“Action will be coming”

Jean Roberts reports on this year’s NEU Conference

Meeting in person at the National Education Union (NEU) Conference in Bournemouth was an almost exhilarating experience. Talking face to face and not just catching up with personal lives after two years, but more importantly being able to have proper debates, made delegates realise how important this is. The release of the White Paper on education and its implications was a major area of debate with motions on the iniquities of the academy system and Ofsted, both being roundly condemned.

The Government intends that all schools are to become academies and join multi-academy trusts. Ofsted is the driver as it ‘fails’ schools, so inevitably beginning the conversion to academy status, a steamroller process which ignores parents and staff objections. However, the brilliant campaigns against turning a school into an academy involving staff strikes and parent demonstrations have delayed the process and many primary schools have made it clear they do not want this for their school.

The corruption in these multi-academy trusts is widespread with very large salaries for the CEOs and Trust bigwigs, as well as nepotism in giving work at inflated prices to friends and relatives firms, while schools are starved of funds. The push for total privatisation is clear and already money is being made out of education, our children. This is one of the last big untapped ‘industries’ for making profits for capitalism. 

Mary Bousted, NEU Joint General Secretary, launched her excellent book Support Not Surveillance: How to solve the teacher retention crisis, clearly setting out why Ofsted was toxic to education and why there should be a different system for assessing progress. This should be one that supports and encourages staff, not one that condemns and destroys staff and schools. So when the Shadow Education Secretary Bridget Phillipson crassly spoke up in favour of Ofsted stating that Labour supported this dreadful system, it was not surprising that she received a hostile reception.

How can she not have known that yet again another motion had been passed condemning Ofsted and calling for its abolition? Is this one of Starmer’s ploys to ensure teachers and support staff vote for Labour? What a joke! Well over a third of the delegates walked out in protest. This was another broken promise after the Labour Party Conference voted to abolish Ofsted in 2019 and this ‘promise’ was included in the Labour Party election manifesto.  

An NEU survey shows 44% of the workforce want to leave the profession by 2027, with half intending to leave within the next two years. There is a “severe and growing problem with workload,” the union said, as Ofsted inspections return after pandemic-related suspensions and “ever-present accountability demands clash with the urgent challenges of educational recovery.”

Of course pay was also high on the agenda. The Government pay award of just 3% (and this only for some) would in no way account for the real-terms cut due to inflation, which is due to rise even higher. During the debate, attempts to fight on more than one major front, and to go early rather than properly prepare, were easily defeated.

A motion was passed calling for action and a demand for a 9% pay increase across the board. It is vital that the NEU campaigns for this alongside other education unions – unity is strength.   

There was also an emergency debate on Ukraine which was contentious in parts, and though passions were high, it was debated in good order. The position of the Executive still stands where they generally support the line of Stop the War.

Overall, the Conference showed that delegates were united, constructive and prepared to stand up and fight to improve conditions and education provision for all. Action will be coming.

Jean Roberts is a Brent NEU observer and member of Brent Central CLP

Image: https://freesvg.org/female-teacher-image

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