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National Union of Teachers conference: Battle on workload begins
Teachers' anger at the pay and workload they face was clear at this year's National Union of Teachers (NUT) conference. But unfortunately the new 'left' executive's acquiescent attitude was also evident. While the SATs boycott grabbed the press headlines, the Socialist Teachers Alliance (STA)/CDFU majority appeared lacklustre on leading struggles on other key issues facing teachers.
Dave Reid reports from NUT conference in Cardiff
THE STRESS faced by teachers today was revealed by the debate on mental health at this year's conference. This is considered the biggest problem facing teachers, with four out of five teachers expecting to leave the profession because of stress.
The huge pressure on teachers was graphically revealed in the debate on SATs, the rigid tests that students are required to undergo in England. The conference unanimously voted for a boycott of SATs in 2010-11. Speaker after speaker denounced SATs because of the pressure it puts on teachers, children and parents and the distortion it causes to education: "Let's end this child abuse" said one speaker.
But the danger is that teachers could be disappointed by the final outcome. The executive motion that was passed called for the boycott, but nowhere did it say how it would be carried out and at what stage it would begin - at the start of the year, in the run-up to the tests, or on the day of the tests?
Unless this is clarified there could be confusion over the boycott. And faced with possible legal action by the government, it could be left up to teachers in individual schools to decide what to do. The action might not take place, or only in isolated areas and schools.
And the union leadership appear to have no other strategy. When Socialist Party member Derek McMillan asked how the executive would galvanise members after the disappointment of last year's abandonment of strike action, acting general secretary Christine Blower replied sharply: "I think the answer is the SATs boycott, Derek".
In any case the government is considering replacing SATs with other forms of assessment. Many delegates referred to the abolition of SATs in Wales, but, as a Welsh teacher pointed out in the Classroom Teacher meeting, the assessment process in Wales actually increased the workload of primary teachers. There is a danger that the government might propose a change to SATs that will not change the target-driven culture that is damaging students and teachers alike.
A similar problem was also reflected in the debate on cover supervisors, who have been replacing higher-paid supply teachers as cover for absent teachers. Conference debated two amendments. The amendment from the executive watered down the union's opposition to the use of cover supervisors. Another from West Sussex put the Socialist Party teachers' position to maintain the union's principled support for the demand for all students to be taught by a qualified teacher.
Some delegates reflected frustration that many schools have already agreed to use cover supervisors. They were looking for a way to approach the issue where cover supervisors already exist.
But instead of leading a national campaign to rally the members to give them confidence to take up the issue where possible, the executive proposed an amendment that would sanction the use of cover supervisors for three days. This was passed.
The executive was assisted by members of the Socialist Workers Party who opposed the amendment from West Sussex by calling for "a reality check". One declared that the reality is that "teachers don't care who does the cover so long as it is not them". Sheila Caffrey, a Socialist Party teacher, called this an insult to supply teachers.
The reality is that now it will be much harder for NUT members to oppose the use of cover supervisors in schools as the principle of opposition to them was diluted by the executive's amendment. A government spokesperson reacted to the vote within hours, telling the press that the use of cover supervisors would be "a short term solution" in the absence of teachers.
Classroom Teacher (CT), initiated by Socialist Party teachers, is a campaigning newsletter written for, and by, classroom teachers. Launching a new pamphlet on workload, CT hosted an extremely successful meeting at the conference. Over 50 teachers packed into the lunchtime meeting to discuss how the issue of workload impacts on most teachers.
Martin Powell-Davies issued a rallying call for action in the conference debate on public services. He pointed out that the government would attack the pay, the conditions and especially the pensions of teachers. He warned conference to prepare for action, contrasting the guarantee to banker Fred Goodwin's pension to the threat to teachers' pensions.
A number of young Socialist Party teachers at the conference represented the new generation of determined young teachers who will not accept these attacks lying down and will force the NUT leadership to take action to defend conditions.
More reports next week.
If you are a teacher and want help in organising a union in your school, if you want to take action to defend teachers and education, if you want to give us your views about the pressures teachers face: write to: firstname.lastname@example.org http://classroomteachers.blogspot.com
Pressure from below pushes union into action
Socialist Party teachers at NUT conference were expecting a resolution on workload, pay and class sizes to be axed from the agenda, but after applying pressure, it was taken and passed. Martin Powell Davies, Lewisham NUT, moved it and Phil Clarke, Lewes, Eastbourne and Wealdon NUT, seconded it.
The motion instructs the NUT executive to draw up a comprehensive claim in line with union policy, setting out the linked objectives of improved pay, improved work-life balance and reduced class sizes.
It called for members to be prepared for a campaign of industrial action in support of the comprehensive claim and to be balloted for strike action if no satisfactory progress is made.
In The Socialist 15 April 2009:
Stop the slaughter of Tamils
Socialist Party election campaign
Socialist Party workplace news
Youth fight for jobs
Marxist analysis: history
Socialist Party editorial
Socialist Party campaigns
International socialist news and analysis