Most teachers returned to work this week and did so facing a series of important
challenges and opportunities for the summer term.
Key to meeting those challenges will be turning the words of the excellent motions passed at the recent conference of the NUT, the largest teachers’ union, into action.
The union is calling for a campaign to end all the remaining Sats tests in primary schools and pledged to ballot members for a boycott of next year’s Sats if the government does not end them first.
The headteachers’ NAHT union conference takes place on the May Day bank holiday weekend and will debate an identical motion to that passed at the NUT conference.
NUT activists should be organising meetings in every area timed for the week after NAHT conference to build the fight to end Sats.
Speakers from both the NUT and NAHT should be invited, and from other teacher unions if they are locally prepared to back the campaign.
Parents and governors should also be approached to build the meeting. Such meetings can organise activity to rack up the pressure on the government and make this May’s Sats the last ever inflicted on our children.
There are many other issues teachers need to organise around. For example, there has been a welcome increase in the hours of nursery education children are entitled to.
But, because it is being implemented on the cheap, in many areas this is leading to increased hours and workload for early years teachers.
In London plans are already in place for a meeting in early May to bring together as many early years teachers as possible across the capital to fight this. Other areas should follow this lead.
Another major issue will be that of cover. From September this year teachers can only be asked to cover for absent colleagues in emergencies, according to a newly operative clause in teachers’ employment contracts.
Winning this in practice would be a massive gain – especially in secondary schools where cover is often a real burden. But it will take local struggles and organisation to win this.
Some areas have already called school rep and activist briefings for the start of the new term to build the fight to win “no cover”. NUT activists in every area should push for this to happen.
Meanwhile, the threat of the fascist British National Party (BNP) winning seats in June’s Euro elections is real – and across the country activity to try and stop the BNP is already being organised.
The NUT now has a political fund that local branches (associations) should apply to to fund anti-BNP activity in the run-up to June.
There is a crisis in 6th form education due to underfunding and the NUT conference agreed to fight this – including balloting on action if teachers’ jobs are threatened.
Activists need to check what the situation in their area is and, if needed, move to push for resistance on this front.
The NUT conference also agreed to back the march for jobs in Birmingham on 16 May, called by the Unite union.
Some local NUT associations have already booked coaches. Every area should book transport – perhaps in conjunction with other local unions – and fight to get the maximum numbers to the Birmingham protest.
If local NUT associations move on these key issues they can involve wide layers of members in activity.
They can also build local leaderships in the union, which can only be done with a division of labour and a range of activists taking responsibility for these different strands of resistance.
We can lay the basis for a campaigning summer term – and perhaps winning some real and long overdue victories for teachers and the children we teach when the new school year starts next September.
Paul McGarr is a teacher in east London
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