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EDITIONS
Sunday, 31 March, 2002, 12:31 GMT 13:31 UK
Angry teachers heckle Morris
Estelle Morris
Estelle Morris attacked teachers' strike threats

Teachers have heckled and slow hand-clapped the Education Secretary Estelle Morris as she warned them against threatening industrial action.

Ms Morris, speaking at the National Union of Teacher' conference in Bournemouth, faced taunts from staffroom militants about teacher shortages.

And a group of delegates held up a sign that, after a couple of attempts, spelt out "Strike" - a reference to calls for industrial action over teachers' workload.

But the education secretary dismissed the actions of a "small minority", saying that they would steal the headlines and damage the image of the teaching profession.

Speaking afterwards, she said that such protests were "predictable".

"If I told them that tomorrow was Sunday, I think they'd say it wasn't and pass a motion against it," she said.

Estelle Morris, Education and Skills Secretary
Estelle Morris: Talking tough on strikes

"But I'm a sticker and not a quitter," she said, and promised that her own membership of the National Union of Teachers would continue.

The education secretary had told delegates that calling for strikes would damage teachers' relations with pupils and parents.

Talking tough

And she warned that such actions, and heckling at conferences, would lower the public standing of the teaching profession.

As well as talking tough, the education secretary emphasised the benefits of partnership and negotiation.

But she told delegates that "I cannot do business" under the threat of strike action.

Ms Morris had herself been a striking teacher in the 1980s, but she now says that she regrets the action.

"I still meet adults today who say their education was damaged by the disuputes in the Eighties. And it is only when I was outside the profession that I could see the harm," she told journalists after the speech.

Responding to the speech, the union's general secretary, Doug McAvoy, struck a conciliatory tone, and appeared to be confident that a deal could be struck over reducing teachers' workload.

Last resort

And he asserted the union's moderate credentials, saying that "this union has no history of taking action lightly, it has only ever been a last resort".

Speaking before the conference, Mr McAvoy had also emphasised that industrial action did not mean disruption for pupils.

It would mean a boycott of bureaucracy and a working to rule, rather than walking out of lessons.


It is no good Estelle Morris telling us off like naughty schoolchildren - we need dialogue and action

Carole Regan, teacher
Cutting hours from a term-time average of 53 hours a week was in the interests of pupils and parents, as well as teachers, said Mr McAvoy.

However the conference seemed to be in a mood for action, with delegates voting on Saturday morning in support of industrial action in opposition to training outside working hours.

Reflecting this mood, a teacher at the conference, Carole Regan, said her colleagues were "fed up" with being ignored.

Ms Regan, from Tower Hamlets Comprehensive School in London, said that "Estelle Morris is just not prepared to listen to what we have to say.

"We would like to work quietly with her behind the headlines but it does not seem to be working.

"It is no good Estelle Morris telling us off like naughty schoolchildren. We need dialogue and action."

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
John Bangs, National Union of Teachers
"Teacher workload is the issue"
See also:

29 Mar 02 | UK Education
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30 Mar 02 | UK Education
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