An “insane” national curriculum and “test mania” are forcing teachers out of the profession and making children ill, Mary Bousted said, as she issued a rallying call for joint union action against a government “attack”.
The Association of Teachers and Lecturers general secretary accused Nicky Morgan and her ministers and advisers of “living in a parallel universe”, while teachers struggled to cope with mounting pressures from curriculum and exams reform.
Bousted addressed a spirited audience, which yesterday heckled schools minister Nick Gibb and cheered shadow education secretary Lucy Powell, when she railed against government reforms and pledged to step back from the curriculum if Labour wins in 2020.
The union boss said the “nonsense” of baseline testing for 4-year-olds and the “farce” of key stage 2 writing assessments had made the jobs of many primary teachers “impossible”. But assessments aren’t the only thing heaping pressure on teachers, said Bousted.
“The new national curriculum is insane,” she said. “It is designed by people who know nothing of how to promote enjoyment of, and development in, writing abilities. This is a curriculum which requires the naming of parts.”
The new spelling and grammar tests for 11-year-olds are so hard, according to Bousted, that when put to a group of masters and PhD graduates recently, almost half did not pass.
She accused the government of trying to take away powers from teachers, claiming that plans to turn all schools into academies, which the government claims will remove “unnecessary bureaucratic interference” from the pay negotiations process, would instead take away the “necessary safeguards” that help to protect school staff from exploitation.
She added: “I can think of no time where teachers, lecturers and school leaders have felt less involved, less consulted and less able to exercise their professional judgement than now. Education ministers should give themselves a medal – they have succeeded in alienating the profession, disempowering teachers and driving them away from teaching.”
With a vote on an emergency motion scheduled for this afternoon, which could pave the way for industrial action over the government’s plans to convert every school into an academy by 2022, Bousted used her speech to make clear her desire to work with other unions and take joint action.
“Never has the time been more right for a coordinated response from all education unions to the attack we are facing,” she said. “Alone we can do something. Together, we can do great things.
“We must fight together to protect our profession, for the sake of the children and young people whose education depends on us. And we will fight and if we fight together, with parents and councillors, with other unions, with politicians, with governors, with the whole of civil society which opposes the madness of forced academisation, then we will win.”
A government spokesperson said: “While we’re pleased Dr Bousted has acknowledged the work we’re doing to reduce unnecessary work for teachers, it’s a shame she focuses on negatives and doesn’t show more pride in the work of her members and all the other teachers whose hard work and dedication has driven such improvement in recent years.”