Delegates at the conference of the most moderate TUC-affiliated teachers' union last week joined calls for action against the government. The Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) is the third largest teachers' union in England and Wales.
Delegates twice heckled education secretary Estelle Morris during her speech. She tried to win support by announcing measures that target parents for any indiscipline by their children at school. That did get some applause. No one directly challenged such scapegoating in the debate on pupil behaviour. But there was less of an atmosphere of blaming children and parents than there has been in previous conferences. And it did not stop Morris being heckled, a first for the ATL, over teacher shortages and low pay in further education colleges.
'A lot of people saw that what she was saying about pupil behaviour was a smokescreen,' Chris Wilson from Cambridge told Socialist Worker. Other debates and agreed policies reflected the continuing shift among ATL members to see themselves as part of a trade union rather than an apolitical professional association. It only joined the TUC two years ago.
A motion on reducing workload, put to the NUT and NASUWT conferences as well, was passed unanimously. It contained calls for possible industrial action in the autumn term. There was also overwhelming condemnation of privatisation. Andy Ballard from Somerset told Socialist Worker, 'The whole drive for privatisation by the World Trade Organisation has to be opposed. It is happening across the world. We should be on the streets like people are in other countries.'
Delegates rejected calls to abandon a debate on New Labour's policy of more religious schools. A clear majority of delegates voted to call on the government to scrap that policy.