'Don't muck about' Greer urges teachers

28th April 1995 at 01:00
Lecturer and writer Germaine Greer won the hearts of English teachers last week with a fighting speech damning both Tory and Labour education policies, and supporting industrial action over class sizes.

Dr Greer, who is a Cambridge University don and a former English teacher, told the annual conference of the National Association for the Teaching of English (NATE) in Sheffield: "Show these people the kind of industrial action they have never seen."

And condemning the Labour education spokesman David Blunkett for "taking his text from Keith Joseph (the former Conservative education secretary)," she said: "We will stay at home on polling day if this Labour party does not stop talking this kind of pernicious crap." She was "infuriated" and "full of indignation" at the "pseudo" Labour party's criticism of strikes over class sizes. "This country has much better teachers than it deserves," she asserted. "The taxpayers would be perfectly happy if we trebled teachers' salaries. Don't muck about."

Dr Greer, who is well-known for her provocative speeches, told the audience how she lost her job as a columnist on the Sunday Times for supporting previous strike action by nurses and teachers. She went on to say that if she were a teacher collecting GCSE folders, she would lock them up and start negotiating better working conditions. This was not mere rhetoric.

Back in the early 1960s, the young Australian was given a difficult class of girls destined for a Sydney pickle factory. After a lot of hard work and notable success with Shakespeare's sonnets, she discovered her non-examination but nevertheless streetwise class had effectively been labelled "morons" in their school dossiers.

Appalled and upset, she "mislaid" the dossiers and last week, 35 years later, confessed to NATE members she had actually burned them.

Her passion for the teachers' cause led one member of the audience to ask her if she would join a NATE delegation to David Blunkett. She would be honoured, she said, but her reputation might do the association more harm than good.

* NATE, which has played a leading part in the revolt against the Government's curriculum and testing policies over the past two years, has effectively ruled out further protests.

Significantly, proposals for strike action or boycotts were not even on the agenda at its conference policy meeting last week, indicating the success of Education Secretary Gillian Shephard and her chief curriculum adviser Sir Ron Dearing in defusing the row which had threatened to wreck the Government's education reforms.

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