'Unions have damaged the profession'

7th April 2006 at 01:00
Chris Woodhead condemns leaders' track record of 'truculence, complacency and hypocrisy' in the run-up to conference week. Jon Slater and Michael Shaw report

Union complaints about feckless parents, unruly pupils and teachers'

workloads have damaged teacher morale and the standing of the profession, according to Chris Woodhead.

The former chief inspector said unions' portrayal of school life has done more to damage the profession than his criticism of underperforming schools and incompetent teachers.

He accused union leaders of "truculence, complacency and hypocrisy, (which) over the years has done real damage to the teaching profession".

Their "self-righteous protestations" against government policies such as league tables and Ofsted inspections have cost teachers the sympathy of the public and key opinion formers, he said.

"When did you last hear a representative of a teacher union telling teachers and the general public that teaching is the best job in the world?" he said. "Personally, I don't think I ever have. The image of teaching that is presented by the teacher unions is invariably and depressingly bleak."

By contrast, Mr Woodhead, who refused to join a union when he began his career as a teacher in 1969, said he had made every effort to praise schools' successes when he was chief inspector.

His comments were made in an article in the April edition of Report, the magazine of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, to co-incide with the union's annual conference in Gateshead next week.

Mr Woodhead was also critical of the General Teaching Council, which he accused of going native and failing to offer the independence and authority of the British Medical Council (sic).

Mary Bousted, ATL general secretary, said: "I think Mr Woodhead should examine his own conscience before he brands others as truculent and complacent.

"Certainly, he should consider whether there has been any statement more damaging to teacher morale than his sweeping and unfounded allegation that there were 15,000 incompetent teachers."

The ATL conference, which begins on Monday and finishes on Thursday, is the first of the three major teacher-union conferences during the Easter period.

The NASUWT will meet at the Birmingham international conference centre from Tuesday to Saturday, and the National Union of Teachers will gather in Torquay on Good Friday.

The leaderships of both the ATL and the NASUWT will face activists who are critical of their decisions to engage in social partnership with the Government.

These unions, and the employers, collaborate with the Government in decisions on pay and conditions. NASUWT members from Cannock and Mid-Staffordshire, Cornwall and Devon plan to criticise the union for appearing too passive. They say it should "reassert the traditional values of independent trade unionism" and threaten to pull out of the arrangement.

The union's leaders will counter with a motion saying its decision to join in "social partnership" with the Government has given teachers more time to prepare for lessons and do their marking.

Ruth Kelly, the Education Secretary, will address the NASUWT on Thursday, two days after her deputy Jacqui Smith speaks to ATL members in Gateshead.

Delegates attending the NUT conference in Torquay will have to do without a ministerial presence after the union decided for the second year running not to invite the political parties' education spokespeople. It will be the third consecutive NUT conference without a minister after the Government boycotted the 2004 conference following the union's failure to sign the workforce agreement.

Key topics of debate at the conferences will include the education Bill, faith schools and pupil behaviour.

It appears that the NASUWT conference will be more dominated than usual by behaviour matters. Four of the seven scheduled motions relate to behaviour, with debates planned on violent and disruptive pupils, behaviour management support for newly qualified teachers, violence in the workplace and bullying within management.

* jon.slater@tes.co.uk

Why join a union? Analysis,14

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