Socialist Worker

NUT teachers' union conference opens: 'Iraq is Blair's legacy'

by Kelly Hilditch
Issue No. 2045

Baljeet Ghale this year became the first black president of the NUT teachers' union. In her opening address to conference this weekend she attacked the Labour government's record on education.

She said, “This year marks 200 years since the abolition of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. It is 60 years since India's break from the shackles of colonialism and 40 years since Israel illegally occupied the West Bank and the Gaza strip.

'And of course it marks ten years of a Labour government. How we rejoiced to see the demise of a discredited government up to its neck in a 'cash for questions' scandal.

'How we dared to dream that a Labour government would end privatisation, selection and talk of performance related pay. How we dared to hope that what they promised in opposition they would deliver in government.

'Labour promised a significant school building programme. And now we have Building Schools for the Future – money with strings attached. Local authorities are being told – have a city academy or there will be no money.

“£35 million is the normal spend for the building of an academy. A quick numeracy test for Tony Blair: £35 million multiplied by 400, divided by the number of state secondary and primary schools in England and Wales? A rough estimate makes that around half a million for each of the 25,000 state schools in the country.

“As he reaches the end of his time as prime minister there is something increasingly desperate about Blair’s attempts to create his legacy. Much as he might wish it to be, academies will not be his legacy. It will of course be Iraq.

'He might have claimed that his priority was education, but unfortunately for us, and more importantly for the people of Iraq, his legacy will be the illegal war he has waged there.

'His misjudgement and arrogance cannot be disguised. He can continue trying to rush through an untested academies programme but will forever be remembered for the war.

“And what of education secretary Alan Johnson’s plan to teach Britishness in schools? Johnson explained what he meant by Britishness in a BBC radio interview in January as, ‘values we hold dear in Britain: free speech, tolerance, respect for the rule of law.’

In what way, I’d like to understand, are these values not held by the peoples of other countries?

Terry Eagleton wrote about the ludicrousness of such a policy, writing, 'There are no British values. Nor are there any Serbian or Peruvian values. No nation has a monopoly on fairness and decency, justice and humanity.’'

She went on to argue that the gap between investment in private and comprehensive schools must be closed. She said, 'And where will the money come from to support these initiatives?

'It is estimated that the war in Iraq will have cost Britain £6 billion by the end of this year. Now we hear that £76 billion is being earmarked for a new nuclear weapon to replace trident.

'The government's priorities are all wrong. Surely this money would be better spent on education with billions left to rebuild hospitals and an NHS to be proud of and free for all.'

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Sat 7 Apr 2007, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 2045
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