The National Union of Teachers (NUT) conference in Liverpool at Easter was a fairly unified event, with the main focus on forthcoming struggles over SATs, workload, pensions and funding cuts.
In the case of national testing, the union is awaiting the result of a ballot of “leadership group” members in primary schools which could lead to a boycott of this year’s SATs. The ballot is part of a joint campaign with the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) and conference was addressed by Mick Brookes, their general secretary. He implored members of both unions to vote in the ballot, saying to those people who are fearful about voting that that is the very reason to vote “yes”.
He also reiterated both unions’ opposition to any new assessment that allows league tables to be formed. Children’s authors Michael Rosen and Alan Gibbons both spoke passionately in support of the campaign and about encouraging reading for pleasure and the reading of whole texts. They both criticised the fact that some new schools are now built without a library, even though it is still a statutory requirement in new prisons.
On workload, conference unanimously passed a motion calling on the government to directly negotiate with unions, a moratorium on new initiatives, and an end to excessive assessments. We voted to publicise our campaign in preparation for a national ballot of action enabling members to work to contract. As a delegate from Brent said, “We need to stop asking for a 40-hour week and start taking a 40-hour week!”
Conference called for a defence of current education funding and public services, and the retention of the teachers’ pension arrangements secured in 2005. There was a widespread assumption that, particularly in the event of a Tory election victory, the pensions of public sector workers, including teachers, will be under attack. There were also calls for an increase in the state pension to the EU average.
Conference called on the TUC to co-ordinate industrial action in opposition to any programme of public spending cuts. It also congratulated RMT and Unite for their determination to protect their members, and called on the union to lobby the TUC to campaign on repealing anti-trade union laws. In a well-received address to delegates, Mark Serwotka argued that unions like PCS and NUT should start to prepare this campaign now.
Conference was to have been addressed by a speaker taking part in the British Airways dispute. However, she felt too intimidated by management, and her written statement was read out.
The most contentious debates related to how to fight the BNP and how to build greater involvement of young teachers in the union. A proposal from the Stoke-on-Trent branch calling for a state ban on BNP members being teachers, governors or members of education committees was debated but ran out of time before the vote. It seemed likely that it would have been defeated.
A motion arguing that the NUT Young Teachers’ Conference should be allowed to submit a policy motion to NUT annual conference was fully debated and, to my surprise at least, was defeated narrowly on a card vote.