NUT draws up battle lines at fiery conference

5th April 2013 at 01:00
'Gove must go,' union demands as it prepares for strikes

Not surprisingly, Michael Gove did not attend any of the teaching unions' annual conferences. It was probably for the best; the education secretary is already at daggers drawn with the people he terms the "enemies of promise".

At the NUT and NASUWT conferences, held in Liverpool and Bournemouth respectively, members left no doubt that the feeling was mutual. NUT delegates unanimously passed a vote of no confidence in Mr Gove, as chants of "Gove must go!" echoed round the BT Convention Centre.

Several days earlier at the same venue, members of the more moderate Association of Teachers and Lecturers had passed a similar motion at their own conference. But the mood of defiance went up several notches when the NUT arrived.

In the week before the conference, the NUT had announced a long-awaited programme of strikes in conjunction with the NASUWT, starting with regional action in the North West on 27 June. Buoyed by the news, some among the NUT's hard Left factions urged the union to act more quickly, submitting to the conference their own counterproposal for a national strike on 26 June.

Executive member Martin Powell-Davies said that the NUT needed to be "upping the ante" before the summer holidays. But Mary Alexander, a teacher in a North London primary school, warned that the amendment would leave "one union pitched against another". Jerry Glazier, a moderate member of the NUT executive, told delegates that the rebellion could jeopardise the unions' historic alliance. "Let me assure you, the risks are really great ... I know how hard it has been to achieve (a joint campaign)," he said.

To the relief of NUT general secretary Christine Blower, the amendment was eventually voted down. But the influence of the union's left-wing factions was still very much in evidence. Delegates arriving at the convention centre were bombarded with a plethora of leaflets from the likes of the Socialist Teachers Alliance (STA) and the Campaign for a Democratic and Fighting Union (CDFU), while Mark Serwotka, firebrand general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services Union, received one of the weekend's most enthusiastic responses.

The conference called for a 35-hour working week for teachers with a maximum of 20 hours' pupil contact time, as well as asking the union leadership to investigate "as a matter of urgency" whether teachers could boycott Ofsted - something Ms Blower has stressed would be illegal.

But the NUT was also keen to position itself on the side of the general public. A fringe event organised by the STA and CDFU asked if parents and unions could be "natural allies".

Meanwhile, a survey commissioned by the union found that 59 per cent of parents said they trusted heads to educate their children, with 58 per cent trusting teachers and just 6 per cent saying they would trust Mr Gove. Among the teachers gathered in Liverpool and Bournemouth, there is little doubt that figure would have been even lower.

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