Teachers demand no more testing, no more academies

THE NATIONAL Union of Teachers (NUT) held its annual conference over the Easter weekend and voiced strong criticism of the Government’s plan to force all schools to become “independent” academies and to the increased testing of pupils, especially the very young.

The NUT conference, meeting in Brighton, voted in favour of balloting for strike action in protest at the Government’s plan to force all schools to become academies within the next four years, contained in a White Paper issued at the same time as the budget two weeks ago. The plan would effectively do away with elected and accountable local education authorities. The Tory government claims these academies have more independence and they are not forced to keep to the same regime of standards and tests that local authority schools have to follow.

They are not required to ensure that their teachers are all properly qualified, and they set their own pay and conditions for the teachers they employ — doing away with national agreements with the teaching unions.

Many are run by businesses and/or charities, which often have a religious agenda. There will be no requirement for governing bodies to have parent- governors so the schools will be run not by teachers, parents or elected councillors but by business people with little or no accountability to anyone but their shareholders.

Some businesses run a chain of academies and their teaching standards have been found to be low. Where an academy is part of a group — a multi-academy trust or MAT — that trust will be allowed to abolish the governing bodies of individual schools. Once in an MAT there is no way for that school to decide to leave. And far from giving more autonomy to schools, once a school enters an MAT all self-management at that school can be removed.

Even Tory councillors are adding their voices to the growing protests.

Hazel Danson, an NUT executive member who moved the motion for a strike ballot, described the white paper’s policies as “totalitarian” and “socially dysfunctional”.

The mood amongst the teachers could be seen in the large majority who voted to strengthen the original motion, passing an amendment allowing for strikes in autumn as well as summer, and called for coordinated campaigns and action with the British Medical Association (BMA).

Debs Gwynn, a delegate from Morton in Derbyshire, told delegates: “At the end of the day, if this White Paper goes through and becomes law, we will have no negotiation rights, we will have no national pay and conditions agreements; we will have no local authorities.”

Instead, each school “will have to go and buy services in separately from the private sector and that is exactly what this White Paper is about.”

Just before their conference the NUT published a survey of 831 NUT school leadership members that showed no confidence in Government education policies. Only three per cent of school leaders think that the Government has “a sensible range of policies”. Only one per cent of school leaders think that the Government “makes decisions on school improvement policy based on evidence”. Only two per cent of the leaders in this survey believed the ways schools are judged and measured are “transparent, reliable and fair”.

The survey showed that 75 per cent of leaders said their morale had declined over the past two years and nearly half (49 per cent) said they were thinking of leaving the profession. The overwhelming majority (85 per cent) cited workload as the reason that they could not go on.

no mandate

There is no mandate for the Government’s new proposals: 93 per cent of school leaders do not support the Government’s policy to force all schools to become academies; 93 per cent believe teachers should hold QTS (qualified teacher status); and 81 per cent do not agree with replacing QTS with a new accreditation system.

The NUT is also calling for a boycott of the controversial SATS tests. Over 2,000 schools did not set these tests last year and the union congratulated them. The NUT general secretary Christine Blower told the conference: “Teachers are wasting precious time on preparing children for tests at the expense of offering a vibrant engaging education for their pupils.

“Far from improving outcomes for 11-year-olds, the endless high-stakes testing of such young children could easily switch children off from learning, increase their anxiety levels, and harm their self-confidence — a vital ingredient for successful learning.”