Can the NUT behave itself?

25th March 2005 at 00:00
Union's leader is hoping to avoid all-too-familiar ugly TV scenes this year, report Dorothy Lepkowska and William Stewart.

"I want the National Union of Teachers that appears on TV to be in its Sunday best, scrubbed and clean," said Steve Sinnott, who will attend this year's Easter conference as its leader for the first time.

Whether his hopes will be borne out at Gateshead this weekend remains to be seen. "You can never guess what issues can suddenly blow up at conference," a veteran attender said.

The union has decided this year to make the event a politician-free zone.

Its invitations to ministers have been snubbed for the past two years, so this time it did not even ask Ruth Kelly, the Education Secretary.

But Mr Sinnott will want delegates to be on their best behaviour if he is to realise the "adult" relationship Ms Kelly has requested since the union's banishment after failing to sign the workforce agreement.

His members will be aiming to shore up the NUT's opposition to the deal.

Motions include calls for strikes to get a better deal for support staff.

But they will make it clear that support staff should not take whole classes, and there will be calls for teachers to boycott preparing work for cover supervisors and a national one-day strike to secure more funding for teacher planning, preparation and assessment (PPA) time.

Delegates are also expected to consider sending pupils home early so that teachers can have PPA time and a call for industrial action where such time is not implemented.

They will no doubt be buoyed by the National Association of Head Teachers'

decision to walk out of the agreement. However, the NUT's counterparts attending the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers' conference in Brighton will take a different view.

Its members will call on the national executive to continue "to support the roll-out of the workforce agreement". They will call for a ballot on industrial action "where NASUWT members are denied the full benefits of the remodelling agreement". This means that, if heads refuse to co-operate with the agreement, things could get very interesting.

The NASUWT will return to familiar ground, calling for an end to the inclusion of violent and disruptive children and better funding for pupil-referral units. It wants schools to take a firmer line against poor discipline, with greater powers to exclude pupils and a greater onus on parents to take responsibility for the behaviour of their children.

The campaign for anonymity for teachers accused of malicious allegations will also continue.

Top of the list of the NASUWT's balloted motions are children's services and the Every Child Matters policy (which calls for greater co-operation between education, health and social services), extended schools, educational visits and league tables.

Lower down the agenda, members will express concern over new arrangements for the performance-related pay "threshold", which could lead to abuses of power by heads. They will also call on the executive to take action against heads and other managers who do not treat staff fairly when determining pay.

The NUT will also revisit familiar themes, for example with a call to end all national testing (which will be resisted by the leadership), privatisation in education and academies.

Its conference is likely to call for a charter of minimum acceptable behaviour by pupils with a list of sanctions and the end of league tables and the publication of national test results.

OPINION 21

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