NASUWT: Presidential address to union conference

Honoured guests, colleagues and friends, Conference

(Check against delivery)

I am extremely honoured to have been elected President of the largest union representing teachers and headteachers in the United Kingdom; to be President of the most effective union which truly reflects the views of teachers in the classroom.

Every President on this occasion, at this moment, must have felt very nervous – well, I do – and I’m sure they too must have wondered how they ever attained this position.

It’s certainly not what I imagined when I first joined the NASUWT in 1978
and it is not something I would have achieved on my own. So many people have encouraged and supported me and I would like to thank them.

To my own Local Association, Dudley, a huge thank you for the friendship, support and belief you have shown in me for all my years in this Union.

Special mention must go to Chris Bruton, Sue Byers, Martin and Tess Snell, Lin Gilbert and all the other Officers and Executive Members of Dudley over the years.

Thanks too to the Secretaries and activists of District 13 from whom I learned so much, often having to learn very quickly when I was your National Executive Member; thanks to the West Midlands region and to all staff and members in that area who have always given excellent support and comradeship; thanks to Dave Jones, with whom I worked closely as a National Executive Member.

I want to thank my school, Redhill School, Stourbridge, headteacher Stephen Dunster and the governors for supporting me both as a teacher and in my trade union roles.

Redhill is, and always has been, by anyone’s judgement, an outstanding school.

Thanks must also go to Dudley Local Authority for being an excellent employer over the last 34 years, supporting my facilities release and giving me the time to be an NASUWT Officer.

And more recently, as an Officer, I have worked closely with the National Executive, whose friendship, advice and comments I have come to value and admire – well, in most cases.

Also, I would like to thank former National Executive Members and
Officers for their encouragement and I miss those who are no longer with us.

Thanks must also go to the Officers, GS Team and all staff. I have valued their advice, support and friendship.

The greatest thanks must go to my friends and family: to my parents, sister and family, brother-in-law and his family, to all our children, Cath, Martyn, Sophie and their partners, to our youngest, Jack, and to the grandchildren.

My apologies for not always being there but my thanks for your understanding; thanks too, for those challenging arguments and disagreements about the public sector, about teaching, about unions, and politics.

Perhaps being here at Conference will finally influence your views – and you can’t answer back right now, can you?

To Sophie and Jack, who have grown up with the NASUWT as part of their
vocabulary, a big thank you, and to Jack a kind of apology…

My first Conference was in 1987 and since then I have missed only one, in 1994.

I was pregnant and the baby was due on 1 April. Jack was born on 8 April that year and so will celebrate his 18th birthday on Sunday, here at his first ever NASUWT Conference!

Sorry Jack but I couldn’t miss this one.

Finally, to Brian, my husband, the greatest thanks – for your never-ending support, love and encouragement; for being there as a critical friend, a teaching role model and an excellent Local Secretary; and for being the NASUWT Representative who first signed me up and so began all of this.

Enough of this uncharacteristic praise, after all, you did get me into this…

And I have enjoyed all of this so far! In my roles as JVP and SVP, it has been a privilege to visit so many Local Associations and meet so many members: from that first meeting in St Helens and Newton when the meeting seemed to be going so well, the awards given, speech delivered, only for me to sweep my coat off the coat stand, sending the hot crock-pot of curry crashing to the floor.

Ankle deep in curry, shoes ruined, I left…hot foot!

And I have been privileged to attend AGMs across the country, our own excellent Equalities Consultation Conferences for under-represented groups, the Northern Ireland Conference, and in my role as National Officer with responsibility for Wales, two Wales Conferences and many other events there.

Looking forward to the Scotland Conference in May; NQT seminars and the public marches; the Durham Gala; listening to our band; and lobbying MPs at various events.

I am proud to be the President of a union which contributes to so many community projects which are showcased in our Annual Report.

Projects which often work with disadvantaged groups.

Projects which reflect the strength of feeling we teachers have for young people in our care and in general, which show our desire to help and support these young people in all aspects of their lives – something not always recognised by the public.

As teachers, we want to help young people. And to do this, we have to stand up for standards which allow us to work in and create the best educational environment for both teachers and pupils.

I have welcomed the opportunity to stand with members on picket lines and have been overwhelmed by their courage, unity and strength in doing what we in the NASUWT do best…standing up for standards and teachers’ entitlements.

These members were taking action when necessary as we all have had to do on many occasions.

Every teacher wants to be able to deliver a high-quality education for all pupils and to be able to concentrate on the core responsibilities of teaching and learning in enhanced working conditions, and this is no different from what every teacher trade unionist wants.

I believe that to do this we have to protect and improve our status and working
conditions and that we must consolidate and enjoy the advances gained by the NASUWT.

All members must know their rights and, through solidarity and strong trade
union principles, be empowered to take full advantage of these gains and embed them in their workplace.

I believe this is what we have to do, now more than ever.

On the picket lines are members who know their rights and are prepared to fight to protect them, often in extremely intimidating circumstances.

There can be no more intimidating circumstances than in some of the countries we have visited and worked with through our affiliation with Education International (EI) and the TUC.

