3 APRIL 2010
“I have heard of the greatness of Liverpool but the reality far surpasses the expectation.”
Not my words, I‟m afraid, but Prince Albert, speaking in 1846. The National Union of
Teachers have only held conference here twice before in our 140 year history. It is in fact
over a century since conference was first held in Liverpool, in 1876 - the year that Alexander
Graham Bell was granted a patent for an invention he called the telephone – and again in
1893, when women voted in a national election for the first time: the New Zealand general
election, that is.
Steve Sinnott would have been so proud that the Union he loved is holding its conference
here in his home town. He was Executive Member for Lancashire and the Isle of Man for
eight years and was proud to be President in 1994; he was elected Deputy General Secretary
that same year. To become the General Secretary was a dream come true. The Steve Sinnott
Foundation, formed after his untimely death, has continued his world renowned international
This includes supporting the Millennium Goal 2 for all children (especially girls) to complete
primary education by 2015.
The NUT‟s international work continues to set us apart. We believe that children and
teachers‟ rights across the world must be defended, and our work to support and develop
education is fundamental if we are to promote sustainable development and work towards
eradicating child poverty. 1% of the national subscription is now devoted to our international
When I began my journey to become President, I had to make some choices. It was two and a
half years ago and I was head teacher of Stile Common Junior School, just outside
Huddersfield, which had been marked for amalgamation with its sister Infant & Nursery
School. After 15 years there, first as deputy and then as head, I was ready for a change. I
decided to stand in the officer elections. It was November 2007 when I heard I had been
elected and the rollercoaster began! I was now a member of the National Executive and an
officer of the same union I had joined as a very young student, pursuing a very early dream to
be a teacher and yes, I did practise the art of teaching with my dolls, stuffed creatures, pets
and, I am told, I was particularly bossy with my family!
I acquired my sense of fair play and some may say assertive qualities, at an early age, from
my mum. Her strength of character and belief in the essential good in most people were the
backbone of my early development. I gained much of my drive and determination from mum,
and from my father a work ethic, and the sense I would be supported to be anything I chose to
be. I understand the value of a warm and loving family and I know the value of that support
not only through my parents, sister and brother but my husband Richard, my twin sons Dan
and Rob and my four step children and their wonderful families.
During my career I have worked with some inspirational teachers and some outstanding
managers. My core values mean that I believe in development rather than judgment, to
nurture rather than drive, to understand rather than to blame. I cannot understand a culture
which believes you can get the best from people in any other way. This must be the reason I
question so much about how we are treated as teachers in the education system we live and
During my teaching career, now spanning 34 years, I have witnessed successive
governments‟ attempts to micromanage and control education through the imposition of the
National Curriculum, National Testing & Assessment, statutory target-setting-based league
tables, Ofsted, Performance Management, the National Strategies, Performance Related Pay,
Management Allowances, TLRs and a variety of privatisation in the forms of grant
maintained schools, Academies and Trust Schools. The list goes on, seemingly one a week,
but very little if any of it has actually had a desirable or positive impact.
Each one is someone‟s often uninformed idea of how our education system could, nay should,
be improved. Frequently, we have worked from the lowest common denominator, assuming
that all are as bad as the worst examples. It insults the majority. It undermines our
professional status. It is counterproductive and it is unfair.
It is clear to me that as teachers we never stop learning. Some of these lessons are well
planned and meet all the appropriate criteria, some will be ad hoc or the results of our own
mistakes. Ideally, as we develop, we are guided and supported as we learn the craft of
teaching, the pedagogy, subject knowledge, assessment processes, how to manage pupil
behaviour, how developing our own learning impacts on our practice. All too often though,
colleagues, the lessons for classroom teachers who are developing or honing their skills are
hurtful, negative and threaten each and every one of our core values.
We know that children learn best in an atmosphere which is relaxed, allowing them to make
mistakes with no blame attached. We work hard to ensure that they learn in a safe
environment which nurtures potential and protects from all forms of bullying. That they make
the progress they are capable of making in an atmosphere of support and of course challenge.
BUT this is not how the government treats local authorities facing difficult circumstances, or
how those LA officers then treat their head teachers, nor how those challenged and in some
cases beleaguered head teachers treat individual members of staff.
Who decided to wrap what makes an effective school or an outstanding teacher up in the
narrowest of standards measures, charts and spreadsheets? Without any more ado, these very
dodgy numbers are used to destroy or reward our teachers, then our head teachers through
performance management and our schools through Ofsted.
This atmosphere of lack of trust and „we know best‟ is compounded by government-created
quangos like Ofsted and the NCSL, which all form part of the machine that is doing little to
drive up standards but is certainly driving up the numbers of teachers leaving teaching, too
many of them with mental health issues; and not only teachers, but head teachers too.
