Standards are slipping in the National Union of Teachers. The end of the Easter conference is usually marked by at least three major rows, four strike votes and a general denunciation of members as the most pernicious influence facing British youth today. Last year there was even the mobbing of the blind shadow education secretary.
This year, reporters had high hopes of a repeat performance of the Blunkett Incident at the weekend. "Security was tightened at the National Union of Teachers' conference yesterday after protesters threatened to disrupt the Education Secretary's speech this afternoon," revealed The Times.
The best the NUT could provide was apparently a few mangy Socialist Worker sellers at the main entrance. As the Guardian put it: "She [Gillian Shephard] . . . overegged a complaint about the damage done to the teaching profession by the 'childish and old-fashioned antics' of a ragtaggle of Trotskyite newspaper sellers outside the hall, who mysteriously posed such a threat to her security that she had to be ushered in by a side entrance."
The Sunday Times appears to have been at a different conference. "Facing a phalanx of delegates wearing T-shirts emblazoned with 'No to Tory cuts' and 'No to classes over 30', she faced down militant union members . . ."
The NUT tried again by voting for openly gay teachers in schools provoking a Sun leader which opined: "There are enough perverts outside the school gates wihtout worrying about more inside" But it was not until Monday, when asked to vote on proposals to democratise the union, that real headlines emerged when delegates voted against. Classic quotes abounded. According to the Independent: "Opponents of the changes accused Mr McAvoy of 'Dougocracy'. Gill Goodswen, from Kirklees, said: 'We are not opposed to democracy. We are saying no to this oligarchic system being smuggled in through the back door.'" The Times, which splashed on the story, explained: "Militant teachers inflicted a devastating defeat on moderates trying to extend democracy in Britain's biggest teaching union yesterday when they threw out 'one member, one vote' reforms limiting the power of local branches and the national conference."
Perhaps as surprising as the NUT's relative dullness was the attention paid to its rivals. The Association of Teachers and Lecturers has finally got the knack of headline-grabbing, with its sagas on classroom violence and revelations about chief inspector Chris Woodhead. "The man brought in by the Tories to bring back traditional teaching methods and sack up to 15,000 incompetent staff was revealed as a classroom 'trendy' who let children muck about in his lessons," explained the Mirror.
Mr Woodhead himself entered the fray in The Sunday Times, attacking union votes against teacher inspections.
"Is the job security of that small minority of teachers who are in the wrong profession more important than the interests of children?" he asked.
But the "moderate" ATL's cup of joy must have run over on reading the Daily Express leader writer's opinion on its vote to abolish the Office for Standards in Education: "This is like the National Union of Turkeys' annual call for the abolition of Christmas." If the tabloids hate you, acres of publicity are guaranteed to follow. And all publicity is good publicity, as the NUT can testify.