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Ian Leaver, 15th April 2015

Report from Conference

What follows is a brief report from this year's NUT conference that took place over the Easter weekend. You can download the full booklet of motions debated.

Our Vision of Primary Education

Green pens ready...

The first debate at conference centred around the celebration of something that this government has set aside: education is for children and not for the purposes of accountability. Delegates attacked the new primary curriculum as over crowded, restricted and not age appropriate. They argued that children learn best when the curriculum is broad, balanced and based on experimental, investigative and creative learning. It was unanimously agreed to work with groups campaigning for an alternative vision of primary education, and towards a boycott of base-line assessments, as part of a strategy to undermine the current regime of testing in primary schools.

Nobody Should Be Working Sixty Hours A Week. Nobody!

Delegates attacked the accountability system and excessive monitoring that have massively increased teachers' workload. They called for the next government to end performance related pay, to introduce a binding work-life balance policy, to reduce working hours, to increase PPA time and to reduce class sizes.

40% of teachers now leave after their first year of teaching!

A strengthening amendment, proposed by Martin Powell Davies from Lewisham, called for an escalating campaign of national action with a day's strike in October and followed by a further two days in November, if negotiations didn't achieve significant gains. This was defeated.

Supply Teachers

Conference deplored the continuing erosion of supply teachers' pay and conditions. Many supply teachers find themselves in financial poverty, earning ?£100 a day with no holiday or sick pay. It was agreed that the union should campaign for supply teachers, employed by private agencies, to be allowed to join the Teachers' Pension Scheme and to push for improvements to supply teachers' pay. It was also agreed to establish the NUT Supply Teachers' Conference as an annual event to promote supply teachers' participation in the union.

Ofsted

Conference attacked Ofsted and its impact on children. It called for its abolition and replacement with an evidence based model of effective and supportive school improvement systems, trusted by teachers, fair, developmental, and which offered sustained and properly funded CPD.

The Global Education Reform Movement (GERM)

The Global Education 'Reform' Movement threatens education as a public service and a public good by imposing a business model on education. Its traits are competition, both between schools and between teachers, and test based accountability. It favours performance related pay and attacks on teacher unions.

Education in almost every country in the world is now subject to education 'reform' which is diminishing public schooling, promoting privatisation and destroying teacher professionalism. Such reforms are being advocated by the World Bank, the OECD, many private corporations and governments.

The GERM model views education as an opportunity to maximise profits, with the 'education market' valued at $4.4 trillion and growing. Unlike many commodities, education is a potentially endless source of profit for corporations to exploit. The audit and accountability culture of GERM takes education out of the hands of teachers, students, and the public in order to develop a commodity which can be traded globally. This view of education is about profit not people.

In the UK the GERM has flourished under the current government through the fragmentation of education provision via the growth of academies and free schools. The employment of unqualified teachers in academies and free schools has undermined education quality and is de-professionalising teaching. GERM is also behind the growth in standardised testing, including baseline assessment of four-year-olds.

Countries such as Finland have resisted the GERM and as a result, the education system in Finland is considered to be the best in the world.

The NUT will continue to argue for a model of education that has the interests of children at its heart, rather than the profits of global corporations. Kristine Mayle, from The Chicago Teachers' Union, addressed conference with "We are the penicillin for the GERM".

Special Educational Needs and Disability Code of Practice

Delegates argued that the new SEND code of practice and Education, Health and Care (EHC) plans will fail to meet the needs of children with SEN and disabilities. Conference called for properly funded and resourced Local Authority SEND services, support and training in SEND awareness and pedagogy, and research into the impact of the SEND code of practice on workload, budgets and on the education of children with SEND.

Organising Against Stress in Schools

Alicia speaking to Conference
Alicia speaking to Conference

Conference noted the increase in stress in schools caused by a punitive Ofsted regime, performance related pay, an imposed national curriculum, SEN changes, and excessive workload and observations. It called on the NUT to organise members to challenge the causes of stress and to offer guidance on collectivising casework.

