The National Union of Teachers (NUT) annual conference took place in Torquay over the Easter weekend.
There was a clear mood for action. Strongly worded motions were passed against the anti-union laws. Many teachers spoke of the solidarity action they had taken to support their local government colleagues during the 28 March pensions strikes.
By far the liveliest debate was over how the union should step up the fight against the government’s Education and Inspections Bill.
The union executive proposed an emergency motion attacking the bill. This was passed unanimously by conference. The motion called for the union to tell parents, teachers and governors why they should oppose the bill.
Speaker after speaker talked about the need for a day of action. Such a day could possibly lead up to strike action.
Martin Reed from the NUT executive proposed the motion saying, “This sends a message. Comprehensive education is about community. It is publicly accountable state education and we are united to defend it.”
Jane Bassett, a teacher from Hackney, east London, supported an amendment linking the attack on comprehensive education in Britain with neo?liberal policies internationally.
She called for industrial action to be considered.
She said “After nine years of Labour government we have seen the dismantling of the NHS, the disastrous war in Iraq and now we see an education bill that is about privatisation, segregation and betrayal.
“This is a bill that the Labour government can only pass with Tory votes. The third reading of the bill looks set to happen in May – so we need to move fast. We have to hold meetings, give out leaflets and send e?mails to our MPs.”
At a packed fringe meeting that discussed the bill, teachers highlighted the impact that it would have on education.
One key issue raised was that the proposals would separate children from the age of 14 into two groups – those taking vocational courses and those taking academic courses.
Labour MP Jon Trickett told the meeting, “During the House of Commons debate on the bill former Tory education secretary Ken Clarke said that this was a bill that he and Margaret Thatcher had wanted to push through 15 to 20 years ago, but had been unable to do so.
“The language of the stock exchange, of mergers and acquisitions, will come into our schools. It is not just an assault on our comprehensive education system, but about the kind of society we envisage in the future.
“We will not win in the commons without a mass movement on the ground – educate, agitate, organise.”
The executive has taken a very good stance on the bill, although there are fears that they have waited too long to act. But on other issues they were clearly against the mood of the conference.
The very first debate of the conference was on pensions with a motion proposed by Tom Woodcock, a teacher from Cambridge.
At the beginning of the session conference voted to accept the section of the executive report on salaries and superannuation.
Immediately after the report was accepted, NUT president Judy Moorhouse announced that sections of the pensions motion were now out of order.
These sections included opposition to the raising of the retirement age from 60 to 65, the worsening of the pension scheme for new members and the union’s support to members fighting these changes.
This gutted the pensions motion which had been prioritised by delegates.
Tom Woodcock said, “We have a choice – do we have a united workforce or a divided one?
“There may be unity at conference but that is only because we are all on the same terms and conditions.
“We are now reaping the benefits from the fights of trade unionists who went before us and fought for our rights. And now we are selling out workers of the future.”
Conference overwhelmingly passed a motion which highlighted the plight of people in Palestine and Iraq and called for the government not to attack Iran.
But the executive blocked sections of the motion that would have allowed conference to discuss affiliation to the Stop the War Coalition and the Palestine Solidarity Campaign.
Executive members explained their decisions by saying that “we cannot be seen to not be against terrorism” – a line of argument that was ridiculed on the conference floor.
With the majority of school students opposing the war in Iraq, teachers said that the stance of the NUT was embarrassing.
One of the other campaigns that teachers have been involved in is the Tell It Like It Is initiative, based around the book of the same name.
The book looks at the way the education system fails black children. A fringe meeting on this issue on Monday afternoon was attended by 150 teachers.
In the debate on pupil behaviour an amendment condemning anti-social behaviour orders and the demonisation of young people was narrowly defeated.
Respect had a strong presence at the conference.
Over 100 people attended a Respect fringe meeting on Monday night, with many Respect members bringing their delegations to the meeting.
Academies – schools for scandal
As delegates entered the conference on Monday this week, members of the anti-academy campaign group sold mock peerages, raising £47 for the campaign.
In the debate on academies there was anger against Tony Blair and his millionaire friends who back the scandal-ridden scheme.
Conference voted to continue its opposition to the transfer of comprehensive schools to academies.
The motion pointed out the inequalities between the state funding for academies compared to comprehensives – comprehensives receive £7,000 less per pupil.
One teacher, Jane, said, “The government says that students’ grades rise significantly when schools become academies – but this is not true.
“Privatisation of schools also means that nationally agreed terms, conditions and pay go out the window.
“We have to fight Blair’s academies, and we have to fight the Education and Inspection Bill that will essentially force councils to build academies in their boroughs in the name of ‘choice’.”
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