From migration to libraries: A trade union conference round-up

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
United: Delegates voting at the NASUWT’s 2016 annual conference in Birmingham (Image: Mark Hakansson/Mousetrap Media)

Alongside our main news reports from the teaching union conferences this Easter, SecEd rounds-up some of the other issues raises by teachers from the three main teaching unions, including migration, capability abuse, abolishing Ofsted and school libraries...

Migration and racism

Teachers have condemned the “racist stereotyping” that has characterised much of the media coverage of Europe’s current migrant crisis.

A debate at the National Union of Teachers’ (NUT) annual conference in Brighton praised the work of schools to support aid conveys and the work of teachers who have been running schools and lessons in the Calais migrant camp.

The motion, which was passed, calls on the union to continue its publication of materials and ideas to help teachers discuss the crisis in the classroom and to continue work with anti-racist organisations to “defend migrants and refugees, and to campaign for policies that welcome them to this country”.

The NUT has produced a guide to Welcoming Refugee Children to your School and has a dedicated section on its website for teaching resources.

General secretary Christine Blower said: “The NUT condemns the government’s inadequate response to the current migrant situation, which has exacerbated the suffering for so many, including school-age children and young people. We will continue to press for anti-racism work to be enshrined within the curriculum of all schools.”

Punitive management

Too many employers are placing intense pressure on teachers by using the fear of inspection to make unnecessary demands and justify punitive management practices, the NASUWT has warned.

A motion passed at its annual conference in Birmingham welcomed the move by Ofsted to publish clarification around a number of “inspection myths” that drive workload in schools and instructed the union to “seek further improvements to the Ofsted clarification document as necessary”.

General secretary Chris Keates said: “The threat of inspection is now becoming a convenient stick with which to beat teachers, with poor management practices being justified by claims they are required by inspection. Even Ofsted’s chief inspector has now recognised this publicly as a problem.”

An end to Ofsted?

The NUT has reaffirmed its commitment to campaigning for the abolishment of Ofsted. A motion at the NUT, which was passed, urges the union to target the new leadership of the Labour Party in a bid to garner support for the campaign.

The motion cites NUT research showing that 90 per cent of nearly 6,000 teachers disagree that Ofsted inspection is the best model of school accountability. It added: “Conference believes that Ofsted must be replaced by a school-led system of self-evaluation and credible peer review, as used effectively in many other countries.”

General secretary Christine Blower said: “Ofsted is one of the causes of unsustainable levels of pressure and workload for teachers, heads and pupils. What is needed is a new model of school accountability, one that involves school self-evaluation and is designed in discussion with the profession.”

Capability abuse

Teachers have attacked the abuse of capability procedures in schools, which they warn is creating “a climate of fear” and driving teachers out of the profession.

At motion at the NASUWT highlighted the psychological pressures being placed on teachers. It comes after research by the union found that older teachers, Black and minority ethnic teachers and teachers with disabilities are much more likely to be threatened with capability procedures than other teachers.

General secretary Chris Keates said: “Rather than being used as a supportive process for teachers who may genuinely be experiencing difficulties, all too often these procedures are being used as a punitive management tool to either drive teachers out of the profession or to prevent them accessing their entitlements.”

Pay anger

Teachers have slammed a real-terms decline in the value of their pay which they say is now approaching a 20 per cent fall since 2010.

A motion passed by delegates at the NUT blamed the series of public sector pay freezes, increases to pension contributions and real-terms cuts to school budgets.

The motion called on the NUT to fight for the restoration of mandatory pay scales and responsibility payments for all teachers, including in academies.

Delegates also want to see an end to performance-related pay and have called on the union to ballot for national strike and non-strike action if no progress on pay can be made with the government.

General secretary Christine Blower said: “The coalition government cut almost 15 per cent in the real value of teachers’ pay. The Conservative government’s continued pay limits are making a bad situation even worse. The NUT is calling for the restoration of pay levels and a national pay structure. Teachers’ pay has already fallen behind other graduate professions and, without a clear line of pay progression, many graduates will simply not choose to enter teaching.”

Library fears

Many school libraries do not have enough space to accommodate the students who want to use them, a survey has found.

Members of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) report that space in school libraries has been reduced since 2010 and that many do not have enough computers for students. A survey of the union’s members found that 40 per cent said their school libraries lacked enough space, 16 per cent said that space had been reduced since 2010, and 61 per cent said there were not enough computers.

There is no statutory duty for schools in England, Scotland or Wales to have libraries and the survey heard stories of dramatic staffing reductions.

A librarian in a secondary school in the Home Counties said: “I had a library assistant until the start of this academic year but this post was cut. At the same time, the library budget was slashed by 60 per cent.” Another in an East Midlands academy added: “I have reduced my hours to save my assistant’s post, so we now job share. Our admin assistant was made redundant. Staffing has been dramatically reduced.”

A motion passed at the ATL’s annual conference in Liverpool agreed that the union should campaign on the issue, including gathering evidence to justify the maintenance of library provision.

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