TEACHERS' unions launched a bitter attack this week on ministers' goal of even greater private-sector involvement in education.
The National Union of Teachers and National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers ignored a plea from Tony Blair to get behind the Government's reform agenda for its second term. They seized on the failings of teacher vetting, contracted out to support services firm Capita, and attacked private takeovers of council services.
Jerry Glazier, of the NUT, told the annual Trades Union Congress conference in Blackpool that ministerial moves to encourage even successful local authorities to privatise would go against the wishes of thousands of teachers and council workers.
His own authority, Essex, was poised to enter into a "partnership" which would transfer most education services - and 1,300 staff - to a private firm.
He told delegates: "This initiative does not feel much like a partnership to these teaching and non-teaching staff, the vast majority of whom are being transferred against their wishes. We profoundly reject the privatisation of public services."
Terry Bladen, vice-president of the NASUWT, warned that this year's education Act offered companies many opportunities to get involved in state schools, increasing the uncertainty facing teachers. He said the chaos at the Criminal Records Bureau, being run on a pound;400 million contract by Capita, showed the dangers of bringing in companies that were more committed to profit than education and accountability.
Both unions supported a successful motion proposed by Unison, Britain's largest union, attacking privatisation.
Although Tony Blair was preoccupied with Iraq, he also found time to warn union leaders that they could help the Conservatives back into power if they did not get behind the Government's reforming plans.
He said: "If we do not join together and reform our public services, the result will not just be unreformed public services. The result will be public dissatisfaction and eventually a Tory government."
Education Secretary Estelle Morris, speaking for the first time to the congress, won cheers after telling delegates that her position gave her the ability to achieve one of her goals on entering politics: to "change the world" to improve the lives of pupils from working-class backgrounds.
Nigel de Gruchy, former NASUWT leader, was expected to be voted in as TUC president as The TES was going to press.