Short-term spin may be long-term mistake

Conor Ryan

"WORKLOAD deal will lead to classes of 60", screamed the Daily Mail.

"School union warns of return to Victorian age," added the Guardian for good measure.

Game, set and match then to the National Union of Teachers, whose solo boycott of the new teachers' contract contrasted with the enthusiasm of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, which called the deal "historic" in a more positive sense.

Harassed schools standards minister David Miliband could have been forgiven for thinking he could do nothing right for teachers.

The year had started with headlines proclaiming a third of teachers were ready to quit within five years. Mr Miliband's radio efforts to point out that the General Teaching Council poll actually found only 6 per cent going to another job were drowned out. And "classes of 60" was a cleverly misleading spin on a contract that gave teachers long-fought-for non-contact time. No matter that such classes technically exist already for assemblies, PE and video-viewing.

The spin also allowed the NUT - on the back foot over its opposition to a stronger role for classroom assistants - to seem reasonable in its refusal to sign the contract.

Once again, it outflanked the other unions, who had compromised, just as had happened on performance - related pay. And there were still 90 days to the Easter conferences.

But, is this short-term spin in the long-term interests of the union? Surely sometimes it is better to claim credit for major advances, even if they are not straight out of the NUT book of policy resolutions. Otherwise, the militant left, which the leadership tells us it wants to sideline, will always have the upper hand.

And there is another issue. If the Government cannot positively present a deal that meets so many longstanding teachers' demands, how can it ever shift the low morale highlighted in the GTC's New Year poll?

Conor Ryan was special adviser to former education secretary David Blunkett from 1997 to 2001

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Conor Ryan

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