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Vote over pay ballot could go to the wire;Easter Conferences

The National Union of Teachers is prepared to go to the barricades over performance-related pay and the Government's reforms.

At its annual conference in Brighton last weekend, Britain's largest teachers' union agreed to ballot members for a boycott of appraisal and a one-day strike next term if the Government continues with its planned reforms. The NUT is opposed to linking appraisal to pay and pupil progress.

Education Secretary David Blunkett called the union's attitude "sad, negative and depressing". In his conference speech he said: "Talk of strike action is simply daft because we are at the beginning of the process of consultation and not the end. Our children deserve better than for us, the Government, and you, the teaching profession, to be knocking hell's bells out of each other."

He had asked NUT members to celebrate the achievements of the Government - reducing class sizes for infants, tackling crumbling schools, and reducing the number of failing schools.

But he received a muted response. Prior to the conference, the left-wing factions had debated how they would receive the Education Secretary and decided to do nothing, rather than mount protests.

There was some low-level heckling - calls of "Rubbish" and "Bring back the real Tories".

Mr Blunkett said he would appeal directly to parents, telling them how necessary his reforms were. Doug McAvoy, general secretary of the NUT, later told journalists he was disappointed that his members had not given Mr Blunkett credit for his successes, despite being unhappy with some of his messages.

Mr McAvoy won warm applause and a standing ovation for his speech to delegates, in which he described the pay proposals as disastrous. He said Mr Blunkett was deliberately trying to isolate the NUT and was attempting to divide the profession. "Once the Government's priorities were 'education, education, education'. Now from Tony Blair we have 'disaster, disaster, disaster'."

The usual in-fighting between the union's factions was less obvious this year, with all groups, including the leadership, supporting opposition to Mr Blunkett's pay reforms. Mostyn Phillips, executive member, said the union would go to the barricades. His motion on boycotting appraisal was toughened by an amendment, proposed by leadership challenger Christine Blower, to include any pilots.

Mr McAvoy said he would take Mr Blunkett at his word that the Green Paper's proposals were negotiable. But his members were more sceptical about how far the Government would listen. The Education Secretary told journalists its main principles, including performance-related pay, were not negotiable, but the ways to implement them were.

Attempts by the Left to commit the union to demanding a 10 per cent rise, plus pound;1,000, for all teachers next year was opposed by the executive. The motion was not completed due to lack of time and leaves the union without an up-to- date salary policy.

The union's leadership was defeated by a motion calling for total opposition to education action zones and to fight them in every area. Peter Flack, from Leicester, said the Department for Education and Employment was experimenting on some of the country's most disadvantaged children.

Peter Smith, divisional secretary in Newham, which has a zone, said conditions there complied with the union's criteria and that the opposition was being led by the Socialist Workers' party.

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