By Harry Phibbs
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Along with hot cross buns and chocolate eggs, we have the Easter tradition of the annual conference of the National Union of Teachers. After decades of hegemony this is an organisation which has experienced the most remarkable setbacks since Michael Gove became the Education Secretary three years ago.
The conference agenda for their gathering in Liverpool suggests a degree of bafflement over how their world has been rocked.
One motion starts by noting:
Despite the motions passed in previous years, academies are continuing to increase in number across the country.
It also notes:
Previous attempts to widen strike action to nearby Local Authority schools affected by academy conversion, on the basis that the LA’s ability to support schools would be compromised, have not materialised.
The strategy seems to be to pass more motions and call more strikes.
One motion suggests activity should be undertaken "even if it could be deemed illegal." Another makes a call to:
Explore all organisational, legal and financial implications for the Union of standing or supporting candidates in elections, particularly in respect of the Representation of the Peoples Act.
So that could mean Labour candidates who sign up to the NUT agenda getting money while those who refuse, see a candidate put up against them from a far left fringe group.
The motion on Sex and Relationships Education calls for "impartial and factual information" on such topics as abortion. It feels the cause of impartiality would best be achieved by condemning "the attempts by anti-choice groups to present inaccurate and misleading information in school" while resolving to "Continue to work with End Violence Against Women, Abortion Rights, Education for Choice, and other related groups, to develop campaigning on these issues."
In NUT land there are no failing schools or failing teachers, only those "deemed" to be failing.
There is a motion in which:
Conference condemns the manipulation of the primary curriculum and teaching methods through the imposition of unnecessary tests, in particular Year 1 phonics screening and the year 6 spelling, grammar and punctuation test.
There is a motion in the International Section which "rejects the paradigm of the World Bank." This sounds like a swipe at the fantastic education reforms in the Punjab. There was a report from the Reform think tank released at the start of the week with a forward by David Miliband. The scheme provides education vouchers in the Punjab for over 140,000 children at low-cost private schools with "better outcomes for less cost." Punjab also has it own free schools – "New Schools Programme, which funds non-state providers to open schools." Transformational for Pakistani children – but you can see why the NUT don't like it.
Another concern for them is the "threat" to "facility time" given that local authorities have fewer schools within their remit, and therefore less funding for union officials' salaries. There is an attack on the "Secretary of State for Education’s unhelpful comments about ‘academic rigour’." Finally there is a call for the NUT to find a way of "challenging the Negative Portrayal of Teachers and Schools."
Here I believe the NUT could have a substantial impact. Firstly, by cancelling the orgy of extremism that their conference represents. Secondly, by disbanding and thus allowing teachers to be regarded as dedicated professionals – rather than militant wreckers absorbed with vested interests.