Many of our members are willing to engage in this critical area of trade unionism and it is through EI that we discover the main issues affecting our sister unions globally.

The NASUWT believes that teachers everywhere must stand together in
solidarity against this global assault on the rights of teachers and unions.

Teachers in countries such as Zimbabwe, Uganda, Burma, Colombia and Iraq and across the Middle East and North Africa have had to endure years of persecution and intimidation.

I was able to attend the first-ever Education International World Women’s Conference and hear first-hand some of the atrocities teachers and trade unionists have to face.

And again, as part of our delegation to the EI 6th World Congress in South Africa, I was able to hear the issues facing teachers across the world. How impressive was it that this Congress, with its emphasis on trade unionism and equalities, should take place in South Africa after all its battles with the Apartheid state?

It was humbling to hear of the daily horrors and challenges teachers in some countries have to face just to get into their classrooms to ensure their pupils have their educational entitlement.

Here were teachers swimming up a river and hiding in the riverbank
undergrowth to access their classrooms and avoid arrest by their government
representatives, who fear the influence of teachers and trade unionists.

We were told of trade unions that offer not lifestyle, not travel services, but the service of providing coffins for their members’ families, as so many die in their roles as trade unionists!

But I was also struck by an account I heard from teachers in India, who described how teachers in that country are highly respected. Your teacher, your guru, gives you enlightenment to access religion, your God, your education and then your profession in later life.

Interestingly, the older the teacher and more years the teacher has served,
the more revered that teacher is in the community.

Their wisdom and experience are valued and they are consulted regularly, their opinions requested, and they are used as mentors to new teachers.

Our Government could learn so much from our international brothers and sisters, adopting genuine good practices rather than choosing selective negative comparators like the abuse of PISA data.

Our Government celebrates the success of Finland, but never reveals that it has no Ofsted-type inspection, that it does not produce league tables, and that it works closely with its trade unions.

Ministers here do nothing to respect the teaching profession. Instead they seem determined to engage in a head-on collision course with classroom teachers.

Initially, laudable comments were made about the teaching profession but then, rather than listen to us, or consult, or recognise the expertise in our classrooms, their dialogue is always with the media.

And the hard-working, successful teachers, who, daily, teach lessons and raise standards, are repeatedly ignored. Michael Gove has made this
into an art form.

Now, rather than praising us, this Government attacks us: freezing our pay; raising pension contributions and retirement age; proposing new punitive, negative performance management policies and more punitive observations; and making regular verbal assaults on us in the media.

In January of this year, in an interview with the Daily Mail, Mr Gove said that he wanted parents to ask to go into classrooms to assess how well children were being taught.

He went on to say, ‘You wouldn’t tolerate an underperforming surgeon in
the operating theatre, or an underperforming midwife at your child’s birth’. No you wouldn’t – but then, quite rightly, I wouldn’t be allowed to go into the operating theatre – or the birthing room – to make non-professional judgements on a professional whose profession I knew nothing about!

Those professions have systems that support and improve an individual’s performance. So does teaching.

Politicians be aware: it is teachers and headteachers who raise standards – not structural change. It is teachers and high-quality support staff on the front line, not ministers, not journalists, not lawyers, not bankers, and who are the key to a better future for so many young people and the country.

This Government has tried to diminish the status of teachers. It is trying to create anger and resentment amongst the profession, trying to divide and rule by setting young teachers against old, private sector against public, and state schools against other types of institutions. But the NASUWT will not let it. We know what their agenda is – and we will fight it.

This Government is taking decisions that make education ripe for privatisation. That’s their agenda; that’s what they want.

In 1991, at the time of the last Tory Government, the then incoming President, Sue Rogers, referred to the huge threat of “privatisation by stealth”; and in 2005, Peter McLoughlin, in his speech, spoke of “creeping privatisation”.

Well, it’s no longer creeping stealthily, it’s galloping rampantly! It’s privatisation by a government which doesn’t care about democratic accountability and is creating cosy groups of allies to push forward its education policies.

This is a government which supposedly wants school improvement but actually only makes decisions which bring about privatisation and deregulation.

Decisions which allow profits to be made out of the education of our children at the taxpayers’ expense. And, let’s not forget, we teachers are taxpayers too!

This, as we know, is a fast-moving government and the NASUWT constantly has to argue against, stop or delay their moves.

Our national action focuses on the core issues affecting our members across the UK.

Our action, ‘Standing up for Standards’ is action every one of us can undertake to reclaim our classroom, to enforce our legal entitlements and to protect our profession.

It is through structured talks and negotiations and by taking action when we have had to, that we have managed to secure all the gains we have made in the last decade.

We have not had genuine consultation or negotiations so far with these
ministers and so we need to continue to take action, not just for ourselves but for the next generation of teachers and the future of trade unionism, and so that all children can have an education we can be proud of.

One of my National Executive colleagues referred to teaching as a performance, but it’s not just a one-off matinee or a few weeks’ run of a well-rehearsed stage play with the lines written for you, with an audience applauding you; it’s a daily performance, sometimes five times a day, with different ages and abilities of pupils who bring their own agenda to the performance.