Leicester H&S Officer, Andy Haynes, had written an amendment which was seconded by Alicia McElhill form Leicester. In a great speech, Alicia argued that we must launch a campaign to educate NUT members, managers, politicians and the public about the causes of stress. It strengthened the original motion by agreeing to support members who wish to take industrial action in any school that does not fulfill its legal responsibilities to minimize stress to the HSE stress management standards and for Ofsted to include the management of staff welfare as part of their inspection regime.

Many of the estimated 60 hours a week that a great number of teachers work are taken up by tasks which do nothing to help children learn. The Government must take action to stop thousands of teachers leaving the profession and do more to develop a strategy for teacher recruitment that reflects the diverse nature of school communities.

Black Teachers' Conference motion

The motion highlighted the number of BME entrants to the profession and the lack of black representation in middle and senior management. It called upon The NUT Executive to i) write to headteachers to encourage schools to have teaching staff that reflect their student population; ii) support and promote inspirational initiatives such as refugee week; iii) distribute the booklet 'truth, lies and migrants' to all members; iv) be more creative in encouraging members to participate in the course 'aspiring to leadership' and equal access to promotion.

Failure to Fund Education - The Crisis

This executive priority motion called on all political parties to commit to protect education spending in real terms. It instructed the Executive to prepare for a ballot for a national campaign of strike and non-strike action on the impact of cuts on pay and working conditions, if no progress is made in talks with the new government on the issue of funding which would help avoid such cuts. An amendment highlights the 20% cuts to post 16 funding which have resulted in bigger class sizes, shorter teaching hours, cuts in tutorial support and enrichment activities, the loss of EMA and the narrowing of the curriculum. Teachers have suffered cuts to teaching posts and seen workload and contact time increase. The amendment demanded funding and VAT parity with primary and secondary schools.

A further amendment gave clear demands of 20% PPA time, class sizes in all sectors based on current NUT policy and a ?£2,000 flat rate pay rise for all teachers. It also called for a calendar of escalating national strike action to win these demands. This amendment was defeated.

A Strategy to Win

Rather like the amendment to the priority motion, this motion argued that our current campaign has failed to sufficiently protect teachers and education in the way that the union and its members would have wanted it to. It called for:

a clear action strategy which members can see is not just about registering our protest but has the prospect of winning meaningful improvements to our pay, pensions and working conditions;

clear demands that we are seeking to achieve through our action.

However, an amendment ripped the guts out of the motion. On a 'card vote' the amendment won by 122,493 to 111,188. That vote set the tone for ensuing debates and ensured that there would be no calendar of industrial action publicised for the Autumn term.

Celebrating Older Teachers

Many speakers argued that schools benefit from employing a range of staff, including olderteachers as well as those new to the profession. It was argued that older and more experienced teachers are able to challenge the unthinking imposition of 'educational' initiatives that are often shortlived, time consuming and of little educational benefit, and can draw upon a wealth of educational experience to support teaching and learning in their schools. Schools should be encouraged to deploy older teachers in advising and training teachers, thus building on their expertise. All teachers, whatever their age, are entitled to high quality CPD that is appropriate to them and their post. It was noted that older teachers, especially women over fifty, are increasingly likely to be targeted by employers, with a view to ending their employment early. This has frequently involved the use and abuse of sickness and capability procedures. Conference further notes that such measures are likely to become more frequent as the pension age rises unacceptably.

Organising to Win

For me, one of the highlights of this year's conference was a fringe meeting which highlighted successful campaigns that had taken place over the last year. Midlands school representative of the year (and first time conference delegate) Alan Murray talked about the successful action at Gateway Sixth Form College that saw management back down over an imposed classroom observation policy and saw membership and activism at the college soar. Alan shared a panel with, amongst others, Jill Lord from Beckonshire, who won national rep of the year (right in the photograph) and Kristine Mayle from the Chicago Teachers' Union (left of Kevin Courtney in the photograph).

 

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