The Week

2nd April 2010 at 01:00

The election looms large. Like a giant black cloud, it has settled ominously over everything, not least the teacher union conferences. Yup, it's that time of year again; the might of the ATL, the NUT and the NASUWT massing for their annual conference jamborees (contain your excitement). This year, for the first time in living memory, the Big Two are both holding their conferences at the same time over the Easter bank holiday weekend. Thousands of teacher delegates will therefore be forgoing their Easter eggs to instead to get down and dirty with the details of the latest rarely cover regs and plotting Sats-related insurgencies. One cannot help but be awed by this collective commitment to industrial relations policy.

First out of the gates, though, was the ATL, which held its conference at the beginning of this week. Newspaper editors yet to be bored by trade unionists getting their knickers in a twist made sure the headlines that followed were hard to miss. Indeed, Mary Boustead, the union's energetic gen sec, found herself in an almost endless round of media interviews following the publication of research that showed behaviour in primaries on the slide. Even the supposedly weighty Today programme completely ignored the fact that the self-same survey showed behaviour in secondaries actually improving.

Another story our friends on the nationals simply can't get enough of is schools fingerprinting their pupils for security and dinner hall purposes. They love it. While there are undoubtedly some civil liberty implications, this debate is probably not best helped by the portrayal of the heads involved as some kind of Gestapo unit spying on the nation's innocent youth. Incidentally, these are the same members of Fleet Street's finest who complain on an almost daily basis of pupils being out of control in corridors and classrooms.

A highlight of the ATL get-together was undoubtedly shadow schools secretary Michael Gove's visit - not quite the NUT lions' den, but hardly friendly territory. He used his turn on the podium as an ideal opportunity to tell less-than-impressed delegates that he thought poor kids would benefit from 10-hour days and Saturday school. His evidence? It works at Hackney's now world-famous Mossbourne Academy, of course. Mossbourne is undoubtedly a very fine school with a fine head achieving staggeringly good results, but politicians really ought to look elsewhere for case studies - at least occasionally.

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