Diane Hofkins reports on a new grassroots movement in search of fairer funding. XA new headteachers' association set up to campaign for better funding for primary schools has met with a hostile response from the teacher unions.
The fledgling National Primary Headteachers' Association, which intends to speak out on professional issues, was launched at a meeting of around 60 delegates representing up to 8,000 primary schools at Warwick University on Friday.
Tony McKee, the association's chairman and head of Corinthian school in Liverpool, said its purpose was to offer "a distinct and unique primary voice". "We must allow ourselves to be chauvinistic to a degree," he said.
Although he said the argument that primary schools should be funded more on a par with secondaries had already been won, there was little extra money coming in. "Every year we must analyse the priorities, and not say we must always do what we have always done," he said. A bigger slice of the financial cake did not automatically belong to particular sectors or schools. He called for a "needs-based" approach to allocating money to schools.
The launch was supported by Sir Malcolm Thornton, MP and chair of the Commons education select committee, which last year produced a report calling for the gap to be bridged. He said arguments used to justify the discrepancy were out-dated. Primary teachers had been undervalued for too long.
Mr McKee said the association would differ from the established teaching unions which, with the exception of the Secondary Heads Association, represented members in both primary and secondary schools.
He stressed that the new group's work would complement the unions' efforts, and said: "We have no wish or time to encroach on their rightful role." The unions, however, are clearly not convinced.
Doug McAvoy, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said such a body would be divisive. "The union believes it is not in the interests of the profession or the education service for a new and sectarian association to be established," he said. "The union cannot therefore offer its support."
David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, to which most of the new group's members belong, said the NAHT would work with such a body, but it was necessary to establish what it could do that existing associations can't. However, the NAHT would be "extremely hostile" to a separate primary organisation taking up issues beyond the disparity of funding. "It would fragment the profession," he said.
The NAHT and other unions were already involved in all NPHA's issues: inspections, nursery education, the special needs code of practice and non-contact time, as well as funding, according to Mr Hart. He could understand the desire for a primary campaign for more funding, but said "redividing the existing cake is really an argument of despair".
The National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers was the only union to attend the launch, but general secretary Nigel de Gruchy warned that there could be risks to "taking primary out of the mainstream".
But members of the new organisation - a banding together of local and regional heads' groups - see a gap. "We are very busy people," said one member. "We run schools. If we give up time to form an organisation to speak out, I would suggest there's a gap. Otherwise we would go through our normal channels of the unions."
Sue Barker, head of Ladybridge school in Stockport and secretary of the NPHA, said she was disappointed in the unions' response. "Why do people in a way feel threatened because a group of people hopefully are going to give voice to millions of primary pupils and their needs?" she asked.