Members of the National Education Union will gather this weekend’s for a special virtual conference.
The event has been organised to replace the union’s physical conference, which should have taken place at Easter but was cancelled because of coronavirus.
The NEU executive has approved three motions, all related to Covid-19, to be debated at the event this Saturday.
Here, we round up what delegates will talk about.
‘Nightingale schools’ and classes capped at 20
Motion one calls on government and public health authorities to “very carefully consider” the closure of restriction of other activities and services before closing schools, and to boost the effectiveness of local test, track and isolate systems including “comprehensive sample testing in schools and colleges”.
It also demands “more detailed contingency plans” for possible local or wider school closures “by being clear about the infection/R rate thresholds at which schools/colleges in an area should close or move to smaller class sizes”.
However, members have tabled various amendments to the motion, including one demanding more guidance for special schools, another calling for investment in school buildings and “Nightingale schools” to create smaller classes, and one which calls for class sizes to be capped at 20.
If the substantive motion passes, the NEU will establish a members’ working group to look at blended learning strategies.
It will also call on workplace reps and officers to “regularly review the safety of full opening in their schools and colleges” and respond to local outbreaks by raising safety concerns with leaders, negotiating “appropriate” control measures and sharing “experiences and best practice”.
Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the NEU, warned this morning that the government’s will to open schools and colleges “has not been matched by the preparations and resources needed to keep the openings safe”.
“The government’s imperative to open schools and colleges should have been underpinned by government action to do so as safely as possible. This action has not been taken, and the consequences are being shown now in declining pupil attendance, something no-one wants.”
Reviews of workload in all schools
Motion two focuses on improving the terms and conditions of teachers following the Covid-19 pandemic.
It calls on the union’s executive to “build on recent success” to secure implementation of national pay increases and scales in all schools (academies currently don’t have to adhere to the national pay scales).
It also calls for a campaign to secure reviews of workload “by all employers ensuring that already excessive workload does not increase”.
Bousted said Covid had “exposed the fragilities in our education system. The lack of coordination. The lack of information by government.”
She added: “The government and the DfE are struggling hugely to get accurate information about what’s happening in schools, including daily rejoinders for local authorities to ring round schools and academies to find the attendance rates.”
Again, a series of amendments have been tabled, including one to add wording about the “particularly devastating” impact Covid has had on women, particularly black and disabled women and calling for gender impact assessments “on all staffing restructures”.
Another amendment calls on the union to issue “immediate guidance to members and reps” on countering additional workload “caused by any direction to provide work and learning experiences for students at home whilst continuing to cater for classes in school”.
“The guidance should include escalation strategies should the employer not respond adequately,” the amendment reads.
Change exams and tell Ofsted to ‘stay away’
Motion three warns that the Covid-19 crisis has exposed “weaknesses in our systems of assessment and accountability”, and calls for next year’s SATs to be replaced “by a system of moderated teacher assessment”. Next year’s GCSEs and A-levels should also have a “mixed model” next year, including “reduced content and moderated teacher assessment”.
“None of us would have wanted, this summer, to go to a system of unmoderated centre-assessed grades,” said Bousted this morning. “That was not something that was called-for by the unions, that was not called-for by anyone. That happened because the government didn’t take control of the situation.
“The danger is that Gavin Williamson and Boris Johnson’s will that exams will take place will cause yet another catastrophe next summer because circumstances will change and the government is showing yet again how unwilling it is to look at the reality of the situation and to react to it.”
If the motion passes, it will become official union policy to call on heads and governors to “refuse to require preparation for SATs, instead concentrating all resources on recovery”.
It also calls for a suspension of Ofsted inspections and league tables for 2020-21.
“The idea that it is in any way helpful or supportive to schools and colleges in these extraordinary times to receive a visit for a day from two inspectors to ask school leaders how they’re coping with the crisis is just unbelievable,” Bousted added. “If Ofsted really want to help, they should either stay away or offer to supplement schools and colleges by teaching.”
Members will seek to amend the motion on Saturday to include a call for Ofqual to carry out and publish research on the difference between centre-assessment grades and the scaled GCSE and A-level grades “for black children, girls vs boys and disabled children”.
Another amendment seeks to add that the union should investigate industrial action ballots “around workload and other impacts of SATs preparation on members” to reinforce its campaign.