NASUWT Teachers Conference – Pay and pensions high on agenda

NASUWT members say ‘No to 68’ for retirement age
NASUWT members say ‘No to 68’ for retirement age

TEACHERS from across the UK will be gathering in Birmingham at the Annual Conference of the NASUWT teachers’ union over the Easter weekend to debate motions for which members from across the UK have voted.

The Conference is being held at the International Convention Centre (ICC) in Birmingham from 18-21 April.

The motions include issues such as inspection, unqualified teachers, the impact of financial hardship on children and young people and the abuse of social media. Pensions, pay and the health and wellbeing of teachers will also be high on the agenda.

The impact of government policy on children and young people will be a major concern for Conference representatives and the Conference will provide the opportunity to confirm the Union’s intention to continue standing up for standards in defence of the world-class public education system.

Over the course of the weekend, the NASUWT will be issuing reports on the cost of education and financial hardship faced by families.

A food bank has been organised in the Conference exhibition area to which representatives will be contributing and which at the close of Conference will be shared with West Midlands charities.

Chris Keates, General Secretary of the NASUWT, said: ‘With four years of relentless assault on public education and the teaching profession behind us and a General Election in sight, this Conference will be the opportunity to send a strong message to parents, the public and politicians about the impact of four years of the Coalition Government’s education policies.

‘And it is a sorry record. ‘Resignations from the profession are at an all-time high and teacher morale is at an all-time low. We are witnessing record levels of youth unemployment, child poverty and homelessness.

‘Holding the Conference at the Birmingham ICC will provide us with the opportunity to engage directly with the public over the Easter weekend and raise awareness of the fact that our public education service is not safe in the hands of the Coalition.’

The NASUWT secured compensation of £20,652,458 for members in 2013. The figure represented an increase of over 30% compared to the 2012 figure of £15,610,924.

The compensation was awarded for successful claims for unlawful deduction of wages, unfair dismissal, breach of contract, constructive dismissal and discrimination on the grounds of sex, disability, age and trade union activity.

The largest employment-related assault claim was £113,905 for a member in the West Midlands who suffered serious physical injuries after being assaulted by two pupils when she intervened to break up a fight between the pair.

The 33-year-old secondary school teacher tried to de-escalate the situation verbally but as the two pupils, who were in a dangerously high balcony area, continued to fight she felt she had no other option than to physically intervene.

In the course of her intervention she was assaulted by both pupils, suffering injuries to her face, head, neck, right arm and shoulder. She subsequently also developed fibromyalgia and severe post-traumatic stress disorder.

She was unable to return to work following the incident.  The largest employment tribunal out-of-court settlement obtained by the Union was £50,000 for a female primary school teacher from Wales whose employer failed to follow appropriate redundancy procedures.

The NASUWT lodged a tribunal claim on the basis that the time for consultation was too short, the pool for selection for redundancy was defective and there were deficiencies in the selection criteria.

Chris Keates, General Secretary of the NASUWT, commented: ‘The tragedy is that in most cases compensation would be unnecessary if employers followed good employment practices and followed health and safety procedures.

‘Instead, teachers have their careers, lives and health blighted and millions of pounds of public money has to be spent. Employers flout the law, but it’s the teachers and the taxpayers who pay the price.

‘Behind every one of these cases is a person who has been damaged physically or mentally, either because of injury or unfair dismissal. The distress and pressure of the incident to the individual teacher and their family has often been compounded by years of legal action and court proceedings before any award is made.

‘While compensation is important, it can never make up for the fact that many of these teachers suffer permanent physical and mental injury and often cannot continue in their chosen career. It is deeply disturbing to note that instead of seeking to protect working people, the Coalition Government is recklessly deregulating health and safety provisions, employment and equality legislation. Consequently, more of these cases will arise.’

• Meanwhile at the ATL annual conference in Manchester, Alison Sherratt, president of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, spoke to delegates about Education Secretary Gove.

She said: ‘Gove promised much in his 2010 speech, but sadly his interpretation of his promises have been detrimental to education. Let’s check his progress.

‘Here in 2010 he asserted that he was a pragmatist, a Conservative who rejected ideologies and believed in evidence. And yet since then he’s imposed a system of performance-related pay even though international evidence tells us it has no impact on pupil attainment.

‘He spoke about his determination to give professionals a greater degree of freedom over how to teach, and I quote: “The way to attract gifted professionals into any field is to treat them as professionals to give them a greater degree of autonomy.”

‘And yet he has imposed a system of synthetic phonics based on a single flawed study which leads teachers to spend hours practising nonsense words, and he has prescribed a curriculum that imposes forms of calculations and lists of words to spell.’

She added: ‘But crucially for me one statement stands out in neon highlighter: “I want to have debate with the profession.”

‘Well colleagues, I cannot remember having meaningful debate about the suggestion that all teachers should accept an eight or nine hour working-day. We know this can never work based on the evidence within the DfE document containing teacher’s working hour figures that I have already mentioned.

‘His first white paper was called The Importance of Teaching, and yet he believes teachers don’t need to be qualified and can be trained on the job, adding to a crippling workload that could lead to a recruitment crisis. Yet another example of ignoring advice from the profession.

‘Michael Gove truly believed in his promises, but those he has kept are unworkable. He is consistent in his principles, but his principles are flawed. Mr Gove is firmly sticking to his current ambition to let in more private companies to run education.

‘This is crumbling around his ears as we hear of problems popping up every day, such as the difficulties being experienced in Hull regarding free schools opening, and then closing shortly after.

‘This is leading to many children being disrupted and their education put into jeopardy, which the ATL branch secretary has alerted us to. Further proof can be found in the problems with E-Act sponsorship of academies, with 10 schools being taken out of the company’s control by the DfE due to poor educational standards.

‘If a business runs into organisational problems because the product or service is not up to scratch, or turns up late, it is frustrating but not life-changing. But let us be quite clear. The failure of E-Act and other similar schools is not about a missing parcel or a broken object that can be replaced. It is about the life chances of children.

‘And, as my husband, a retiree of 33 years in education, said: “When you gamble there are always losers, and when you gamble with children’s education they will be the losers. Life is not a rehearsal for the real thing. There is only one chance to get it right!”

She concluded: ‘It has never been as imperative as it is now to work closely with our fellow unions, to find common issues and to develop common strategies to create one strong voice. And it has to work all levels, nationally, locally and in the workplace to achieve one goal – to speak out for education.

‘Colleagues, here are your six key themes:-

• A broad, inspirational curriculum which prepares young people for life.

• A supportive assessment system with a range of methods to improve students’ progress.

• Collaboration rather that completion, so schools focus on educating pupils not meeting demands of league tables.

• A positive inspection system where staff and student grow with a locally accountable partner.

• A motivated, valued workforce supported with ongoing CPD and with fair reward.

• A transparent, equal access-for-all education system which is not run for profit.’