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'Moderation not madness';Conference;Association of Teachers and Lecturers

Next week in Bournemouth the rallying cry for the middle-of-the-road teacher will be heard as members of one the profession's most moderate unions gather for their first assembly since Labour took power.

One of those heading for the Association of Teachers and Lecturers conference is Liz Simpson, a teacher at Victoria junior school, Workington.

She believes that teachers such as herself should stand up and be counted. "The ordinary grassroot teachers want to be heard. We may be middle-of-the road but we still have views and can feel passionately.

"We never get asked by the media what we think, and the public are left with the impression that teachers are militant or failing children.

"We don't want to go to the barricades, but we should still have our voice heard. The Government must be told that we are already doing much of what they are saying. We do have literacy hours and we do teach times tables.

"We are the unsung heroes of education and get annoyed at the way teachers are being portrayed."

Mrs Simpson is also concerned that the pressure of workload means the ATL is not getting any young blood. "We need new teachers to get involved. You soon will be able to tell where the union's executive is meeting because of all the Zimmer frames parked outside the meeting room."

Hilary Pollard, an executive member from Rawthorpe school, Kirklees, said:

"This Easter we want the moderate voice heard before the mad voice. Locally we get on very well with our colleagues from other unions, but during the conference season, I sometimes feel ashamed to be a teacher."

The major debates for the union will be a motion calling for a ballot on whether it should join the TUC. ATL members will also be asked to take part in a boycott of "unnecessary bureaucratic tasks".

Mrs Pollard believes there will be a vigorous debate on affiliating to the TUC. She said: "The TUC still means Arthur Scargill and Red Robbo to some people. Many of our members think it does not represent our interests and we should remain a professional association."

TUC affiliation could also end any flirtations for a merger with the most moderate union of all, the Professional Association of Teachers.

Peter Smith, the ATL's general secretary, also believes the debate to join the TUC will be controversial. "If it can be proved that John Monks' organisation is authentically independent and that it is taking a leading role in representing the employee's case in Government policy from welfare-to-work to training, then the union should be a member of that club."

The ATL will be urged to take a more pro-active stance on class size, including balloting on possible action. It will also take to task heads who do not advertise promotions and responsibility points internally. Classroom teachers are concerned that heads are choosing their favourites for advancement and it is often men who get promoted.

Mr Smith will use the assembly to put down a marker to Government - represented by Baroness Blackstone who will address the conference.

He said: "I think all those who voted for a change didn't vote for more of the same. Many will soon begin to suspect the Government if it uses the word 'plan' again. We will be convinced that New Labour is the same as Old Labour with its corporatist and statist leanings."

He said developments such as superteachers and education action zones were worrying. "It's a bit like being asked to vote for apple pie without knowing the recipe or whether to eat it hot or cold.

"My fear is that the combination of an idealistic senior adviser, who has bright ideas but has never had to see them through, and pedantic civil servants being given the job to make them work, will result in re-designing the Titanic."

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