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Monday, 1 April, 2002, 15:12 GMT 16:12 UK
'Plunder' of world's teachers denounced
Peter Butler addresses the conference
Butler: Government's duty to sustain teacher growth

A leader of one of the biggest classroom teachers' unions has criticised Tony Blair for "turning a blind eye" to the "plundering" of other countries' education systems to make up for teacher shortages in Britain.

Peter Butler, this year's president of the NASUWT, told the opening of the union's annual conference in Scarborough, that life was difficult for classroom teachers - "punchbags for the malcontents of society".

As a teacher at Priory Middle School in Dunstable, Bedfordshire, he had seen colleagues "suffering from the day-to-day effects of inadequate pay, poor working conditions, violent and disruptive pupils and increased workload".

These are all issues the conference will be debating during the week - including the motion threatening industrial action over workload, which is being voted on by all three big teachers' unions this Easter.


Mr Butler said these cumulative problems had led to a shortage of teachers.

The government had a duty to sustain not only the growth of the profession - but also the country's place in the world.

"I don't want to see any more token measures and gimmicks designed to carry the government through the next couple of years," he said.

Peter Butler, NASUWT president
Butler: Pay issues must be resolved to increase teacher numbers
"I don't want to see the government turn a blind eye when academic elite are plundered from overseas - lured from countries where poverty forces teachers to take hard decisions between patriotism and pay."

Over the past year, the NASUWT had received membership applications from teachers in 27 countries including South Africa, Russia, Poland, Iraq, Malaysia, the Philippines, the Czech Republic, Nigeria, Turkey, Cuba, Zimbabwe, India and Bulgaria.

The irony was that the union sponsored British teachers through the Voluntary Service Overseas organisation to go to some of those countries to improve their education system.


"I question the moral and ethical values of a government which seeks, on the one hand, to broker international peace while on the other, entices teachers away from utilising their skills and knowledge to the benefit of their own countries in order to plug the gaps in ours," Mr Butler said.

Without Aussie, Kiwi and South African teachers, London's schools would have faced wholesale closure

Peter Butler
The Department for Education has said that it does not encourage the recruitment of teachers from developing countries where it is likely to have an adverse effect on their economies.

"Colleagues work hard to cover vacancies and it has often been mentioned that without the Aussie, Kiwi and South African teachers, London's schools would have faced wholesale closure.

"We cannot rely on imported teachers. There needs to be a home-grown talent."

This meant upgrading the status of the profession.

Pay had to be addressed, in particular the "mess" the government had made of its new performance-related system.

At odds

The way that system is being operated in its second year has angered the head teachers' unions, who accuse the government of under-funding the scheme.

Delegates at the Scarborough conference
Teachers will vote on industrial action
One of the visitors to the conference is the leader of the Secondary Heads Association, John Dunford.

His members are threatening unprecedented industrial action over the issue.

That is opposed by the NASUWT leadership, which thinks the scheme ought to be given a chance to function - and, it believes, fail because schools will not have the money to reward all the teachers who deserve a rise.

But the head teachers say their stance has led to ongoing talks behind the scenes, with the possibility that more money might be forthcoming.

Teaching assistants

In his speech, Peter Butler also said one government answer to the issue of workload appeared to be the increased use of classroom assistants.

The union's general secretary, Nigel de Gruchy, famously got himself into trouble when he referred to classroom assistants in the same breath as "pig ignorant peasants".

He later said he was arguing that greater responsibilities for classroom assistants meant they must be suitably qualified and trained and "could not be, as I used the phrase, 'pig ignorant peasants'."

Mr Butler said the lack of training for assistants had led to an increased workload for the teachers who set work and monitored progress.

"It is unreasonable to drop a person into a classroom without the appropriate training," he said.

"Look how many years of training go into becoming a teacher.

"It is not fair on the children, it is not fair on the classroom assistant and it is not fair on the teacher."

See also:

30 Mar 02 | Education
28 Mar 02 | Education
16 Jan 02 | Education
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