Lone protest of a sceptic

27th April 2001 at 01:00
Just one union delegate opposed the historic joint motion calling for a 35-hour week. Clare Dean asks her why.

SANDIE REED is a lone voice, the only teacher out of almost 3,000 at this Easter's conferences to vote against the history-making deal by the classroom unions to take joint action in pursuit of a new contract.

Her stance came as unions in England, representing 400,000 teachers, prepared to meet employers and ministers to thrash out a remit for an inquiry into teachers' workloads.

It is even more unusual given that she is a teacher in Scotland, where school staff have already won the 35-hour working week that their colleagues south of the border are fighting for.

Ms Reed is delighted that the McCrone report has promised 20 minutes guaranteed non-contact time for every hour worked and hopes it can can be used as a lever to alleviate conditions in England and Wales.

But the Edinburgh teacher simply does not believe McCrone will deliver the cash it promises - a pound;35,000 salary for most teachers. Her scepticism that teachers can get both shorter hours and more pay is what led her to break ranks at the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers' annual conference in Jersey last week. Julia Butler, a delegate from Glasgow, shared Ms Reed's anxieties, warning the conference:

"Everything in our garden is not rosy." But Ms Reed was the only teacher to vote against the joint motion. Derek Kennedy, her branh secretary and Scottish president of the NASUWT, supported it and told 1,200 delegates that McCrone had been the result of genuine negotiation.

"It is not just a pay settlement or a few words about conditions it is a binding contract on teachers, local authorities and government," he said. "Get in there negotiating."

Mr Kennedy added: "Kilts are not obligatory, even though they are fine garments."

"He's a very positive thinker," said Ms Reed. "Me, I'm a natural Eeyore. You'd be a mug not to support the joint motion but I have real anxieties about the hoops you have to jump through to get this money."

A former member of the National Union of Teachers, she is a veteran conference-goer, and met her husband Colin at one event. He now runs a bus depot.

"The reason why I joined the NASUWT was because people do listen to each other," said Ms Reed, a learning support senior teacher at Edinburgh's Castlebrae high school.

"We have a tradition of dialogue in the NASUWT in which we listen to each other and to people on the platform even if they are Tories. Some years we applaud them, some years we don't.

"This is a very tolerant union. We accept diversity. I am allowed to differ and I choose to differ. I follow issues and I am able to express my misgivings."

"I'm used to being a maverick," Ms Reed who used to work in London's East End, said. "Being an NASUWT member in Scotland, I am used to being in a minority."

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