UCU responds to cancelled exams grading procedure (20 March 2020)

UCU responds to government plans to provide grades for cancelled exams

20 March 2020

Government plans to create grades for students who exams are cancelled this summer must take into account the barriers that students from disadvantaged backgrounds face, said UCU.

The union said its research showed that high-achieving, disadvantaged students are more likely to have their grades under-predicted than their wealthier contemporaries. UCU also said that it would be consulting with the staff tasked with working under the new system.

UCU general secretary, Jo Grady, said: ‘This is of course a unique and difficult situation, but we have concerns that students from disadvantaged backgrounds may lose out here. Research shows that students from disadvantaged backgrounds tend to have a better than predicted improvement in their academic attainment at A-level stage.

‘The government needs to set out how it will ensure that all students’ talent and potential will be properly recognised and rewarded. We will be consulting with our members to get their views on these plans and feed them back to ministers.

‘The current situation highlights the weakness of a heavy reliance on exams for key qualifications, and should give food for thought in terms of future reform.’

Coronavirus March 2020

Click here for latest advice to UCU members regarding coronavirus


Your Essex UCU branch are trying to continue to operate, albeit working from home. Please email ucu@essex.ac.uk to contact us but please be aware that all except Lorraine Collins are volunteers with lots else to cope with at present…so there may be a delayed response to queries. Casework issues should read this webpage.

Stay safe, all.

Ballots postponed 15 March 2020

Reballots postponed :

15 March 2020

On Friday afternoon UCU’s higher education committee (HEC) was convened for a special meeting to consider our next steps in our national disputes in light of the coronavirus crisis.

After extensive discussion, a decision was taken to postpone the reballots of higher education branches which were due to begin on Tuesday 17 March, and keep our options for progressing the disputes under review.

Following last week’s advice to cancel rallies and other large events, I have also decided to advise that those branches due to be on strike this week (click here for a list) should call off all pickets.

However, while pickets are called off, the HEC chair and vice-chairs have decided that strike action in those branches will continue. The action taken in those branches will give the union ongoing leverage in our disputes with employers, which have not been resolved. We may not be able to picket workplaces but we can still withdraw our labour.

A chance to resolve our disputes and focus on the Covid-19 crisis

This union is currently in dispute with employers over a range of issues including workload-related stress and ill health as well as equality, job security, pay and USS pensions. In the past two weeks, our negotiators have tabled proposals that fall short of our original demands but which we believe could represent an acceptable resolution to our disputes.

Coronavirus represents an extraordinary test of a university system that was already failing staff and students. Staff trust and goodwill have never been lower. The decision taken by HEC offers employers a period of time in which they can change direction.

We desperately need university leadership teams to show leadership and work with, not against us. Branches throughout the UK have been working extremely hard to respond to this crisis. We are leading the way and prioritising staff and students’ safety with an urgency that has been sorely missing in much of the sector.

An agreement to resolve our disputes and work with the campus unions to protect universities from this pandemic could be the only way to restore any goodwill towards employers before the situation becomes completely overwhelming. But if employers expect us to pause our action and/or take on extra duties to mitigate the effects of the outbreak without protecting us from its consequences, they will only be storing up more problems for the future.

We won’t escalate our disputes during the pandemic – but we won’t abandon them either

If we do not get that resolution, we are willing to temporarily refrain from escalating our disputes in light of this pandemic – but we will not abandon them.

We continue to ask members to take action short of a strike (ASOS) in institutions that have a mandate to do so. The issues we are in dispute over still need addressing. Continuing your action sends an important signal that we are not going away and maintains pressure on employers to resolve the disputes now. At the same time, the HEC has set a target to resume the reballots no later than the end of June. There will be further opportunities to consider new developments before then, including at the next HEC meeting on 24 April.

Further advice on Covid-19

Other decisions were taken on Friday by the national executive committee (NEC) and the HEC regarding the union’s response to Covid-19, including a call for institutions to close. We are currently updating our existing guidance for members in light of those decisions.

I will be in touch as soon as I can with more information. In the meantime, if you have any further questions about the union’s response to Covid-19, please click here to email us.

Jo Grady
UCU general secretary

Strike update 5.3.2020

Multistorey picket line 5.3.2020

Solid support on the picket lines and chatting with staff and students explaining about the reasons behind our action.

We had several organising meetings in Wivenhoe. Thanks to all the venues that are hosting us. There have been student teach-outs and banner making sessions too.

There will be a Feminist Picket Line at EBS on Mon 9 March to mark International Women’s Day which this year falls on Sunday 8 March.

There is also going to be a picket line to raise the issues around casualisation (watch this space either Wed 11 or Thurs 12 March)

If you would like to contribute to any of the working groups please contact the lead for that group listed below:

Workload – Peter Patrick – patrickp@essex.ac.uk
Casualisation – Ayse Sargin – ayse.sargin@essex.ac.uk
Equality – Jak Peake – jrpeak@essex.ac.uk
Environment – Jane Hindley – janeh@essex.ac.uk
People Supporting Strategy – Cathy Crawford – crawc1@gmail.com
International Women’s Day – Ayse Sargin – ayse.sargin@essex.ac.uk

Please do get in touch to contribute your ideas and perspectives so that the demands we generate are as relevant as possible to you and your colleagues.

See our twitter feed @UCUEssex for photos from our picket lines.

Please email ucu-picket@ucumail.essex.ac.uk if you wish to be added to the picket rota for next few week.

In the meantime, Jo Grady has sent out an email today which is very encouraging regarding national negotiations.

UCU Feminist Picket Mon 9 March, EBS picket line

March 8th is International Women’s Day.

March 9th will be the UCU Feminist Picket, co-ordinated with a number of other universities nationwide.
What: A chance to talk about feminism, women’s movements globally, and gender in higher education, as well as to sing songs, maybe even dance, and participate in an international demonstration of solidarity.
Where: The EBS picket line.
When: Monday, 9th March, 2020, from 8am
How can I help: easy! 
First of all, wear RED. We’d like to have as many people as possible wearing red on all three picket lines.
Secondly, if you identify as a woman, think about any stories you might like to share – there is an open invitation for speeches and songs!
Thirdly, make a placard – something visible – with a message about feminism or women’s equality*, in education or around the world.
Fourthly – invite your friends! Let’s get people down from across the university community, and not just from the UCU!
Finally – the European symbol for International Women’s Day is the carnation. If you are able, pick up a bunch of cheap and cheerful carnations to share out amongst all the button-holes of the branch!
Looking forward to seeing many of you, dressed in your Reddest Best, on Monday!
In solidarity,

Dr Jordan Savage

Lecturer in United States Literature

Department of Literature, Film and Theatre Studies
University of Essex