Saturday, 30 March 2013

Conference Report: Saturday Morning, 30th March

The session opened with a passionate speech from our new President, Beth Davies. As we would expect of a Welsh colleague, she referred frequently and with pride to her Welsh heritage- opening the speech with:
"Mae'n anrhydedd ac yn fraint aruthrol i sefyll o’ch blaen fel Llywydd yr undeb gwych hon, ac i ddiolch i'r rhai sydd wedi fy nghefnogi a'r rhai sydd wedi f’ysbrydoli. Hoffwn yn arbennig ddiolch i fy nheulu a’n ffrindiau am eu hamynedd di-ddiwedd."
which for the non-Welsh speakers was helpfully translated as:
" It is a tremendous honour and privilege to stand before you as President of this great union and to thank those who have supported me and those who have provided me with inspiration. I also want to particularly thank my family and friends for their never ending patience. " 
Beth spoke about the denigration of our profession by Michael Gove, the misuse of statistics and the "puny arguments", and told us that the final intention was clear:
"The end game is to ensure that taxpayers’ money is used to make a profit, to abolish the middle-tier of local authorities and fully privatise state education as we know it."
Concluding her speech, Beth further unpicked the Government's vision of education:
"They would like us to teach children as if they are on conveyor belts, instructing them and forcing knowledge into them and then testing them so that they can use a crude measure to see whether we are doing our jobs properly 
They would like to take us back to those days when children sat in rows and chanted and used chalk slates, because they think that every child learns in the same way through rote and cramming them with knowledge.  
Ludicrously, they want us to work to 68. 
They would like to take us back to the days of payment by results. We know what will be the outcome of the new pay and conditions document. Give teachers targets linked to the results they get with children and don’t pay them if the children don’t reach projected targets. Companies are already contacting schools to sort their pay policies for them. These will meet the Ofsted requirement – not to progress staff up banded pay scales – without evidence of outstanding performance as measured by a narrow range of criteria. Staff will be at the mercy of patronage and the favour of head teachers and governors.  
Does this remind you of anything? Public education was based on the generosity of charities, local gentry and landowners. Are we returning to this with the rise of academies and free schools based on the philanthropy of the great and the good? Not exactly – the opportunities for making a profit is the prime motivator.  
Well, let me leave you with this. In 1870 payment by results was abandoned. Why? Because the paperwork was too onerous and it began to unionise teachers !"
 
I strongly recommend reading Beth's full speech online- it is available here.

There were three key debates in the morning session. The first reiterated our call for the abolition of OFSTED- including the possibility of organising industrial action boycotts of the inspections.  Delegate Liam Conway told us a story about Water Buffalo-
"A Water Buffalo discovered that she couldn't protect her babies from lions and crocodiles through casework. She tried asking Mr Lion and Mrs Crocodile 'could you please not eat my babies'  This didn't work, so she went and raised a whole herd of Water Buffaloes and literally smashed the lions and crocodiles to pieces.... we need to unleash the buffaloes on Michael Gove, Michael Wilshaw and their gang of crocodiles".
Martin Walsh of Wyre compared the Ofsted teams descending on a school to the three wise monkeys- "see no Outstanding, hear no Outstanding, speak no Outstanding."

Caroline Ezzat of East London noted the number of non-teachers, people who hadn't taught for years and failed head teachers now surfacing as OFSTED inspectors. She suggested we change the saying to "Those that can, teach. Those that can't become OFSTED inspectors.

Commenting after the debate, Christine Blower said:
"Teachers are now thoroughly fed up with an inspection body which does nothing for teacher morale or the improvement of education standards. Many schools are in constant fear of inspections and the ever changing framework against which they are judged. At its head is a Chief Inspector who believes that if ‘staff morale is at an all-time low'  Heads will know they are doing something right. 
No one would suggest that schools should not be accountable, but Ofsted is not the answer. We need a rigorous system of school self-evaluation with light touch external moderation to ensure that schools are assessing their progress correctly.
 For the health and safety of teachers and for the good of education we must look at ways to change the inspection system."
 
The debate on Academies reaffirmed Conference's commitment to oppose the further academisation of schools, particularly recognising the huge threat to the Primary sector. Christine pointed out after the debate that:
"Michael Gove is running education as if it were the Wild West rather than a key public service. Where schools have met targets imposed by Government, the Government has simply moved the goal posts and upped the targets, then forced them to convert to an academy. Even Ofsted has recognised that the intervention of DfE officials is distracting schools from getting on with school improvement."
 
The third debate of the morning committed the NUT to a National Campaign for Education. Speakers drew our attention to the strike of teachers in Chicago, where our  brothers and sisters quite rightly pointed out that the attacks on them were an attack on children's learning. As a Union we are passionate about Education, and shouldn't be afraid to proclaim that from the rooftops.  (Members should also look at the NUT's new Education Statement)

The morning session concluded with a video about the excellent work of the Steve Sinnott Foundation  (Conference had earlier welcomed Mal Davies and Peter Trigg from their sponsored walk to Liverpool to raise money for the foundation.) In particular we were encouraged to support the Education for All Day on 21st June.

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