as a Graduate Teaching Assistant (GTA) is often the first teaching experience we undertake. We all take teaching seriously, and are committed to doing a good job, and to giving our students the best learning experience we can. PhD students tend to be people who care about education and have a commitment to university life. We have dedicated a lot of time, energy and money to the disciplines we work in and we want to give our students the opportunity to learn, ask questions, and to develop the same enthusiasm for the subject as we have ourselves.

One would hope that university management would feel similarly, and show their commitment to teaching by providing adequate, paid training for GTAs. Instead, they have withdrawn the Postgraduate Certificate in Academic Practice in Higher Education (PGCAPHE), leaving King’s graduates significantly disadvantaged in the job market, as well as demonstrating the College’s shallow and bureaucratic approach to training.

The only mandatory training one must undertake before being a GTA at King’s College London is the Preparing to Teach course provided by the King’s Learning Institute. This is a one-day course taken by prospective Graduate Teaching Assistants from all schools. It is not subject specific so, for example, GTAs who teach discussion-based History seminars will receive identical training to those who work as demonstrators in a lab.

We asked a selection of GTAs what they thought of the training at King’s. The feedback were overwhelmingly negative. Here are a few of the responses:

‘My GTA training consisted of the bog-standard Preparing to Teach course. Over four hours we had a handful of very earnest academics giving short lectures on good teaching practice, but the diversity of departments represented and the brevity of the event meant that everything was very vague. In fact, it was so slight and wishy-washy that I can’t remember any of what we were actually taught, all that sticks in my mind was when we were made to watch the ‘Spanish Lesson’ sketch of ‘Monty Python’ as an example of ‘bad practice.’ It was pretty dire. I can’t help thinking that it would make a great deal more sense for individual departments to tailor their own training.

When it came to teaching on my course, I was fortunate in that the course convenor was very clear in his instruction, but I still went out in front of my first class feeling like a complete fraud, totally unqualified to teach anybody. How can we be expected to teach to a high standard when we aren’t educated ourselves in essential areas like marking, feedback and student support? Preparing to Teach feels more like bureaucratic box-ticking than a genuine attempt to train us.’

 

‘The Preparing to Teach course was an utter shambles! The course was poorly thought through, oversubscribed and contained almost no practical advice on teaching. The provision to ensure equality and comfort for all in the classroom was particularly disappointing. I can’t believe the university are happy to send us into classes with such dismal examples of teaching practice, demonstrated by the King’s Learning Institute.’

 

‘Having taught in two different departments at King’s, I was struck by the complete lack of uniformity in how Arts and Humanities introduces its GTAs to the role. In Film Studies we are more or less expected to just get on with it, with almost no training whatsoever beyond the impossibly generalistic ‘Preparing to Teach’ class. When I taught in the English department a couple of years ago, however, all GTAs were given a two-day training session, which was far more tailored to helping those new to teaching to engage with their students. There were certainly things that could have been improved, but the fact that English (a far bigger department, admittedly) devoted this much time to training shows that there is (was? – I don’t know if they still do it) a commitment to helping GTAs provide the best experience possible for their students. In Film Studies, as I said, we are kind of left to our own devices, and I think this lack of uniformity in approach really needs to be addressed. I’m not suggesting that A&H wide intro classes would work, but I think there should be an expectation that each department provide a minimum amount of properly tailored training to each new GTA.’

 

‘The PGCAPHE issue epitomises a lot of the frustration around the discrepancy between the training/apprenticeship framing and the actual provision of such. I find it interesting that I would know nothing about the status of where we’re at with it were it not for other helpful GTAs pressing for info. Zero open communication about this possible intensive session, for instance.’

 

‘I must say that the English Department has been very helpful throughout. Though we were not paid for these sessions, we attended one afternoon of training about teaching delivery and another evening session on marking, all of which took place well before the semester and were well-organized and appropriate. This makes the failures of Preparing to Teach even more apparent. Though the KIL staff seemingly have good intentions, the delivery of this course was appalling. It was too full (30+), the attendees were from a range of departments, the tasks were inappropriate and almost entirely redundant. An indicator of how bad it was is perhaps the fact that the KIL staff were seemingly unable to implement their own advice. The slides were all too full and none of them were explained properly – particularly those relating to the replacement of the PGCAPH, which makes sense in hindsight – and they contained no practical advice. Even when posed questions about possible scenarios all of the answers were painfully esoteric, as though the staff were unsuccessfully trying out their teaching methods on us. Someone would ask a straightforward question and get a response along the lines of ‘see, now I would say that you have already answered the question yourself.’ Now that I’m thinking about it again, it was actually quite funny (more so than the Monty Python perhaps).’

 

‘I’d say that the Preparing to Teach session left me more nervous about teaching than I was before. If KCL’s official teacher training dept didn’t know how to properly cover the basics of teaching – i.e. managing disruptive classes, engaging quiet students, preparing for seminars – then it was quite clear that no-one was going to help me. Thankfully the course convener for my module arranged a meeting with me beforehand where we went through this, but if he hadn’t done this then I would have been completely unprepared as there was nothing organised by the CMCI department as a whole. I’d also add that the list of new modules has come out again, and despite what I pointed out in the focus groups there is no information that distinguishes CMCI modules as PGT rather than undergrad, no mention of the fact that this is co-taught, and nothing that says how the actual modules requiring GTAs are yet to be confirmed (and won’t be until the summer).’
‘Firstly, I think that we should be paid to undertake training as GTAs – that may well make the College reconsider the quality and duration of the training we are obliged to attend. The short training sessions provided by the English Department were very good, I thought, mainly because they aligned broader teaching concepts to actual practice. We were shown, and worked with, practical examples, and in one session, were given feedback on how we had assessed an essay. To someone who has never marked before, that was really helpful! More bespoke training before GTAs start to teach would be great – along the lines of observing a seminar session conducted by the module convenor, or by a current GTA. The centrally provided ‘Preparing To Teach’ course was, however, a terrible counterpoint to departmental training. It tried to homogenise the teaching skills required, which was of no use to anyone. Also, ironically for GTAs encouraged to teach undergraduates how to think critically, the ‘Preparing to Teach’ course refused to give us that opportunity. We were told, in sweeping, broad-brush terms, what we should do as teachers, and not a single question raised by us on how to deal with classroom challenges was answered. It was a complete and utter waste of time. I would like my day back, please.’