Diary

28th April 1995 at 01:00
Despite believing that predictions are a load of crystal balls, Carborundum is about to make one: the troubles of Doug McAvoy, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, are far from over.

The McAvoy moderate camp believed it had scored a notable victory last autumn when Mary Hufford, the deputy general secretary they regarded as being dangerously left-wing, was replaced by Steve "Squeaky Clean" Sinnott. Far from being safely buried, Mary and her supporters have come back to haunt the moderates, with threats of action to be taken through the union's disciplinary procedures over claims made in anti-Hufford, pro-Sinnott election literature.

Then there was the little matter of the high hard-Left profile at this year's conference, leading to protracted rows about almost every vote and causing Doug to publicly tear his hair out in despair.

But at least he should have been able to enjoy the traditional standing ovation given, Margaret Thatcher-style, to the general secretary's speech. Question: who was the one person on the conference platform to remain resolutely seated at the end of his Left-bashing oration? Answer: Carole Regan. Who just happens to be the President-elect for next year, as well as a leading light in the Socialist Teachers' Association which is currently one of the sharper thorns in Doug's ample side.

Unusually kind words for the NUT were delivered by Education Secretary Gillian Shephard during her knockabout turn at the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers with its own beloved general secretary, Nigel de Gruchy. Regular readers may recall that Mr Shephard is a retired headmaster and former leading light in the NUT.

Perhaps it was such inter-union factionality which meant little mercy or quarter was granted to the diminutive Education Secretary (who had to request a cushion in order to see the delegates). Quizzing her over that notorious leaked letter of Mrs Shephard's on the evils of cuts, Mr de G said sympathetically that what else could she have done but take the Cabinet line? "Resign? Unemployment is high, jobs are difficult to come by and you certainly couldn't rely on the pension of your husband."

Getting her retaliation in first, Mrs S replied sweetly: "Oh, I don't know. I'm sure the NUT would help."

One of the more enjoyable aspects of the NUT conference is being greeted at the Winter Gardens every morning by a shower of invitations to fringe meetings. SWP and Militant literature predominates, along with groups whose connection with education seems a touch tenuous, such as the Cuba Solidarity Campaign. All this gives delegates a pleasant sensation of having been transported back to their university days.

But what's this? An uncharacteristically glossy leaflet from a mysterious group called Teachers Against Maastricht. "Britain will very rapidly be transformed into a mere offshore region in a Greater Europe dominated by Germany," it says. So far, so relevant to teachers, but the group loses credibility somewhat in a flyer for its fringe meeting. Guest speaker: Eric Clements, from Save Britain's Fish.

And there's something fishy in the small print: "published by the CPB (ML) - the Communist Party of Britain (Marxist Leninist).

The apparent adoration showed by NASUWT delegates for Labour's David Blunkett cannot have had anything to do with a change of tactic, as he told the same joke at four consecutive conferences. Since all teachers like to feel someone understands their daily suffering, perhaps there was a particular reason for NASUWT's appreciation of the following tale of how Mr B used to teach some 16-year-olds - Bricklayers 1 - on Friday afternoon.

Picture the scene: a blind teacher in a lab, and trainee brickies on high stools. He recalled: "I can tell you all my senses came into play. I could smell the gas. I could feel the water, I could hear the cries of anguish. When I asked one young man what he was doing, he said he was washing the chewing gum out of his hair that another student had put there." Proudly, he explained that he lasted a full six weeks - in contrast to the previous teacher, who survived for just a fortnight.

As Carborundum gets older, not only are police officers apparently barely out of nappies, but teachers appear to be getting more cynical by the day. One Mick Mumford, from Harrow Way comprehensive in Andover, confided to NASUWT colleagues: "I visited the doctor the other day and he gave me a prescription. I took it to the chemist and I was given a bottle of tablets. I read the label: 'Take one before retiring'. Magic, these are just what I am looking for, I thought, and there are enough here for the rest of the staff. The collegiate approach to retirement!"

The Diary prize for most pompous press release of the week goes to the Green Party for its missive, headed: "Local Elections - Greens Hold Ground On 'No GMS' policy". It continues: "The ambiguous Labour stance on grant-maintained status is a critical indication that the party has deserted earlier democratic values. While the Liberal Democrats may claim to oppose GMS, one only has to look at a solid Lib Dem LEA . . . to appreciate that it is a half-hearted commitment . . . The Green Party is opposed to GMS on the fundamental principle that it is a shift towards centralisation and a move away from community accountability." Silly old Carborundum, thinking the Greens were only about saving the planet.

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