NUT Conference took place between Friday, April 3, and Tuesday, April 7 in Harrogate. Here’s what happened.
What Were the Main Issues?
1. Funding Crisis:
The big austerity squeeze and a struggle to balance the books amid looming pay and pension hikes were top of the NUT’s agenda.
Christine Blower, general secretary, said teachers and pupils have been hit hard by cuts.
“Teachers have seen job losses, worsening working conditions and restrictions on pay progression,” she said.
With rises in pay, pension and national insurance contributions set to heap more pressure on school budgets, Ms Blower added: “The NUT is calling for all political parties to commit to investing to provide the additional school places we need and to protect education spending.”
Union members rallied to the call, backing a motion to ballot members on strike action over the funding cuts – should the next Government fail to not address concerns.
They also voted to talk with other teaching unions about joint action.
2. Teachers’ workload and accountability:
The NUT said its “concerted” campaigning had put teacher workload and accountability high on the political agenda.
A survey by the NUT and You Gov found 90 per cent of teachers had considered leaving the profession in the last two years because of workload pressures. It was branded a “shameful state of affairs” by Ms Blower.
She said new graduates don’t see 60 working hours with little autonomy as an attractive proposition, branding the Government’s response as “woefully inadequate”.
She also took aim at the “toxic” influence of Ofsted leaving teachers “reeling with a mixture of fear and despondence”.
But proposals for a series of strikes were voted down by delegates.
3. Boycott baseline testing in primary schools:
The union outlined its “vision of primary education”, which included a stiff rebuke for the Government’s prospective baseline assessments in primary schools.
Members were told the continued and increased focus on high stakes testing is having a negative impact on children’s education.
Delegates voted to “work towards” a boycott of base-line assessments as the first step in undermining the basis of testing in primary schools.
Ms Blower said: “Government policy for primary education is on the wrong track. Unless challenged by teachers, it will give pupils a narrow and demotivating education, ill-fitting them for later life.
“Nowhere is this clearer than in the baseline assessment… If governments continue to constrain children’s learning with inappropriate testing arrangements, the union will step up its campaign, working with parents and the wider world of education to change this system for the benefit of children’s educational experience and learning.”
Best of the rest:
Calls for urgent action over asbestos in schools were sounded after an NUT survey found 90 per cent of schools still contain the deadly dust.
The union appears unappeased by the Government’s recent Asbestos in Schools review, saying teachers still remain in the dark about the true scale of the problem.
There were also claims that teachers are being used as “stormtroopers” in the fight against extremism. The line garnered predicted headlines.
— Sky News (@SkyNews) April 6, 2015
Research by two Cambridge professors in 19 schools also found that disabled and special educational needs pupils are getting an inconsistent education and there were more calls for equality for LGBT teachers.
There was also some more Ofsted bashing.
What can you expect to see in the future?:
NUT members got a lot closer to a strike than the other unions. But while they opened the door to future action over funding cuts, the union has given the Government until the autumn statement to prove it has listened to concerns.
A tougher amendment calling for a £2,000 pay rise and a calendar of escalating national strike action was defeated.
Delegates also backed a motion that could lead to a boycott of planned testing for four and five-year-olds.
The motion said all teachers should be made aware of the implications of baseline assessment, adding: “The tests are of no value to children, they are solely intended to monitor teachers and schools as pupils pass through the system.”
Again, a ballot among members would still be needed before any action.