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Heads enjoy behaving badly

They pulled out of the workforce deal, and this week booed a minister. William Stewart on a union developing a taste for rebellion

Fresh from its workforce agreement walk-out, the largest headteachers' union continued in assertive style at the weekend, booing a minister and demanding the Government produce hundreds of millions extra to fund the deal.

The mood at the National Association of Head Teachers' annual conference in Telford was less dramatic than last year when delegates defied their leadership over the agreement. But despite the more-muted atmosphere, the workload agreement still prompted passion.

"At what point did we agree that the principle of an all-graduate (teaching) profession would be sacrificed on the altar of workforce reform?" asked Steve Kite, head of Edmund de Moundeford primary, Feltwell, Norfolk.

The answer was in fact January, 2003 - when the NAHT signed the original deal, which was always designed so that support staff could cover for teachers.

Nevertheless, delegates significantly hardened their line, unanimously backing a call to fund the 10 per cent planning, preparation and assessment time so that only qualified teachers provide cover. "Don't tell me how to run my school and I won't tell you how to run yours," said Alan Stockley, a council member. "I don't have to have a teacher for a teacher but give me the funds to do that if I choose to."

But with 184,000 primary teachers in England alone, some delegates admitted privately that this aim was impractical. Where would they find 18,000 extra teachers by September?

David Hart, general secretary, said that revolutionary changes to funding were needed to stand any chance of meeting the bill, estimated at more than half a billion pounds. Local authority money would need to go directly to schools.

Derek Twigg, schools minister, was booed when he said that there would be no extra money for the deal and was hissed as he declared himself a strong supporter of league tables.

By contrast Tim Collins, Conservative shadow education secretary, beat even traditional teachers' favourites, the Lib-Dems on the clapometer, as he made head-friendly statements on everything from national testing to malicious allegations. Poor behaviour from pupils and parents figured high on the conference agenda as Mr Hart said that some parents preferred violence to the proper complaint procedures in schools.

Delegates unanimously called for further funding to support the inclusion of violent and disruptive pupils.

Proposing the motion, David Gray, head of Babbacombe CE primary, Torquay, also argued for earlier intervention through parenting classes provided by local authorities. "Parents could be taught the importance of teaching the child the difference between yes and no," he said.

The association urged both the Government and Sir Digby Jones, director general of the Confederation of British Industry, to rethink their rejection of key elements of the Tomlinson proposals on 14-19 education.

Sir Digby, who said he would take NAHT concerns back to his members, won a standing ovation for a speech which warned that the UK would fall behind economically unless children were freed from the growing compensation culture and taught to take risks.

Delegates voted to work against Islamophobia in education after Tim Benson, head of Nelson primary, East Ham, London, revealed he had received hate mail after proposing that immigrant children to given the option of being assessed in their home language, "Muslim parents come from a scholastic and intellectual tradition that preaches harmony and integration and respect for the host community," he said.

* william.stewart@tes.co.uk

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