Angry heads pull the strings

5th May 2006 at 01:00
Delegates used puppets to prop up their passionate speeches - but ministers weren't listening. Michael Shaw reports

A revolution is brewing. And it is going to involve primary headteachers and, possibly, hand puppets.

At their annual conference in Harrogate, members of the National Association of Head Teachers made it clear that they were mad as hell and were not going to take any more.

The chief target for their anger were league tables for 11-year-olds, which they vowed to take urgent action to stop. There were also choked-back tears as heads described their exhausting workloads and pledged to name and shame inspectors who behaved badly.

Mike Welsh, head of Goddard Park primary in Swindon, and a member of the association's executive, thumped the podium and demanded the Government listen to heads. "If not, the fight back starts here, and it starts now!"

he said.

Unfortunately, no ministers or civil servants were listening. The Government chose to snub the event, miffed at the NAHT's decision to pull out of its workforce agreement last year.

This slight only angered the 600 headteachers, who had travelled to the genteel Yorkshire town for the bank holiday weekend, even more.

Rona Tutt, a past president, illustrated a speech attacking the Government with a slide showing Ruth Kelly, the Education Secretary, with the body of a baby - an impressive piece of computer wizardry by Year 10 pupils with complex needs at Abbey special school in Farnham.

"Cohorts of clones reciting synthetic phonics ignores the different ways that children learn," she said.

Les Turner, head of Freckleton primary in Preston, Lancashire, produced a can of Tesco's Value baked beans which he wanted the association to give to Ms Kelly to illustrate their opposition to the ministers' "bean-counting".

"The sell-by-date is 2008 - they might be speaking to us by then," he said.

Other props used by the heads included a teddy bear, a Pinocchio puppet and a multicoloured octopus, which represented the stranglehold the speaker felt the Government had on schools.

Peter Greenwood, a retired head from West Sussex, said: "Please inform the chief puppet master our strings are no longer for the pulling."

Given the warm reception the conference gave to puppets and clips from the film Dead Poets Society, it was inevitable that delegates would give a standing ovation to Robin-Williams-lookalike Mick Brookes, their new general secretary.

Mr Brookes stumbled frequently during his first speech to the annual conference. But his members seemed delighted by his defiant tone, particularly his vows to fight alongside parents to end key stage 2 league tables, hinting at a campaign to disrupt the test results.

He promised action too against extended schools, where there was insufficient funding for them, warning heads were being "inveigled into the administration of the national baby-sitting service".

It remains questionable whether the majority of primary heads will take to the barricades in support of their comrades.

But the passion at the conference was unmistakable. "What drama! What feeling!" one East Riding delegate said. "It's better than Emmerdale."

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