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Unions 2000 Monday, 24 April, 2000, 14:24 GMT 15:24 UK
Call for teachers' work to rule
martin johnson
Martin Johnson: Colleagues "broken" by pressure
By Alison Stenlake at the NASUWT conference in Llandudno

The new president of the second biggest teaching union is urging members to agree to take action to reduce teachers' workload.

Martin Johnson of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT) also complained of a continuing process of "subtle selection" under a "bourgeois" prime minister.

He told delegates gathered for the annual conference in Llandudno that too many talented, committed teachers were walking away from the profession because of the pressures on them.

Worse still, he had seen "too many excellent colleagues" broken by these pressures.

"These are people who loved working with children, but could stand no longer the nonsense that goes with it", he said.

Non-teaching tasks

Mr Johnson was speaking on Monday at the opening of the conference, during which delegates will be asked to sanction a ballot to decide whether action - short of strikes - should go ahead to ease the bureaucracy burden on teachers.

The action would start by members strictly adhering to government anti-bureaucracy guidance.

This includes a list of tasks which the government says teachers should not carry out, such as chasing pupil absences, bulk photocopying, administering exams, stocktaking, and classroom displays.

Other possible measures included ignoring new government guidelines on sex education.

If these failed to cut teachers' working hours to a reasonable level from the average of up to 52 hours a week they were currently estimated to work, the union's action would be stepped up to fix a limit on working hours.

The NASUWT has said that its position on the new performance pay system - vehemently opposed by the National Union of Teachers - is one of "critical neutrality".

But it says the implementation of the system could make the problem of "excessive workload and bureaucracy" much worse.

Call for investment boost

Mr Johnson said: "I think teaching is a wonderful job. I know that the large majority of our colleagues still enjoy being in classrooms with youngsters.

"Yet it is a matter of fact that the demands it currently places on teachers, arising largely from what I call managerialism, make it increasingly unattractive."

He told delegates that the government needed to invest billions of pounds more into education each year than it was currently doing.

This would solve some of the main problems currently dogging the teaching profession, which included the need for higher salaries across the board for good, experienced teachers, and more opportunities for professional growth and development.

Investment in extra support staff to free up teachers to teach, and in improving teachers' working conditions - including increased staffing levels - was also needed.

Mr Johnson suggested 3bn as the extra investment needed annually to bring about all these changes, but said: "If that amount extra was spent, it would just bring us back to the levels of the bad old days of the early 90s, in relation to national income, and would remain some way below the average for EU countries."

'No' to selection

In his speech, Mr Johnson also condemned the "expensive, unnecessary, and damaging movement towards privatisation of our education services, which transforms public money into private profit".

And he stated the union's opposition to selection in schools, on the grounds that "skewed" pupil intakes made some teachers' working lives "intolerable".

He said selection was not restricted to the 164 remaining grammar schools in England.

The Education Secretary, David Blunkett - who had pledged "no more selection" under a Labour government - was actually strengthening it through "continual structural innovation".

"Grammar schools are not the only problem," he said.

"The promotion of Tory innovations such as beacon schools and specialist schools ... threatens to undermine the whole comprehensive secondary school system."

'Bourgeois prime minister'

The different types of school were simply "a mechanism which grades schools by status, and to some extent by wealth," he said.

"We are back to selection, a more subtle form of selection."

It might be selection by housing market, selection by parents and selection of children by schools.

But it was certainly nothing to do with establishing "an intake which reflects the whole community served by the school".

"This might be the policy of a Tory prime minister: it is certainly the policy of a bourgeois prime minister."

Tony Blair had "absolutely no understanding of how ordinary schools work", he said.

He "does not even realise that his own children's potential would have been fulfilled quite adequately by his local secondary schools."

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12 Apr 00 | UK Education
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