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Moderate teaching union rejects Government's education reforms

Published 05/04/2016

The Department for Education's reforms have been condemned by a moderate teaching union
The Department for Education's reforms have been condemned by a moderate teaching union

The prospect of industrial action over the Government's education reforms has edged a stage closer after one of the country's more moderate teaching unions overwhelmingly rejected proposals to privatise schools.

Members of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) condemned the education white paper, and its proposals to strip state primaries in England from local authority control, as "an attack on democracy".

The ATL joins both the NUT and NASUWT unions in using their spring conference to oppose academisation, raising the prospect of possible strike action.

ATL members in Liverpool voted unanimously to consider what forms of action, including potential industrial action, may be needed if the Government "fails to listen to education professionals and continues to impose academisation on England's schools".

Proposing the motion, former ATL president Mark Baker, said the Government failed to provide evidence supporting academisation, and added "flawed policies" were generating "embarrassment and ridicule worthy of General Melchett of Blackadder fame".

He said: "We are a profession of lions led by donkeys."

In a passionate address to conference delegates, Mr Baker identified what he considered to be the failures of the Government.

He said: "Education does not thrive without resources. Education does not thrive when schools are bullied, threatened and now compelled into becoming academies.

"Education does not thrive when its workforce are denigrated, criticised and scapegoated, paid for on the cheap. And education does not thrive when our children and young people are being tested to destruction.

"The Government's policies have failed and with this White Paper they seek to cover their own tracks."

Fellow speaker Greg Foster said the ATL ought to be prepared to "stand with" colleagues in the NUT, who last month agreed a ballot for strike action over academisation.

He said: "I hope when you come to vote, you'll notice there hasn't been a single speaker against.

"As you know, in Brighton (last month) the NUT voted to take action over this exact same issue. And now we're discussing it as well. I believe the Government hoped to drive a wedge between the NUT and ATL with this.

"They (the Government) think we'll say no. They think we'll let them do this. Let's prove them wrong. If we pass this motion then ATL will be sat at the table with a full hand of cards.

"When the NUT goes out to defend our schools, we will stand with them."

There was a round of applause and cheers as the motion was carried.

During her keynote speech on Tuesday, ATL general secretary Dr Mary Bousted said academisation - which will force 17,000 state schools in England to become privately run academies within six years - was more to do with "breaking the public service ethos of the profession" than raising educational standards.

Despite the vitriol, the union's collective defiance over the white paper may yet fall on deaf ears in Whitehall, after ministers ruled out the prospect of a Government u-turn over the controversial plans.

On Monday, schools minister Nick Gibb told the ATL academisation was being forced on schools to combat the difficulty in managing both state-run and privatised systems.

And last month, Education Secretary Nicky Morgan told the NASUWT conference in Birmingham there would be "no pulling back" and "no reverse gear" on the Government's education reforms.

Public support for academisation has been hard to find from teaching staff, who staged marches around the country last month in defiance over the plans, announced in the Budget.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn also condemned the "costly and unwanted" academisation at a time of "grotesque poverty" when he appeared at the NUT conference in Brighton.

A Department for Education statement after the motion read: "It's disappointing that the ATL would rather play politics with our children's future than work constructively with us to deliver our vision for educational excellence everywhere.

"Industrial action holds back children's education, disrupts parents' lives and ultimately damages the reputation of the profession.

"We make no apology for our reforms, which have resulted in a record number of children now being taught in good or outstanding schools - 1.4 million more than in 2010.

"And as set out in our white paper we are determined to ensure every single child has the best possible education, as well as raising the status of the profession."

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