Report From the 2012 NUT National Conference
Our pension campaign was debated at length on Saturday afternoon. Discussion centred around the continuation of our campaign and further industrial action in the summer term and beyond. The motion that was passed congratulated NUT members in London for the strike on 28th March and called for further strike action in the summer term and beyond. This will involve establishing a programme of targeted local or regional strikes in the summer term and working to organise a further one day strike before the end of June. It also called on the National Executive to consider whether local action could be sustained (paid) and whether the campaign on pensions could be linked to a campaign on pay in the autumn term.
There were delegates who were disappointed at the lack of a clear timescale agreed, but the mood of conference was very clear that this campaign is not over by a long way and that we need to demand a reopening of discussions with the government.
The government is determined to attack the national pay and conditions of teachers, to attempt to introduce "local pay" and to promote "pay flexibility" and performance-related pay in teaching. The motion, passed unanimously, called for opposition to any efforts to remove or undermine national pay and conditions, and preparation for industrial action (including strike action) to defend them. It also called for a vigorous campaign to increase sixth form pay, with the aim of reestablishing pay parity between staffs in sixth-form colleges and schools.
Commenting after the debate on the priority motion on pay, NUT General Secretary Christine Blower said,
"The NUT is completely opposed to the GovernmentÂ¡Â¦s plan to attack national pay and conditions arrangements for teachers. Our head teacher members are only too well aware of how difficult it would be to establish their own pay system for their school. Not only would it take an inordinate amount of time, but local pay bargaining in some 25,000 separate schools would create unnecessary bureaucracy, complexity, cost and potential inequity.
"Depressing public sector pay in areas where there is generally lower pay would only serve to further depress local economies.
"The current two-year pay freeze for teachers follows a long period of real terms cuts, when their pay awards were well below inflation and will be followed by a cap on pay. The impact of the pay freeze has already hit teachers hard. The cut in take-home pay caused by increased teacher pension contributions from this month and continued high levels of inflation will make this much worse.
"Cutting the real and relative value of teachers' pay will make teaching as a career much less attractive. It will certainly also inhibit the movement of teachers around the country.
"The NUT will seek to work alongside other teacher unions to defend teachers against any proposals to attack national terms and conditions."
Delegates spoke about the damage that Ofsted does to teaching and to the health of teachers. The motion, that was passed, called on a campaign to ensure that Ofsted is not used as a political tool that is used to privatise schools through forced academisation. It also called for consideration to be given to non co-operation with inspection arrangements as an action strategy.
Appraisal and Capability
Ian Leaver and Jenny Day successfully moved an amendment to the motion on the misuse of capability procedures. It condemned the decision by the new head of Ofsted, Sir Michael Wilshaw, to remove the category of 'satisfactoryâ€ and replace it with 'requires improvement.â€ Michael Wilshaw disgracefully views high staff morale as a cause for concern, despite teacher stress and suicides. This is a pernicious means of further enabling capability procedures to be used to control teachers and encourage bullying.
A fringe meeting was addressed by Alan Munroe, President of the EIS - the Scottish Teachers' Union. The proposal in Scotland is to introduce a system known as 'Professional Update', the key purpose of which will be:
• to maintain and improve the quality of teachers and to enhance the impact that they have on pupils' learning;
• to support, maintain and enhance teachers' continued professionalism and the reputation of the teaching profession in Scotland.
As well as ensuring that teachers have a responsibility to consider their development needs, the system will assist teachers to identify constructive ways to update their skills, provide access to opportunities to address any areas identified as requiring support and offer a focus on ways in which they can enhance their career. Alan referred to things like 'an open and supportive culture in which discussion and review of effective approaches to learning and teaching becomes the accepted norm in schools' and to 'opportunities for all teachers to engage in ongoing self-evaluation'. It is made absolutely clear that Professional Update has nothing to do with teacher competence, and will instead focus on 'continuous improvement'.
This all seems very positive and miles away from what's proposed by Michael Gove for England, but something to aspire to and relevant for future discussions on joint union model polices.
As things stand schools should not be introducing new policies on either performance management or appraisal at this stage. The NUT, with other trade unions, will be discussing any changes with the Local Authority and will be insisting on separate policies on appraisal and performance management with no direct link between them. Four teacher unions (including the two headteacher unions) have agreed a joint set of principles to help guide any future discussions.
