A NEU dawn: NUT and ATL hold final conferences

The National Union of Teachers and Association of Teachers and Lecturers held their last conferences as separate unions over the Easter break. The two sections will meet as one amalgamated National Education Union next year.

Schools Week’s political editor Freddie Whittaker attended so you didn’t have to.

1. Ofsted ‘overstepped the mark’ during hijab row

At its conference in Brighton, the NUT section voted in favour of a motion condemning comments by Ofsted’s chief inspector Amanda Spielman about a school’s decision to ban young children from wearing the hijab.

The union’s executive claims her comments “go beyond the remit of Ofsted”, and will now seek to advise schools on the best course of action to take when developing a uniform policy or dress code.

Kevin Courtney, the NUT’s erstwhile general secretary, warned that Spielman’s comments have “ramifications beyond the school gates” and could lead to “further marginalisation of, and increased physical and verbal attacks on Muslim women and girls”.

2. NUT puts pay strikes on the table

Following a heated debate about pay, NUT members voted in favour of a ballot for strike action next year if teachers aren’t granted a five-per-cent pay rise.

Under the terms of the motion, the union “commits to a ballot of all members for strike action, if our demands are not met, at the earliest opportunity in the 2018-19 academic year”.

The NUT will also now poll of members “as soon as is practicable” before the end of this academic year to “garner levels of support and identify areas of weakness to devote resources to” in the campaign for a strike.

Any ballot over strike action will also be subject to new tougher trade union rules for organisations representing public sector workers, which require ballots to achieve a turnout of 50 per cent and a vote in favour from at least 40 per cent of eligible members.

3. The school funding campaign ‘is not over’

In his barnstorming keynote speech, Courtney insisted the unions’ school funding campaign, which is credited with bringing the issue to the forefront of last year’s general election campaign, is not over.

The leader defied critics of school cuts campaign, and defended his union’s spend of £326,000 in the run-up to the election last June.

“We make no apology. We will do it again,” he said. “And we now have hundreds of thousands more parental supporters.”

4. NEU considers building a supply teacher vacancy service

At their conference in Liverpool, the ATL section voted to back proposals for an NEU-run third-party platform that would link supply teachers with schools directly, cutting out expensive middlemen.

during the debate, members demanded action on agencies that make exorbitant charges on schools but pay their staff a pittance. Karam Bales, who proposed the motion, said he was aware of one school that had spent £400,000 on supply teachers in one year.

The ATL’s executive will now discuss the idea with colleagues from the NUT. If the proposal gets broad agreement on the NEU’s joint executive council, it will officially investigate the viability of such a scheme.

5. MATs are ‘misusing public money’ while Ofsted and RSCs bicker

Mary Bousted, the ATL’s general secretary, used her speech to call for the resurrection of the “public service ethos” in schools.

She warned that that as a result of “turf disputes about who inspects what” between the inspectorate and regional schools’ commissioners, academy trusts are misusing money “given to them for children’s education”.

Bousted said Ofsted’s role must be reviewed, and appealed to academy trustees and chief executives to run their organisations more ethically.

6. Parents selectively withdrawing pupils from RE must be stopped

ATL members voted to demand action to stop parents “selectively” withdrawing their children from religious education lessons, claiming the practice is increasingly fuelled by antisemitism and islamaphobia.

Delegate Richard Griffiths warned that prejudiced parents are selectively using their right to withdraw to “isolate themselves and their children” from the beliefs of others.

ATL leaders will now seek agreement from the NUT section of the NEU to lobby the government to prevent pupils from being removed from religious education. They will also raise the issue of “selective withdrawal” with the National Association of Teachers of Religious Education (NATRE) and ascertain its standing.