Heads get in line to snipe at ministers

2nd May 2003 at 01:00
William Stewart and George Wright preview this weekend's National Association of Head Teachers' conference in York.

HEADTEACHERS are expected to place the Government's education agenda under further pressure this weekend with attacks on testing, bureaucracy and funding.

The National Association of Head Teachers' conference in York is the last of the season and traditionally not the most confrontational. But with its survey of 700 schools in England showing that barely a quarter got a real-terms funding increase this year, Stephen Twigg will join the list of ministers to be put on the spot.

David Hart, NAHT general secretary, said: "For the Government to pretend schools have still got a quarter of a billion in their budgets is fanciful in the extreme.

"The signatories of the workload deal have to present a united front. There isn't the slightest bit of good going headlong into implementing the agreement if there are significant doubts about funding. That is a recipe for disaster."

Stephen Crowne, the government official in charge of school finance, is due to give a workshop on the subject of funding on Sunday. He may be advised to pack a steel helmet.

Mr Twigg will address the conference the same day and will be anxious to pacify primary heads still smarting from a letter he wrote in January, telling them to try harder to improve English and maths test results.

Paul Woodward, NAHT Gloucestershire branch secretary and headteacher of St Whites primary, Forest of Dean, warned that delegates were likely to give him a cool reception. He is proposing a motion calling on the Government to resolve the "unprecedented funding crisis".

Gareth Matthewson, NAHT president and head of Whitchurch high, Cardiff, will set the conference tone in his speech. He said: "The Government is saying they want teachers to be innovative, creative and risk-taking. But tell that to primary school heads under pressure from tests and targets.

"Most would say, 'I would love to take risks but if the future of my school is going to be determined by league table positions then that is where the effort is going to be'. As long as we have got the three Ts of testing, targets and tables then I don't think the change is going to come."

No less than six resolutions attacking the "three Ts" have been tabled, making up more than a quarter of the agenda. Larry Malkin, head of Easington CE primary, East Yorkshire, is expected to propose a boycott of national tests at key stages 1, 2 and 3 unless the Government agrees that the results will not be published. "We have got children in tears, children being ill and stress among the teachers because of them. In my school we are having to cancel football and netball matches to fit in revision booster classes.

"At this time of year the children should be enjoying playing sport. But they have been in since 8am because we are trying to meet targets and they are too tired by 3pm."

However Mr Twigg will be reiterating the Government's commitment to targets. He is expected to say: "Setting goals and targets is what every person, every team, every organisation does that wants to succeed. And we want schools to succeed." The minister is also expected to talk about the workload agreement and say he recognises significant improvements in teaching.

Bureaucracy in schools will be condemned by Tony Roberts, who said his retirement from Walton le Dale primary, Preston, last year was partly due to excessive paperwork. He said that ministers who boasted of cutting back the number of documents landing on heads' desks had simply transferred the paperwork to the internet where it still had to be read.

The criticism of Government continues in a motion calling for it to consider the example it sets on the issue of bullying.

Ian Bruce, the proposer and head of Rosemellin primary, Camborne, Cornwall, said: "I will say that Government ministers as well as teachers, need to lead by example when it comes to bullying. But how do they present themselves as international leaders?

"Do they work their way through and negotiate problems or do they use strong arm tactics to get what they want? How will the way George Bush and Tony Blair acted leading up to the attack on Iraq be seen as a good example?"

The new, six-term-year will also be debated with a call for the Government to set dates rather than allow local authorities to "tinker around the edges" of the system.

Phil Williamson, head of Wetwang primary, Driffield, East Riding, Yorkshire, is due to say to delegates:"The six-term year is becoming a reality, despite the lack of real consultation with those whom it affects directly - teachers, parents and support staff.

"While NAHT supports in principle the move to a school year of more even terms, this must be carried out on a national basis."

He believes there is need for "effective and co-ordinated publicity" before any restructuring occurs to ensure parents can change their holiday plans.

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