Nicky Morgan refutes claims of teaching 'crisis' in speech to union members
Teachers have been accused of talking up a "crisis" in the profession by Education Secretary Nicky Morgan in a speech to a major teaching union.
Addressing the annual NASUWT conference on Saturday - the first Conservative Education Secretary to do so since 1997 - Ms Morgan said: "Teachers are the pinnacle of the community, charged with the greatest of responsibilities, moulding the next generation."
But she told teachers there would be "no pulling back" and "no reverse gear" on the Government's education reforms, including the controversial roll-out of academy schools in England.
In comments that raised heckles and jeers around the conference hall in Birmingham, Ms Morgan also accused the NASUWT of peddling too much negative comment about the state of the profession, teacher retention and recruitment.
She said: "If I were a young person making a decision about my future career and I saw some of the language coming out from the NASUWT as well as some of the other unions, would I want to become a teacher?"
Ms Morgan went on: "If I read about a profession 'standing on the precipice of a crisis', would I consider a life in teaching? - No I would not."
The comments were greeted with consternation by many delegates, one of whom shouted back: "Has the penny dropped yet?"
NASUWT general secretary Chris Keates told Ms Morgan she was glad not to have to see her predecessor Michael Gove, quipping: "As is so often the case, it's a man who creates the mess and a woman who is left to pick up the pieces."
But responding directly to the Education Secretary, she earned loud applause saying: "As a result of Government failure to tackle this issue, we do now have the worst teaching supply crisis since 1945.
"That's not because we want to talk down the teaching profession, Nicky, it's because we care."
She also called on the Secretary of State to ditch the proposal to make all remaining local authority schools into academies.
Ms Keates said: "If you want educational excellence everywhere as your White Paper is entitled, then recognise that there are outstanding academies, outstanding community schools, outstanding foundation schools, outstanding voluntary-aided schools which proves academies don't have the monopoly on excellence and that structural change, by itself, doesn't raise standards.
"I heard what you said about not turning back, but I ask you to think again and ditch that proposal to force every school to become an academy."
Ms Morgan was speaking after Chancellor George Osborne had announced in the Budget that all remaining local authority-controlled schools would become academies run by trusts by 2022, under Government plans contained in the Education Excellence Everywhere White Paper.
Those proposals have raised opposition from teaching unions, including the NASUWT, as well as Conservative councillors in both the Secretary of State's Leicestershire constituency, and that of Prime Minister David Cameron's in Oxfordshire.
Ms Morgan praised the "amazing workforce" in schools, but was greeted with jeers when she said: "None of us can or should want to deny that the education system is in much better shape than it was five years ago."
Pressing on, she added: "Without you and your phenomenal efforts on behalf of the young people you care so passionately about, none of that would have been possible, so let me say thank you."
She accepted successive governments had not done enough to tackle teacher workload, and announced the findings of three teacher-led Department for Education (DfE) panels to help cut burdens in marking, planning and data management.
Ms Morgan said: "Fundamentally our White Paper is there to outline our vision about how we improve the education system in this country and while I welcome challenge, I welcome debate, feedback and discussion - and I already receive lots of it on the White Paper - I want to be clear there will be no pulling back from that vision.
"There is no reverse gear when it comes to our education reforms."
Ms Morgan spoke about the planned reforms including changes to recruitment, training and reducing workload, but said the teaching profession was "fizzing" with new ideas.
She added: "The education system I see in schools I visit up and down the country is not in disarray and crisis - quite the opposite."
Ms Morgan went on: "If NASUWT leadership was being totally open, they wouldn't tell you the system was in crisis either, so let's resolve to work together so we can build the education system that we all agree that we want, because ultimately it is the young people up and down this country who will suffer if we don't."
Speaking afterwards, Ms Keates said: "I think that what it appeared was there was some deliberate intent in the speech to incitement and I can't understand why a minister who says she wants to communicate with the profession has a speech that seemed to want to press negative buttons."
She added: "All those things she said, I think could have been said in a different way."