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Conference eases staff pain

Teachers put worries about workload behind them at the annual NASUWT gathering. Dorothy Lepkowska reports

Behind the deepening public rift between heads and teachers over workload reforms, a quiet revolution is taking place in schools.

The remodelling agreement is beginning to take shape, teachers are doing more of what they were trained to do, teach, and some schools are just getting on with it.

Almost 60 delegates visited the "surgery" of the National Remodelling Team at the annual conference of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers in Brighton last week.

With the union threatening legal action against heads who fail to deliver workforce reforms, the news was better than Howard Kennedy, the team's national director, could have hoped for.

He said: "Teachers want to talk about their own personal development, and getting more and better training. We have had seven hours of 15-minute sessions and we are very pleased with the way it is going.

"Where there are issues to be resolved, this will be done at a local level.

But there is a virus mentality which is pushing it along."

Away from the conference hall - and the hardy perennials of malicious allegations, violence, funding and inspections, members found some time for a little indulgence.

In keeping with the union's position on work-life balance, about half of the 850 NASUWT delegates visited the "relaxation zone" where their stresses, aches and pains were soothed away with gentle massages and calming music.

Rachel King, from the well-being company Relaxa, said: "We were booked solid. Some delegates came back for a second dose. People get a little stiff sitting in the conference all day and a 10-minute massage makes them feel better. It is nice to be pampered."

One delegate who may have benefited from the relaxation zone was Hank Roberts.

The campaigner, who is a member of the big three unions, spends every Easter flitting from conference to conference trying to convince 450,000 teachers that they should belong to one merged organisation.

This year was the first that his organisation, Professional Unity 2000, was allowed to exhibit at the NASUWT. Jean Roberts, Hank's wife and fellow activist, said the union's members were the hardest of all to convince that unity would work.

"One member came to see us and argued, albeit very politely, that it will never happen. Historically, the NASUWT has always been the most hostile towards the concept," she said.

Mr Roberts, who stood against Chris Keates in the election for NASUWT general secretary last year and also came close to beating Mary Bousted to the leadership of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, remained undeterred. "Nothing ever goes in a straight line, and that goes for trade union relations. Teachers can only defy gravity for so long. It will happen," he said.


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