Scott Shaw from Sheffield NUT discusses the key issues on the agenda at this year’s national conference of the teaching union. With schools under attack from the Tories, there will be a real mood of anger amongst delegates.
The NUT section of the new National Education Union (NEU) will be holding their last ever conference in Brighton this weekend, over Easter. The NEU is being formed from the merger of the NUT and ATL teaching unions, with the merger set to be completed at the end of this year.
In recent years the education sector has been hammered by cuts to funding, massive restructuring towards academies and pay restraints for teachers. This has led to a recruitment and retention crisis in the profession. Around 50,000 teachers, 10% of the total amount, are leaving year on year.
Those who choose to stay in the profession have the additional burden of ever greater workloads. Working hours in schools now regularly exceed 50 hours a week, with 20% of teachers regularly working over 60 hours.
With this backdrop to the conference, the mood amongst delegates will certainly be one of seething anger towards the continued destruction of the profession.
The conference will oversee the election of part of the new NEU Joint Executive Council (JEC), alongside discussing and voting on a raft of motions and amendments ranging from pay to the housing crisis.
One of the main discussions at conference will focus on how to respond to the continued challenges of the academisation of schools. With massive CEO pay and backroom dodgy deals in the news, it is a distinct possibility that the union will call on a public enquiry into academy chains’ finances. If such an enquiry was created it would undoubtedly unearth more scandalous stories; such as what happened with the Wakefield Academy Trust, who paid £450,000 to companies that belonged to the chief executive and his daughter.
Academisation also throws up major issues for union organising. In the past, schools were controlled by local authorities. This meant that the union had 152 employers to negotiate with. Now that number stands over 6,000. This leads to additional problems for union members, with management at many schools being able to change working conditions on an individual school-by-school basis. This makes united action more difficult.
Affiliation to the Labour Party was discussed at last year’s conference. Sadly, the vote was narrowly (51% to 49%) against exploring affiliation to the Labour Party. The opportunity was therefore lost at that time for the union to become an active part of a Labour Party that has been transformed in teachers’ favour by Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership.
This year’s conference will again have the opportunity to discuss the possibility of opening up an additional affiliation fund to the Labour Party. Hopefully this time members will vote in favour of such a proposal. Doing so would boost the possibility of seeing Corbyn’s Labour Party in Number 10. This, in turn, would increase the chances of seeing union policy on workload, pay, and housing put into action.