A major theme of NUT conference was fighting for a different vision of education. Time after time delegates referred to the Unicef report that placed children in Britain 21 out of 21 in a league table of the well-being and happiness of children in the richest countries.
A motion on primary education described the “intolerable pressures” placed on children who are constantly being tested and ranked. Delegates argued that the government’s obsession with testing was detrimental to providing children with a real education and put many children off learning.
Delegates voted to relaunch the campaign to abolish SATs tests and league tables.
Teachers also focused on the high rate of exclusions in academies and questioned the quality of the education academies provide. A motion on academies, which called for an immediate halt to further academies and all existing academies to be brought back into the state sector, was passed unanimously.
On Saturday over 250 people packed into a fringe meeting organised by the Anti Academies Alliance. The room was so full that there were around 80 people either standing or sitting on the floor. Alice Mahon, a former Labour MP in Calderdale, West Yorkshire, spoke about how academies are used as “blackmail” as the only way that schools would get any extra funding. She condemned the 10 Labour councillors on Calderdale council who were backing plans for an academy, for “leading from the front to a disastrous policy”.
President of the ATL union, Julia Neal, called the academies policy “deeply flawed” and said that it would “exacerbate the gap between the haves and the have nots”. And Christine Blower, deputy general secretary of the NUT, said, “The obsession with ‘diversity’ is a complete distraction. This is really about hierarchy – with academies at the top.”
Alistair Smith, secretary of the Anti Academies Alliance, spoke about the importance of having a national network to support campaigns around the country. He argued that local campaigns had to be broad and go beyond just involving teachers – local councillors, parents and activists all needed to be involved. “This is about campaigning for comprehensive education and saying that there is an alternative to the privatising agenda of the government,” he said.
Delegates at the NUT conference were buoyed by the news that teachers at the NASUWT teachers’ conference had voted in defiance of their executive to support a motion opposing academies.