Not so grand designs

25th May 2007 at 01:00
Public private partnerships have been deemed 'legalised theft' by one trade union. Henry Hepburn reports from the NASUWT annual Scottish conference in Dundee

Private finance initiatives are an "iniquitous and blindly stupid way" of funding education and must be scrapped, a teachers' union has decided.

The Scottish annual general meeting of the NASUWT saw members back a motion to gain the support of other public sector unions for a campaign against the "continuing use and further extension" of such schemes, officially known as public private partnerships.

Roy Robertson, the union's treasurer in Scotland and local association secretary in Clackman-nanshire, said: "One of the best definitions of the private finance initiative is legalised theft."

He argued that while contractors were guaranteed their money, school buildings funded in such a way invariably turn out less impressive than envisaged.

"PFI schemes are not good for teachers or education because they divert money away - the PFI money is always paid first," he said. "Contractors who know absolutely nothing about schools and education are now responsible for schools and education."

Mr Robertson said that in Falkirk, where a number of schools were funded through the scheme, there had been some "absolutely awful" design.

Even one of the opponents to Mr Robertson's motion was condemnatory about school building schemes funded by the private finance initiative.

Joe Foy, a South Lanarkshire teacher, said: "I know that there is no real bids process, that it is a carve-up, but at the moment there is no real alternative."

Despite such concerns, the union decided to back Mr Robertson's motion and its contention that PFI schemes were "entirely inimical to the interests of the teaching profession, council taxpayers and to everyone who works in education in any position whatever".

The move came after members had passed another motion proposing that HM Inspectorate of Education be asked to produce a set of guidelines for architects, planners and designers, so that problems with recently constructed schools might be avoided in future. The union called for HMIE to be involved in the planning and design of schools from the outset.

* There was unanimous concern about the use of mobile phones in schools - yet the union decided to take no action on the issue. Some teachers wanted to call for a blanket ban, others felt this too severe and argued for a tightening of regulations. After a protracted debate, members could not decide which line to take and both were rejected.

John Henvey, a South Lanark-shire teacher, rejecting the idea that only a minority of children abused mobile phones, backed a total ban. "Kids are running riot with them," he said, warning that children could take voice and film recordings and "mash it up" to give a misleading impression of what had taken place.

Other teachers had concerns that it would be impractical to collect pupils'

phones each morning. Some said they had positive uses, whether as a calculator, for emergency back-up when travel arrangements in remote areas fell through, or during learning about communications technology.


The Scottish Executive should carry out research into the stress levels of primary teachers, members agreed. Findings published last year showed that many secondary teachers had clinical stress levels. Backers of the motion thought that primary teachers suffered similar - or even greater - levels of stress than their secondary colleagues.

Prospective chartered teachers should not have to pay their own way, members agreed. A call was made to remove personal funding from the chartered teacher programme, after NASUWT studies showed that the time and "prohibitive" cost involved was limiting the number of teachers achieving chartered status.

A conflict was identified between what was described as the "freedom-to-innovate mantra" of A Curriculum for Excellence and the "accountability straitjacket" enforced by inspectors. Members agreed to highlight this conflict and resist anything that would worsen working conditions or increase teachers' stress.

The union last week agreed to investigate Scottish teachers' concerns about some content in sex education programmes in primaries.

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