Need to know: Your essential Easter teaching conference catch-up

This weekend the country's two biggest teaching unions met for their annual conferences. Here's what happened:

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How did you spend your Easter? Relaxing with the family? Buried in marking? In either case it may not have fully registered that the last weekend has been rather a big one for education news, thanks to England's two biggest teaching unions holding their conferences at the exectly the same time.

The NUT section of the National Education Union met in Brighton for the last ever NUT conference (from next year the NEU will hold a single conference comprising activists from what used to be the NUT and ATL unions, after the two organisations voted to merge last year). The NASUWT union, meanwhile met for its conference in Birmingham.

If you weren't at either of the conferences (or haven't been glued to https://www.tes.com/news/school-news and Twitter over the bank holiday), here's what you need to know.

What have been the big themes over the weekend?

The usual suspects were all there - pay, teacher workload, primary assessmnent, the academies system. But a couple of other subjects really stood out.

Teacher mental health was a major theme at the NASUWT conference - a motion on mental health and wellbeing was given top priority by members. The conference heard shocking testimony from one teacher, Claire Taylor, who spoke about how she had been driven to take an overdose at her desk. NASUWT president Dan McCarthy said that schools were risking teacher suicides by using surveillance schemes designed to "crush" staff so that they could save on redundancy costs.

Pupil poverty was a big theme at the NUT conference. A report that the union published jointly with the Child Poverty Action Group on Monday painted a bleak picture of schools giving children food, washing their clothes and offering their families debt advice, and having to prioritise pupils’ basic needs ahead of the school’s performance.

Activists at both conferences painted a grim picture of some of the pressures which teachers have to deal with, including inadequate housing, workplace bullies, violent students and malicious accusations.

Were there any guest speakers?

In recent years, the NUT conference has been graced by Labour big hitters - last year the shadow chancellor John McDonnell paid them a visit, and the year before it was the party leader Jeremy Corbyn.

There wasn't any big political names at this year's conferences, although Labour's shadow education secretary Angela Rayner delivered a brief video message to both events.

However, on Friday the poet and children's author Michael Rosen addressed the NUT conference - and received a standing ovation for a poem in which children become data.

Are strikes against the government on the cards?

Both unions passed combative motions threatening to walk-out over pay.

On Saturday the NUT conference overwhelmingly backed a call for a ballot on national strike action over teachers’ pay, if the union’s demands are not met. On the same day at the NASUWT conference, delegates voted unanimously in favour of considering the use of rolling industrial action if the government fails to ensure a better pay deal for workers.

The NASUWT reinforced this threat yesterday by passing a motion instructing the union's executive to "consider a ballot of members for national strike action with a view to securing a national pay award of 10 per cent".

The NUT conference also passed a motion to explore action to disrupt the pilot of baseline testing in primary schools. However, its worth noting that because the NEU is half way through a merger process, votes for action are not definitive - a joint council comprising the NUT and ATL sections will meet next month to consider how to take them forward. 

Who else in in the unions sights?

Ofsted received a torrid time at the NUT conference, where delegates unanimously condemned “Islamophobic” comments made by the watchdog’s chief inspector about young girls wearing the hijab in primary schools. The motion was passed after Amanda Spielman publicly supported the head of an east London primary school which banned the hijab for younger pupils. Ofsted described the motion as "disappointing".

However, Ofsted got their say at the NASUWT conference. Appearing at a fringe event, Ofsted's national director of education, Sean Harford, criticised primary schools for "beasting" pupils in English and Maths in order to prepare them for Sats tests. 

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