It’s stressful, hard work but can be enjoyable if we are allowed to work in a professional way, in professional settings, and if we are treated as respected professionals.

We do want to be in charge in our own classrooms. We do understand and agree with parents’ expectations of high-quality teaching and we know that Qualified Teacher Status is the only way to ensure this. There is a need for quality inspection, but teachers need to be allowed to inspire and enthuse our pupils in a supportive environment, in a pleasant safe building where we are respected and not bullied or subjected to excessive, unnecessary monitoring.

We are not ‘enemies of promise’, not ‘Trots’ not ‘happy with failure’ and ‘wrecking pupils’ chances’.

We are teachers, wherever we teach, in all parts of the United
Kingdom.

We want smaller class sizes, better discipline, better pay, a manageable workload and a work/life balance and we want to continue to raise standards for all pupils and ourselves.

I am fortunate to work in a school where more than three quarters of the teachers are NASUWT members, where there is a good working relationship with the headteacher and management team, most of the time, and, as of 2011, a school judged to be outstanding. I think it has a good atmosphere.

At the end of the first inspection day, Ofsted had mentioned only one negative
comment – that they’d seen too many pupils eating crisps at break.

That night, one of the leadership team went out and bought each member of staff a packet of crisps, gave them out at break the next day, took a photo of all of them eating crisps at break time and pinned it to the staff notice board!

Humour, support, keeping up morale – all ingredients which go a long way to working well as a team.

We do have disagreements but good leadership and meaningful dialogue with staff mean the school functions well.

No, not well – outstandingly. This is not an academy. It’s a school where teachers have not covered a lesson since the workload agreement, where the teacher’s contract is implemented accurately and effectively so all teaching
staff can operate professionally and raise standards.

As a result of the actions and inaction of governments and administrations across the UK, schools are openly flouting the law and operating in breach of the teacher’s contract.

That is why our action, Standing up for Standards, had to be balloted for.

Teachers have been angered, alienated and attacked. When this Government first came into power, we were told teachers would be freed from bureaucratic paperwork, would have a curriculum review that would reduce prescription and ensure we had freedom to teach and inspire pupils.

We were told, “You’re the experts on the front line.“ So why are we bombarded with announcements constantly criticising us, the
teaching of IT, allegedly poor exam results, low levels of literacy and the management of behaviour that is apparently only to be controlled by military schools?

We were told that there would be “a decisive shift in the education landscape…a shift for the better”. Teachers in the NASUWT do not feel any of this is for the better and that is why we have been, and are, and will be, continuing to take action.

And our action short of strike action has been attacked by the right-wing media, who do not choose to try to understand it, arguing incorrectly that our action is disruptive to parents and pupils.

No, our action is being undertaken by classroom teachers who simply want the contractual entitlements which should be theirs. Every teacher in the UK wants professional recognition and a properly implemented contract, and until that happens and teachers’ workload has been reassessed, revised and reduced, we will still be taking action!

The majority of teachers, according to the Guardian Teacher Network survey, love teaching – but response after response referred to the frustration of not being trusted, not being treated as a professional, of having every move monitored, the frustration of experience not being recognised, of excessive government interference and, in some cases, the bullying and belittling that comes from government and is sometimes reflected in schools.

What does shine through all of these responses, and is evident when you speak to teachers across the UK and across the world, is our care for our pupils, the love of our subject and our desire to do a good job.

So governments should start listening to teachers rather than to a small group of advisers or a self-confessed Clint Eastwood fan who thinks headteachers should act like Dirty Harry – a man who keeps his dark past a secret, a man who kills as many as 73 people in one film.

That’s Clint Eastwood’s character not Sir Michael Wilshaw, Head of Ofsted. He is the man who said,”If anyone says to you that staff morale is
low, you are doing something right”.

We are seeing relationships between teachers and government, Gove and other ministers for education in the UK grow worse. We know politicians can be articulate, sound reasonable to the public and seem to have the best interests of pupils and parents at heart.

But Gove, for example, has been described as “ruthless, radical and
obdurate and a man who has many more plans to change education.”

I believe that Education Ministers who display such arrogance do not have the best interests of all pupils at heart and certainly not those of teachers.

I believe that our action, Standing up for Standards, is powerful, necessary and effective. You only had to be at rallies across the country on 30 November, marching with other public sector workers, to realise that this was no “damp squib”, but, as one of my school members described her first march and rally, “an uplifting experience”.

There was tremendous support from the public lining the streets, there was the fantastic sea of NASUWT blue flags and Local Association banners and there was a huge sense of strength and unity from our members.

I was proud to be there and I am proud to be your President leading our action now.

I am proud to be President of the union which will always stand up for standards and I know that we are a force that cannot be ignored.

I do believe that the future of education is in our hands and, to misquote the creed of the Olympics, the most important thing is to take part in the action, the struggle and to triumph; to fight well and conquer!

The NASUWT, the largest teachers’ union, will continue to show the way forward.

We have the strength in our Union to take on the challenges that this next year will bring and I am very proud that I will be your National President at this time.

Enjoy Conference. Thank you.