Union's kit witha catch

12th March 2004 at 00:00
If you can't beat them join them, say the cynics, and this is a message that the National Union of Teachers appears to have taken to heart. After years spent complaining about increasing commercial activity in classrooms, the union has decided to get in on the act.

Free sports kit worth pound;300 is being offered to every school in Ealing, west London, by the local NUT association.

"Ealing NUT strikes against flab" screams the press release sent to journalists this week.

Nick Grant, branch secretary, promises that the union is putting its money where its mouth is by providing help for schools that do not have the money to replace washed-out, musty old kit.

Acton high basketball team and Gaelic footballers at Cardinal Wiseman are among the early beneficiaries of this largesse. But on closer examination the generosity comes with a catch. The kit will only be provided if schools agree to it carrying the NUT logo.

So how does this fit in with the union's opposition to marketing in schools? Only last April the NUT's annual conference passed a motion condemning the "creeping commercialisation" of state education. Delegates expressed concerns not only about voucher schemes - such as the promotion recently axed by Cadbury which offered sports equipment in exchange for chocolate bar wrappers - but also sponsored materials.

Two months later John Bangs, NUT head of education, said he was "uneasy" about a scheme backed by former professional footballer John Scales which has provided about 800 UK schools with football kit emblazoned with brands such as PlayStation 2.

So is there one rule for the NUT and another rule for others? Yes, according to Mr Bangs. "I make a very clear distinction. Unions are different. We are not profit-making. We promote the interests of teachers and of education," he said.

Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, was not convinced. "There seems to be some conflict between the NUT's principles and practice," she said. "I know its general secretary, Doug McAvoy, is a former PE teacher. Perhaps he would be better off getting down to Ealing, putting on some kit and showing pupils there the benefits of a healthy lifestyle."

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