We believe in inclusive education at all levels

22nd May 2009 at 01:00

There's a myth I hear peddled far too often and I want to nail it.

It goes like this: because the Association for College ManagementAssociation of Managers in Education is a moderate trade union that is unwilling to act in ways that jeopardise the education of students and pupils, this means it is somehow reactionary or anti-progressive.

In contrast, other unions, more ready to strike and more relentlessly focused on the self-interests of their members, are commonly viewed as progressive.

I don't see it that way at all. Recently, I attended a conference of one of the aforesaid unions. From the floor, one member railed against schools that practise selection at 16 and, with respect to their 16-19 provision, "keep the best and pass on the dregs" to colleges.

It's reasonable to assume that the word "dregs" refers to young people whose achievements at school have been limited and who all too often come from a background of poverty.

Exactly the same word was used by a branch official of the same union many years ago when he was leading the resistance to my determination to set up level 1 (lower-grade GCSEs) programmes in the college where I worked.

The union felt it was unacceptable to impose "lame ducks" on lecturers. He was referring to young people, often from ethnic minorities, who lived in social housing close to the college. On neither occasion was the word contested by one of the many other members of that union.

A third instance arose during a multi-union discussion of participation age, when I suggested we explore the impact on young people who at 16 take part neither in education, employment or training. The response (same trade union) was: "Neets" - upturned hands - "a hopeless case."

I am proud to say that in my association with our members I have never come across such reactionary, anti-progressive values. On the contrary, our members are committed to developing inclusive provision across all curriculum levels. We share a profound reluctance to take union action that affects students' learning. Does that make us reactionary? Rather, it demonstrates our passionate belief in providing education for the whole community.

The claim to be progressive and on the side of the angels is not tested by an unerring commitment to the narrow vested interests of members, any more than the label of reactionary fits a union whose members take a responsible attitude to their service to students, holding it equal to pay and conditions.

In our association, the pay and conditions of our members are our top priorities. But we promote professional development; our members say they want it because they are passionate about high standards. They are also canny enough to know that the security of the sector's colleges is best protected by offering something brilliant and indispensable.

Nadine Cartner, Director of policy, Association for College ManagementAssociation of Managers in Education.

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