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Will they vote against faith?

Boredom and creationism on the agenda at ATL conference, report Jon Slater and Michael Shaw

God, camera phones and the defence of boring lessons will be debated at the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) annual conference in Gateshead next week.

Delegates will vote on Tuesday on proposals to ban the teaching of creationism in state schools and to stop public funding of faith schools by 2020.

The Westminster Government's white paper, published last autumn, included plans to make it easier for faith schools to opt into the state sector in an effort to bring Islamic schools into the mainstream. There are already five Muslim state schools, with up to 60 private ones expected to opt in.

The motion, proposed by the ATL's Brent branch, warns: "The Government's policy of increasing numbers of faith schools will hinder integration, foster religious divisions and provide fertile ground for religious and ethnic conflicts."

Brent, led by Hank Roberts, ATL executive member, has also tabled a resolution calling for an urgent review of the union's decision to enter into social partnership with the Government.

Mr Roberts questioned whether the ATL had been treated as an equal partner in the relationship.

He said: "We have had to put up with things in England that have not happened in Scotland and Northern Ireland - the whole testing regime and academies.

"Gains on pensions and workload were made after the threat of action by all three teaching unions. I think it is time for some old-fashioned trade unionism."

Teachers' union the NASUWT will also come under fire about engaging in social partnership with the Government when members meet for their conference at the Birmingham international conference centre from Tuesday to Saturday.

The ATL meets from Monday to Thursday, and the National Union of Teachers'

conference in Torquay starts on Good Friday.

NASUWT members from Cannock and Mid-Staffordshire, Cornwall and Devon intend to criticise the union for seeming passive. They want it to "reassert the traditional values of independent trade unionism" and threaten to pull out of the arrangement.

The union's leaders will counter with a motion saying "social partnership"

with the Government has given teachers more time to prepare for lessons and do their marking.

The NASUWT conference appears even more dominated than usual by behaviour matters, with four out of seven motions on the subject. The top-ranked motion was tabled by Suzanne Nantcurvis, of NASUWT Cymru's Denbighshire branch.

It "deplores the continued increase in violence and abuse against staff in education establishments", and calls for local authorities to work with unions to reduce the risks.

It calls for a consistent approach to behaviour management across council areas, and says every local authority should be obliged to provide sufficient pupil referral units for disruptive children whose needs cannot be met in mainstream schools. The Assembly government is currently reviewing behaviour and attendance issues in Wales.

Ruth Kelly, Education Secretary, will address the NASUWT on Thursday, two days after her deputy Jacqui Smith speaks to ATL delegates in Gateshead.

Delegates at the NUT conference in Torquay will be without a ministerial presence after the union decided for the second year running not to invite the political parties' education spokespeople.

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