Call for ATL to soften its opposition to academies

15th April 2011 at 01:00
Union should adopt a more pragmatic approach, says conference motion

Teaching unions should be less dogmatically opposed to schools converting to academy status in order to win better deals for staff in the long run, a major teaching conference will hear next week.

A motion at this year's annual gathering of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) calls for the union to take a more "pragmatic and positive attitude" to conversions if staff are given a "final and binding vote" on whether they go ahead.

It also calls for academies to have fixed constitutions that ensure national pay and conditions and union recognition are maintained

ATL general secretary Mary Bousted told The TES she agreed with the motion, if more than 50 per cent of staff were in favour of the conversion, but insisted her stance against academies had not softened.

"I'm not giving up the ghost on (opposition to) academies yet," she said.

All three major classroom unions officially oppose academy status. Disputes are taking place all over the country as schools consider becoming academies, with pay and conditions the key issue.

They are opposed to academies on principle, claiming that they erode local accountability and act as the gateway to a privatised "market place".

NASUWT general secretary Chris Keates, one of the most vocal opponents of the academies programme, was recently refused entry to John Port School near Derby to address her members because of her union's high-profile campaign against its conversion to academy status.

But ATL branch secretary for Wiltshire Phil Whalley will tell the conference that unions' hardline opposition may make it more difficult to negotiate deals for teachers.

Opposition among teachers is not necessarily a given, either, he told The TES.

Mr Whalley, who has been involved with nine academy conversions, including that of his own school, Hardenhuish in Chippenham, said: "We were going through the routine of telling schools not to do it, writing to local newspapers and opposing it on principle full stop, but what I found was there wasn't the opposition in schools. There wasn't a nucleus of staff prepared to fight against it. I started to think: is this principled stance doomed to failure?

"In my experience, in Wiltshire and across the majority of the country, there is not significant opposition."

In schools which were well led, he said, it made more sense to negotiate a staff ballot to present to governors, and establish watertight written assurances on pay and conditions through dialogue.

"It's a sensible and realistic strategy which helps staff engage in the process.

"The question is, do you keep saying 'no no no no' or do you say 'let's live in the real world?' I don't see this as going soft, it's realpolitik."

The motion at this year's Liverpool conference will go head-to-head with another proposed by anti-academies hardliner Hank Roberts.

He is calling for the union to do "everything possible" to build support for the maintenance of a local authority-led state education system.

Referring to Mr Whalley's motion, he added: "You can campaign for teachers to have a vote on academy status, but some of these schools don't care what the staff think."

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