THE two biggest teachers unions have begun their annual conferences, where they will challenge the government over pay, Ofsted inspections and England’s Academies and Free Schools, which seek to employ teachers without academic qualifications, set their own pay rates and terms and conditions of service, including pensions, and are run like private businesses that oppose trade unions.
The ATL teachers and lecturers trade union conference has already met and passed motions of no confidence in Education Secretary Gove and Chief Inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw.
The NUT and the NASUWT had already announced joint strike plans over pay, pensions and workload before they went to conference, and are certain to carry no confidence motions in Gove.
The two unions represent more than 600,000 staff – with the NUT having members in England and Wales and the NASUWT having members across the UK. A series of local strikes will begin in the summer term to be followed by a one-day national strike in the autumn.
The education secretary and his plans for performance pay for teachers, ending annual pay progression, and undermining the national negotiation of pay and conditions will be condemned at both conferences. The current annual rises for teachers, intended to reflect their growing experience, are to be replaced by a system linked to performance.
Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT, said there has been a ‘relentless attack’ on teachers and that government policies are damaging children’s education.
She said: ‘Teachers are concerned that children’s rights are being stepped over and there is a real concern about pay and conditions. Children need teachers who are rewarded as highly skilled professionals.’
There will once again be no ministers speaking to the NUT conference. It is now a decade since Charles Clarke decided not to address NUT delegates. Ministers continued to speak at NASUWT conferences, but there are none attending this year.
Jean Roberts, a teacher from inner London, told the ATL conference that the pressure that Gove and Wilshaw are putting on staff is ‘horrendous’ and that it is time to say: ‘Enough is enough.
‘I have no confidence in Gove or Wilshaw – if any of us behaved towards pupils in this way, we would be sacked.’
Speaking after the vote of no confidence was passed, ATL general secretary Dr Mary Bousted said: ‘Michael Gove and Sir Michael Wilshaw are like blood brothers with a pact to suck the life and hope out of our education system and the teachers who work within it.’
In his speech to the NASUWT conference yesterday, its President Mick Lyons said: ‘Daily denigration of the work and commitment of teachers, false claims of plummeting educational standards, and attacks on jobs, salaries, conditions of service and pensions are leaving colleagues heartily sickened and demoralised.’
He added that, ‘Since 2010 we have seen the imposition of damaging and ideologically driven changes to the curriculum, assessment and qualifications systems, the ratcheting-up of accountability pressures on schools, and the use of inspection regimes as a political instrument to force through structural reforms, including privatisation and academisation in England, and school closures and reorganisation in other parts of the UK. These developments are increasing daily the pressures on classroom teachers, headteachers and principals and are distracting schools and colleges from their most important task of educating children and young people.’
It is clear that there is a war taking place between a government determined to privatise state education and the teachers’ unions which are determined to defend it.
This war will be fought to a finish. To win it, the teaching trade unions must demand that the TUC calls a general strike to bring all workers out together to defend jobs, education, the Welfare State and benefits by bringing down the coalition and bringing in a workers government and socialism.