Saturday, 30 March 2013

Conference Report: Sunday Afternoon, 30th March

The afternoon session opened with debate over GCSE and the Secondary Curriculum- reaffirming the Union's commitment to campaigning against EBacc and for an alternative 14-19 system that removed the artificial academic/vocation and hard/soft subject bias.  An amendment from Hackney condemned the decision of the Courts to rule in favour of OFQUAL and the exam boards over theGCSE English fiasco last Autumn.

Jerry Glazier moved the Report of the Strategy and Finance Committee: in particular he noted that we had taken over 50 sustained actions in schools over workload, conditions and disruptive pupils. He gave particular praise to the staff at the Stratford Academy in Newham, who had taken a solidly supported 9 days of action over threats and deductions due to the Action Short of Strike, and this had forced the employer to ACAS.  He didn't mention William Parker NUT members in East Sussex, so I'll have words ! You can read about their fight here !

Dave Harvey, seconding also emphasised the importance of the Union's contribution on the TUC General Council, and drew attention to the messages of solidarity from Frances O'Grady to the people of Venezuela following the death of Hugo Chavez- who she had enjoyed the pleasure of meeting both in Venezuela and at Congress House.

Then we moved to the much anticipated debate on the Priority Motion- relating to the Union's joint strategy with the NASUWT in the pay campaign.

Christine Blower was asked to give a statement about the negotiations so far. Christine noted that we had taken strike action in 2008 over pay, and this had helped us secure a pay rise that otherwise was unlikely to happen. Our pensions action had won protection at least for some of our older members. However the threats now were far bigger.

Christine told us that we should not be fooled by the line about this policy leading to the ability to pay "good teachers better".  It was crystal clear in George Osborne's budget statements that the attack on incremental pay in the public services is an attempt to drive down wages. Teachers are still paid lower than average graduate professions.

She noted that the NUT has had policy for Professional Unity for years- recognising that we would be stronger as a profession when we work together. We have  already achieved much more in individual school disputes by acting together, in cases escalating to strike action together, than if we had two separate and uncoordinated Union campaigns !  We made the historic joint announcement with the NASUWT and members, especially in the North West where we are preparing for strike action in June,  have responded magnificently.

The Priority Motion was proposed by Jerry Glazier and seconded by Ian Murch.

Ian made some really strong points about the burden of debt being faced by new entrants to the profession- up to three times their only guaranteed salary without increments.
"This is the politics of the madhouse and the politics of the poor house... this from a Secretary of State who says he wants to recruit more top graduates: what hypocrisy !"
Ian also mused that whenever problems come up, the line in the staffroom is always the same: Why can't the Unions work together ?  "Christine and Kevin have given us that opportunity- let's not waste it !"

The first amendment came from Garhard Williams of Merthyr, noting the situation in Wales, where pay and conditions are the same as in England, although other issues are delegated to the Welsh Government.  He argued that it was time for the Labour Education Minister in Wales, Leighton Andrews, to stand up for a fair deal for teachers. The amendment demands that the Welsh Government suspend any proposed changes to the pay framework for teachers in Wales.  This amendment was passed.

The second amendment saw executive members Martin Powell Davies and Anne Lemon argue for national strike action on 26th June rather than/or in addition to  the joint strategy. This date was chosen to coincide with the Comprehensive Spending Review being announced by George Osborne. There was the suggestion that the PCS were likely to take action on that day, as well as the possibility of the Fire Brigades Union and the EIS in Scotland  (the latter two were strongly disputed by Jerry Glazier in his right of reply)

A delegate from Camden spoke against the amendment, saying that she supported strike action but not divisive strike action.
"Pay policies would pitch teacher against teacher. I don't want to take action than pitches teacher union against teacher union
She emphasised that our action needed to help teachers take action together- especially important in small primary schools with only a few teachers.

There was a strong and vigorous debate, and then when the vote was called, conference gave a clear vote against the amendment-  and affirmed our support for the joint action strategy negotiated by Christine and Kevin with the NASUWT.

The third amendment moved by Phillippa Harvey and Kiri Tunks, both of the Conference Business Committee, sought to strengthen the campaign and ensure that  members were able to take part in activity to build for the action and show solidarity with the regions that are called out on strike.

After the debate, Christine Blower observed:
“OECD evidence shows that there is no link between pupil performance and the use of Performance Related Pay. Teaching is a collaborative profession. The performance of pupils in one class is very much dependent on the work of the teacher in the previous year.  
With teachers leaving the profession year on year and those who remain suffering plummeting morale, no wonder there has been widespread loss of confidence in the Secretary of State. Teaching is one the best professions in the world but it is also one of the hardest. Teachers should not be subjected to persistent criticism and undermining of their pay, pensions and conditions.
This strike action is avoidable, our demands are very reasonable. The hallmark of successful education systems is one where government works with, rather than against their teaching professions" 
The Private Session saw treasurer Ian Murch introduce the Annual Accounts- and the union remains in a healthy financial position- essential given the challenges ahead.  Stoke Rochford Hall remains loss making, although the plans to rebuild business lost during the fire repair closure continued to develop- and a number of exciting events are planned during the year. The losses from Stoke Rochford can be set against capital gains tax on the investments in the Union's reserves

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