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Members want chance to chat

Workload, pay and pupil behaviour top the agenda at this year's annual meetings. Karen Thornton reports

THEY may not be striking, but that does not mean members of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers are happy.

Education Secretary Estelle Morris cannot expect to get an easy ride from them as they have serious concerns about workload, performance management and pay, pupil behaviour and privatisation.

At the ATL annual conference in Cardiff next week, the first of the big teacher union bashes, the association's president, Julie Grant, will be calling for time for teachers to talk to each other.

Miss Grant, who teaches geography at The Howard boys' school in Rainham, Kent, said a union survey of focus groups showed that teachers wanted guaranteed non-contact time every week.

"What teachers said was how much they missed time to sit down with their colleagues to talk about work but also to have some social conversation."

Pupil behaviour is likely to get an airing. one motion calls for employers to make clear that they will prosecute parents and pupils who threaten or assault school staff.

The proposal comes after the union won pound;75,000 in compensation last year for a member who took retirement due to ill-health after physical assaults by children.

However, lawyers are hoping recent changes in guidance to appeals panels will reduce the number of requests for ballots on local industrial action over re-admission of excluded pupils. There are currently more than 20 such requests a year.

General secretary Peter Smith will open the conference with talk of unity - although the association has had the odd run-in with its fellow TUC member Unison over the recruitment of teaching assistants (3,500 and counting).

Mr Smith disagrees with the National Union of Teachers' strike over London allowances and believes that Ms Morris, who addresses conference on Wednesday, needs all the support she can get in the battle to win more money for education from the Treasury.

Other guest speakers include the Welsh education minister Jane Davidson, and Robert Worcester, chairman of the pollsters MORI, who will be discussing its recent findings on young people's views of politics and citizenship.

The controversial field of public-private partnerships will be aired at a presentation chaired by MP Barry Sheerman, chairman of the Commons' select committee on education.

Privatisation is also likely to feature strongly at the NUT's annual conference, which opens in Bournemouth on Good Friday.

Members are expected to give the thumbs down to new powers in the education Bill giving companies greater involvement in schools and local authorities.

Ms Morris, an NUT member herself, is likely to get a hostile reception when she addresses the conference on Easter Saturday.

The treat in store for education minister Stephen Timms at the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers' conference is the "vote of thanks" from Nigel de Gruchy, its general secretary.

The NASUWT conference in Scarborough, which starts on Easter Monday, will be Mr de Gruchy's last before retirement. Teacher shortages, pupil behaviour and his departure are on the agenda. However, discussion of possible mergers with other unions will be behind closed doors.

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