Managers in schools are often actively encouraged to judge and destroy, rather than support
and improve. As the management speak says, “there are two types of teachers in your
staffroom: drains and radiators. Get rid of the drains and find more radiators.”
As if the standards agenda and Ofsted weren‟t enough, there is yet another top-down, so
called „accountability measure‟. „The School Improvement Partners‟, SIPs, are ensuring that
an Ofsted-ever-ready fear is placed on our head teachers and through them into our
classrooms. How can this be good for children? Did you know that in secondary schools, 75%
of SIPs have to be practising head teachers? Not so in primaries. There are no such rules. As
most LAs want to keep the money centrally, in many cases the SIPs in primary school are
secondary advisors or inspectors with little knowledge or understanding of primary schools,
except that, like so many of the government and shadow spokespeople determined to meddle
in our schools, they once attended one!
By its own bad example, government‟s desire for accountability has stripped away the trust in
our profession and is leading the call to drive up entirely spurious and narrowly measured,
target driven standards in order to feed a statistics obsessed machine which claims to compare
like child with like child, and like school with like school.
It‟s a ridiculous concept. How many schools are truly like their supposed statistical
neighbours? How many children do you know who are truly alike?
I have twin sons – they definitely aren‟t! Why do we allow ourselves to be persuaded that
such accountability can ever be accurate or can ever be fair?
I believe it is because we are human. We allow ourselves to be persuaded, embarrassed, or
even hoodwinked into believing the myths and the rhetoric. If we don‟t sign up to their
narrow, target driven agenda, we are led to believe that we don‟t really care about the
achievement of our children. We must be lax and lazy and not very good at our job, or we are
just making excuses for our own shortcomings. We have adopted a system that has us
referring to our children by the numbers they achieve in assessments rather than as the
individuals they actually are.
The workload generated for many teachers is unnecessary and serves to damage the quality of
education for our children. The pressure to prove everything means that teachers spend so
much time ticking, photographing and evidencing that they have little time to teach, nor
develop quality relationships with their students.
Schools in areas of high deprivation, or facing other challenges, have no chance. They are
under the microscope; weighed and measured and compared with endless and often
meaningless data, which judges the whole school on the last cohorts‟ set of exit scores.
Leadership teams are driven to use Ofsted grades to judge lessons. No, let‟s be honest here.
Teachers are being deemed inadequate on the basis of one, perhaps even less than one,
complete lesson observation. Once a teacher is told this, in many cases after years of good
service, they can become disillusioned, depressed, ill and from there the problems may even
The cost is too high and we must act now.
Colleagues, we have been fooled, brow-beaten and cajoled into accepting their measures and
their judgements, despite attempts to defend what we know is right. This must no longer be
the case. We are the guardians of the standards in our classrooms. We know what our children
can achieve and colleagues, we should be the ones who judge and celebrate their success.
I visited the Isle of Man recently and was thrilled to learn that not only had they already got
rid of SATs but they had also got rid of Ofsted, and instead have the much more school-
driven School Self Review & Evaluation. It was uplifting! Do you know what? Children
learn, in an atmosphere unsullied by the need to be ever-Ofsted-ready. Teachers teach and, Mr
Balls, Mr Gove and Mr Laws, parents get all the information they need about the schools and
how their child is achieving. If it works for them – accountability within a system based on
trust – it can also work here!
As President I will work hard with others in our Union to ensure we continue to act on the
policies already in place, and those to be debated and passed at this conference.
Predicting the future is always difficult, but one thing I am certain about is that by being
members of the NUT we are already protected, consulted and informed. It is clear that having
the protection of your union is going to be absolutely essential over the next few years. Those
of us who already understand the strength of purpose and support that being a member of the
NUT provides must be ever-determined to ensure we work hard to recruit into membership as
many of our colleagues as we can. I recognise, as do you, that we must continue to work for a
single union for all teachers, as there is strength in unity! Until we are able to create the right
climate for teacher unity, however, we must ensure we are strong and informed enough to
deliver for our members. We must engage our young teachers in the organisation of our
Union and beware of being too protective of the ways we have always done things.
Experience is good but a healthy bit of trial and error is also good. Fresh ideas must be
welcomed and new methods of communicating and campaigning are to be explored and used
if we are to continue to grow and flourish.
