By Patrick Yarker
The conference of the National Union of Teachers (NUT) met over Easter as the funding shake-up engineered by Charles Clarke, Secretary of State for education and skills, erupted into a slanging-match between ministers, head teachers and local government officials. Education providers were asking central government: where are the missing millions supposedly due to schools?
Why are teachers being made redundant in the middle of a teacher-recruitment crisis?
The NUT committed itself to industrial action in the event of compulsory redundancies.
Several conference speeches drew attention to the contrast between the bottomless purse available for spending on war and occupation of Iraq and the pay-cut meted out this year to teachers and the continued under-funding of the education system.
As a further cost-cutting measure and under the guise of reducing teacher-workload, New Labour is looking now to enable unqualified staff-classroom assistant-to teach whole classes on a regular basis.
This so-called "remodelling" met with a strongly hostile response from the union.
The conference passed an amended resolution that committed the union to balloting members for action if asked to cover for absent colleagues, and backed them up for refusing to provide planning materials which might be used to enable unqualified staff to "teach" classes.
Calls were made to campaign alongside classroom assistants on this issue. Many classroom assistants have no wish to do a teacher's job without the training and pay that goes with it.
The resolution also called for guidance to members on how to initiate the union's existing class-size action policy as a way to reduce workload.
The conference likewise voted to take a lead in ending the current regime of over-testing in schools by balloting members to boycott all SATs.
A packed fringe-meeting backed a call by Hertfordshire NUT to convene an anti-SATs conference.
It is vital that NUT members argue the case on all these issues with colleagues, parents, governors and the general public.
Local campaigning, using locally-produced material as well as that available on the union's website, should begin at once.
The government will attempt to present the NUT as being isolated on these issues.
In fact, the union is voicing the concerns and views of very many teachers in all unions and associations, and speaking out for a better education service. We think parents will understand this and will support us.
In the words of one teacher visiting the conference from the USA, New Labour wants to "stack 'em deep and teach 'em cheap". We cannot let them get away with doing this!