Union gets lucky with Kylie

1st August 2003 at 01:00
The PAT's attack on a pop princess guaranteed its conference acres of coverage - but confirmed its eccentric reputation, reports William Stewart

There were no calls for animals to help with teaching, but England's smallest classroom teachers' union maintained its eccentric reputation this week with an unprecedented attack on Kylie Minogue.

In many ways the Professional Association of Teachers, meeting in Harrogate, ended the 2003 teaching union conference season as it had begun - with brickbats for ministers over school funding and fears expressed about the implementation of the workload agreement.

But the union, which once famously called for dogs to be employed as classroom assistants, did not disappoint newsdesks looking for something to liven up the silly season.

The concern of Jim O'Neill, PAT president, in his speech that youngsters were being coerced into growing up too fast initially seemed fairly innocuous.

The 62-year-old Leicestershire maths teacher later elaborated to the press, launching into a prolonged assault on the threats to childhood. In the line of fire were f-words on television, G-strings, Britney Spears, lesbian storylines on Emmerdale, Christina Aguilera and of course Britain's favourite ex-Neighbours star. "Kylie Minogue may be a great singer but in many of her promotional things you see more of her bottom than you hear of her voice," he said.

With newspaper editors (see right) unable to resist the opportunity to reprint pictures of the above pop babe Mr O'Neill's outburst guaranteed PAT a good show in the majority of the next morning's papers.

If it was not exactly the coverage that Jean Gemmell, PAT general secretary, was looking for then she did not show it. All publicity was welcome, she told The TES.

Ms Gemmell used her own speech to boost her members' morale for the forthcoming implementation of the deal to cut workload. The reforms might not go quite as smoothly as had been hoped but they were "a must-do", she said.

"PAT sometimes gets a press of being quirky and old-fashioned," she said. "But on the workforce remodelling agenda we have been on the front foot, ahead of the game."

Members, who pride themselves on the PAT's cardinal no-industrial-action rule, gave Stephen Twigg, schools minister, an impeccably polite reception, standing as he entered the room.

In his speech Mr Twigg admitted that England had a very poor language teaching record. New figures showed only 74 per cent of 15-year-olds took at least one foreign language and only 8 per cent took Spanish, the second most used business language in Europe.

However, the funding crisis was inevitably raised. Philip Parkin, deputy head at Old Clear junior, Grimsby, chastised Mr Twigg for the Government's lack of numeracy skills.

Members later passed a motion saying they were "appalled" that school staff would have to pay for the Government's inability to do its sums.

They also voted for a moratorium on changes to the post-14 exam structure and expressed concern that ministers appeared to be dismantling local education authorities.

* Rutland has the highest proportion of 15-year-olds taking a GCSE in French, Spanish or German after the one-school Isle of Scilly authority. The lowest proportion of pupils was in Tower Hamlets where only a third attempted one of these three GCSEs.

TALKING POINT

WHAT do PAT delegates think about Ms Minogue's malign influence and the workload reforms? The TES asked them...

Geraldine Everett, a special needs co-ordinator from Leicester: "Male teachers find it incredibly awkward and embarrassing when female students are wearing very skimpy dresses. If they are going up stairs and they've got very short skirts on it leaves nothing to the imagination."

Nigel Wilson, history teacher at Queen Elizabeth grammar, Blackburn: "A lot of pupils dress far more provocatively than they used to. When you look at show like Top of the Pops you can see why. I do think they have a responsibility."

Tony Reynolds, Year 5 and 6 teacher from Over primary, Cambridge: "I'm not sure the school is sufficiently well-financed to bring in the support required for the workload agreement. Assistants have yet to go through the training and we will start in September learning as we go along."

Lesley Cassidy, Year 2 teacher at Phoenix infants school, Nottingham: "I can't see the workload deal happening. We have only just managed to keep hold of the staff we have got, so how can we employ more staff and give them additional training?"

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