Delegates to the National Education Union (NEU) Conference will meet online on 7-9 April, 9.30am to 3pm each day. A "Defend NEU Reps" fringe meeting, Thursday 7pm, provides an opportunity to show solidarity and build the campaign to defend NEU Reps who are facing victimisation. The fringe meeting will hear from Louise Lewis (Huddersfield NEU), John Boken (Shrewsbury College NEU), Tracy McGuire (Darlington NEU and Executive), Kirstie Paton (Greenwich NEU and Executive), and Kieran Mahon (Redbridge NEU).
An early test at the conference is a motion on Wednesday 7 April to abolish statutory testing in primary schools and to "mount a vigorous campaign" for the abolition of GCSEs, the radical transformation of A Levels and other post-16 qualifications, and the abolition of UCAS in favour of enabling students to proceed to any university whose grade offer a student meets.
One of the key action points in the motion is to ballot all primary school members to boycott statutory high stakes testing in their schools for the school year 2021/22. A weakening amendment seeks to delete this key action point with a mañana formula which puts off a vague ballot reference to the dim future.
Conference needs to seize some of the spirit of the recent Section 44 action where teachers and support staff collectively refused to work in unsafe buildings, and pass the "stop toxic testing" motion without the weakening amendment.
Motions on abolishing Ofsted and League Tables, an inclusive curriculum, improving maternity rights, a pay campaign, Supply Staff, a National Contract for Education, and defending discussion and debate in the Union and in schools, will also be debated on 7 April.
Thursday 8 April begins with a motion on supporting school "leadership" (management) members in the NEU. It is perfectly reasonable to support school "leaders" against the hierarchy above them, but an amendment makes the case that sometimes leadership members can make members feel guarded about speaking out in school union group meeting.
When I became the National Union of Teachers (NUT, forerunner of NEU) rep at my first school in Northampton, the head teacher congratulated me on becoming the rep, said she was also a member of the NUT, but she would attend no union meetings because she didn’t want her presence to stop members discussing issues.
That seems a very good attitude, and one that the amendment addresses. It should be supported.
Thursday’s discussions also include motions from the Equalities sections, Black Lives Matter, Child Poverty, and PSHE, RSE, and LGBT+ and Inclusive Education.
A key motion on Friday morning is "Standing Up for Support Staff". This motion recognises the significant increase in support staff members and states the belief that the NEU "needs to be a union for education workers that fully represents all members, including support staff". Crucially, the motion instructs the NEU executive to "seek, as a matter of urgency, a way to end the undertaking not to actively or knowingly recruit support staff", an undertaking that is frankly quite embarrassing, as well as something that is obviously not happening in reality. Conference needs to catch up with reality, and needs to reject a weakening amendment which waters down the commitment to a union for all education workers in the building.
Friday afternoon is the International Section. The motion is simply titled "Venezuela". The focus is on opposing the economic sanctions against Venezuela imposed by the US Government in 2019.
Of course, it is right to oppose those sanctions, but an amendment to the motion adds an instruction to the NEU Executive to condemn the repression of independent trade unions by the Venezuelan authorities and to offer solidarity to Venezuelan workers’ unions which are seeking to organise independently of the state in order to effectively represent their members.
• Pat Markey is Secretary Northampton District NEU and Conference delegate, writing here in a personal capacity.