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No-strike union in motion

As PAT members descend on Southport, Frances Rafferty reveals some unusual concerns among the rank-and-file

"THIS conference believes that minor issues, such as Christian festivals, are impeding major educational initiatives, such as the five-term year." It could only be the Professional Association of Teachers.

As most teachers air their tents and test the suspension of their caravans for a well-earned summer holiday, members of the smallest teaching union will be heading off to Southport this weekend.

And it can only be by chance that their conference coincides with the beginning of the silly season.

Ian Pringle, a primary teacher from Essex, is of course having a bit of a joke with the above motion. He is in fact a committed Christian and is concerned a five-term year would reduce Easter to a long weekend.

"What about the many teachers who are church organists? The Easter period has at least one service every day so how will the Church fare without their assistance?" he asks.

Wendy Dyble from the Shetlands, under the heading "conference motions: miscellaneous", proposes: "We have guide dogs for the blind, hearing dogs for the deaf and helping dogs for the handicapped. Surely the time has come for trained dogs to help in the classroom." Pit bulls all round.

The 35,000-member union is known as the no-strike association and, since the Association of Teachers and Lecturers has decided to join the Trades Union Congress, Kay Driver, the general secretary, believes it provides a niche for certain teachers.

This will be Ms Driver's first conference as leader of the union since she defected from the number two job at the Secondary Heads Association.

She acknowledges the Government's proposals on transforming teachers' pay and conditions are the most pressing issue. She is concerned they will not attract bright graduates to the profession.

Ms Driver said: "This Labour Government introduced tuition fees and ended the maintenance grant. Students with debts will not be attracted by the low starting salary in teaching.

"The profession does not have confidence in the Government - it speaks with a forked tongue, one minute praising us, the next calling us reactionary public-sector workers who do not want change."

She said her members were are also concerned about the distress the test and exam regime has caused children.

"There is far too much formal learning, it starts with baseline testing and goes on. There is no need to put children on the treadmill at such an early stage when they should be enjoying learning through play," she said.

As Daphne Beale, of the Hampshire Federation, puts it in her motion: "This conference deplores the lack of opportunity to develop artistic creativity in early years and infant classrooms. (What, no blue paint today?)"

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