Heads' union faces split

1st December 2006 at 00:00
NAHT votes next month on a U-turn over the social partnership with government

Leaders of the National Association of Head Teachers plan to rejoin the Government's social partnership, a move that will divide the union's members. Last year they walked out of the agreement, saying the requirement to give teachers half a day a week out of the classroom was not backed up with sufficient resources.

With both the association and the National Union of Teachers outside the partnership, the nation's primary schools have limited representation around the negotiating table.

One of the partnership's groups, which includes four other teachers'

unions, and employers and government representatives, provides influential advice on teachers' pay. And its workforce group, which also includes the Welsh Assembly and another three unions representing support staff, has spearheaded a reduction in teachers' administrative duties, and a requirement that they be given half a day each week for lesson preparation and assessment.

Mick Brookes, the association's general secretary, led it out of the partnership last year in a mutiny against the previous leadership. "I want to see the association as an independent union again," he said then. "I think we've been too close to the government line."

But he is performing a U-turn, arguing that his union must now play a part in forthcoming decisions about school structure and leadership.

Last week, the 45 members of the national council voted by a large majority to put the decision to a special general meeting on January 24. However, the union is believed to be evenly split.

Mr Brookes said a government-commissioned review of school leadership, expected in January, would raise more questions than answers. He said his union has 28,000 members in school leadership positions so it made sense to be able to contribute directly on those questions. He acknowledged that the union would be bound to share collective responsibility, even for decisions with which it did not agree.

Ex-leader deplores 'wrong' decision

David Hart, general secretary of the NAHT for 27 years till his retirement last year, said he was glad the leadership had "seen sense". But he said Mr Brookes should face criticism for his inconsistency.

"It's a remarkable U-turn by the general secretary," he said. "He was violently opposed to staying in the social partnership. It was a fundamentally wrong decision."

Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT which experienced tense relations with the NAHT over the issue, welcomed the decision. "Social partnership doesn't work unless all the partners take collective responsibility," she said.

Steve Sinnott, NUT general secretary, said his union had no intention of joining the "backward-looking" social partnership agreement, but he did wish to improve relations with the Government.

"Ministers are cutting their nose off to spite their face in not discussing with us key teachers' issues like 14-19 coursework and Every Child Matters," he said.

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