Co-operation promised, but so are strike ballots

4th April 1997 at 01:00
Class size and nursery vouchers dominated this year's NUT conference. But despite passionate debates and commitment to industrial action, the Harrogate conference very much reflected a union in waiting.

With just four weeks to go before the election, delegates were looking forward to a new government to which general secretary Doug McAvoy pledged co-operation, rather than conflict. "The union will say to David Blunkett, or whoever is the new secretary of state for education, 'Consult us, involve teachers as partners in your decision making processes. Don't put all your faith in new professors; look to measured policies rather than trendy gimmicks'," said Mr McAvoy.

His remarks appeared to allude principally to one of Labour's chief educational advisers Michael Barber, dean of new initiatives at the University of London Institute of Education and, ironically, a former education officer for the NUT.

Earlier delegates voted unanimously to scrap nursery vouchers and to call on the new government - Labour or Tory - to repeal all voucher legislation within a year of taking office. They supported strike action where the imposition of the voucher scheme threatened teachers' working conditions.

Delegates also agreed to ballot on industrial action if no progress is made towards a national contract to include mandatory limits on class size; permanent employment contracts; and a minimum of 20 per cent non-teaching time.

A tougher motion setting a legally enforceable class size maximum of 30 for all age groups and a mass lobby of Parliament was passed after a card count despite opposition from the NUT executive.

A key part of the motion is for NUT members to campaign against large classes with organisations such as the Campaign for State Education and the other teaching unions.

The union also reiterated its opposition to the national curriculum tests. Christine Blower, the new left-wing president, said, to the embarrassment of moderates: "My own children have spent their whole educational career to date under the imposed national curriculum. As a parent, I haven't subjected them to SATs. Instead, I've had letters about unauthorised absence. I'm looking forward to another next term."

But while the conference provided plenty of room for discomfiture to Mr McAvoy and fellow moderates, delegates of all shades were firmly united in their wish to see the back of Chris Woodhead, chief inspector of schools.

They voted overwhelmingly in favour of his sacking, with the backing of the union executive.

They want the new government to disband immediately the "discredited" Office for Standards in Education, sack its "politically biased" director and set up a new, fair system of school inspections.

Mr McAvoy said: "No political party should be proud of a system of inspection that is unfair, that demoralises and destroys teachers, headed by a chief inspector for whom we have no respect as an educationist and who acts only as an agent of Government." But both David Blunkett and party leader Tony Blair have said Mr Woodhead would stay in post if Labour wins on May 1.

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