We are fortunate to have Amanda Brown, from the NUTÂ¡Â¦s head Office, coming to speak to our next local association meeting on May 2nd. She will be available to answer all your questions about the proposed changes to teacher appraisal. Further details on the back page.
An extremely well attended meeting, with standing room only, focused on forced academies and particularly on Downhills Community Primary School in Hackney. Parents have been very active in their opposition to forced academisation, with petitions, a song, events, fund raising and a legal challenge. This parent led campaign has been supported by school governors and staff. The political use of Ofsted by the government to put Downhills into a category has led to the resignation of a much respected head teacher. The campaign by Downhills should give a lead to all primary schools under threat of academisation and provides an alternative to the capitulation being shown by the governors at Queensmead Primary School in Leicester. The government have forced a sponsor onto the school. That sponsor is Harris who operate the Carpet Right chain and it was suggested that demonstrations take place outside every Carpet Right branch in the country.
The motion on academies reaffirmed the union's opposition to the privatisation of education through the expansion of academies and free schools. Currently a school can only return to being a local authority school after a minimum of seven years. The motion called on the Labour Party to make a commitment to reversing the academies programme and to allow schools to return to the local authority should a ballot show that parents and teachers want that.
Anne Blair and Peter Flack successfully moved an amendment to a motion on the economy by adding details of our opposition to privatisation of education through the academies and free schools programme. It also called for the reintroduction of the educational maintenance allowance for young people.
A packed fringe meeting heard from a Palestinian teacher and Gerard Horton, from Defence for Children International, about the plight of teachers and of children arrested in Palestine. Palestinian teachers and children face enormous hurdles simply to carry out their daily lives and education under Israel's illegal occupation. See the website for more details:
Sixth Form Colleges
Sam Lane from QE spoke on the motion on sixth form colleges, calling on continued support for the sixth form college network. She condemned the cuts in sixth form funding that are leading to redundancies and destroying enrichment and support for students.
A well attended fringe meeting on sixth form colleges discussed the cuts that are estimated at up to 20%. The NUT is committed to supporting strike action in colleges where cuts cause compulsory redundancies or are affecting workload, particularly where managements are pre-empting three years of cuts by making them all in the first year.
There was a lively discussion about the issues affecting members in schools, including launching a campaign to exempt sixth form colleges from paying VAT, which is currently the case in academies!
A motion on the year one phonics check asserted that the introduction of statutory testing of phonics for all year one pupils is unnecessary and inappropriate. There is no evidence that learning phonics 'fast and first' has a positive impact on children's long term reading ability or enjoyment of reading. Several delegates spoke about the testing of 'nonsense' and the benefits of instead encouraging reading for pleasure.
Christine Blower said,
"The Year One Phonics Screening Check will tell teachers nothing that they do not already know about the reading skills of the children in their class. A pass/fail test for six year olds is wrong.
"The NUT's own survey into phonics showed that over eighty per cent of teachers do not agree with statutory testing of phonics in Year one, and 84% believed that Reading for Pleasure is a far more important and relevant way to support children's early reading. The Phonics Check with its pseudo-words is confusing for many children - including children who are more fluent readers. 85 per cent of teachers said they were concerned about the impact on five and six year old children who might have to repeatedly retake the test if they failed it. As one respondent put it: 'Five years old is too young to fail'.
"This test is unnecessary and inappropriate for many children with special educational needs (SEN) and English as an additional language (EAL). Many schools are already drilling their pupils twice a day in the hope that the results when sent to RAISEonline will not trigger an inspection which will bring criticisms of their teaching.
"The fact that Ofsted is now inspecting the teaching of phonics in primary schools is a clear indication of the Government's will to permeate its ideology and dogma about phonics teaching throughout the education system. Schools which do not adhere to the strict phonics teaching criteria will face the consequences on inspection day. In addition, Ofsted intend that it is 'unlikely that any provider of primary initial teacher training will be judged as outstanding unless the quality of its phonics training is also outstanding'.
"It is vital that the methods we employ when we introduce young children of five and six years old to reading should bring understanding, reward and pleasure to them. Drilling children to pass a reading test will achieve the exact opposite."