In the next few weeks, there will be a general election. Whichever party forms the next
government or whichever type of coalition, there will be some hard truths to face. There are
no easy choices when it comes to voting. The present government plan a 1% cap on public
sector pay rises in 2011-2013, raising £3.4bn in the process. They intend to try and save a
further £1bn by curbing our pensions and also affect a multibillion package of „efficiencies‟ –
economies which are likely to mean many public posts disappearing entirely. For people who
work hard doing essential and difficult jobs in the public sector, this message is a hard one to
The Conservatives clearly harbour an open desire to attack our terms and conditions even
more harshly. If the Conservatives win, that's what they promise loud and clear - cutting both
the size of the state, which means jobs, and cutting pay.
Polly Toynbee commented in an article she wrote last year, a year after the banks tottered and
were shored up with our hard paid taxes, “What a long time a year is in politics”!
Since then the Cameron/Tory myth machine, aided by the Taxpayers' Alliance and abetted by
some of the press, have rewritten recent history. They have persuaded people that state
extravagance in the form of the public sector is to blame for the deficit, not the reckless
In hard times it is easy to create scapegoats, and so the myth that an overpaid/expensive
public sector is to blame has taken firm root in public opinion. The Taxpayers' Alliance,
quoted often in the news, has said, “We cannot pay these enormous bills for people who are
not creating wealth.”
This is nonsense economics!
State spending is a major engine of growth.
But we know that the truth is often ignored if the lie is juicy enough!
The economist Adam Smith once said, “The hidden hand of the market protects us one and
No it does not! The unfettered market did not protect us from the crisis created by the
excesses of the bankers. It is our families, children and schools who are forced to pay for it
“Ah, but,” we hear the myth generators say, “look at the public sector‟s gold-plated
Cutting the Teachers‟ Pension Scheme will not improve pensions for private sector workers –
it will just entrench a culture of low pensions for everyone.
The real problem is the private sector‟s lack of occupational pensions, not excess in the public
The NUT is working alongside other public sector unions to bust the myths that have been
consistently laid in front of the public. We have a difficult job to do but we must ensure that
the myths are clearly and logically and regularly challenged – a challenge we can and must
It is clear, that to be successful in our challenges to a new government agenda, we will need
to continue to work closely with those facing similar challenges; at school and local level,
nationally within the TUC and through other alliances too, like our partnership with UCU,
and the work we do with the Anti-Academies Alliance.
At all levels we must work with and help to create campaigning groups. The pay strike saw
the beginning of a revival of the will to resist, agitate and organise – we must bottle that and
There is a will in the leadership of the Union to organise and resist these changes. We have an
excellent team in our General Secretary and Deputy General Secretary to lead us through the
challenges and campaigns facing us.
According to the published statistics, we all want to vote but are unsure who to vote for. It is
essential that we make an informed choice and, for some areas of the country, the challenge
will be to ensure that the BNP, with their racist, homophobic and fascist ideals, are not elected
to spread their poison any further into the politics of this country. Our political fund was
created so that we can actively resist organisations like the BNP during election periods. The
use of that money to support national anti-fascist organisations is appropriate and should be
welcomed and supported.
Despite the fragmentation of the education service across the country, we must maintain the
national pay structure. It puts in place a rate for the job and a framework within which
teachers can identify a career path. It supports consistency, transparency and fairness.
Academies contribute to the fracturing of national pay arrangements, exposing teachers to
lower pay levels and poorer rates of pay progression than provided for in the School
Teachers‟ Pay and Conditions Document.
It is still true that teachers have suffered long-term pay losses against inflation. Low levels of
inflation in 2009 have not reversed the real terms pay losses suffered by teachers between
2005 and 2008. Indeed, forecasters expect RPI to be at least 3% in the fourth quarter of 2010,
compared to the September 2010 teacher‟s pay increase of 2.3%. This will expose teachers
once again to real terms pay losses.
We have to remember that if we want a world class education service it has to be an attractive
choice for graduates. Recent research conducted for the NUT by Incomes Data Services
showed that a teacher‟s starting pay is significantly lower than the starting pay for the average
graduate professional. This disadvantage at the start of a teacher‟s career is compounded by
slow pay progression relative to other graduates in the early years of their careers.
There is likely to be a large impact on teacher supply if, as seems likely, there is a pay freeze
or limited increase in teachers‟ pay. The profession is already suffering from long-term
recruitment and retention problems, the evidence of which we see in our classrooms with
teacher shortages in all sectors and across the curriculum. We need pay and progression
levels appropriate to the world class education service we seek if we are to recruit and retain a
high quality teaching force.
We were right not to sign the National Agreement. It has led to the de-professionalisation of
the teaching force and an acceptance by many that unqualified staff should be employed to
cover and indeed to teach. The NUT has always valued the contributions made by teaching
assistants. We believe their role in supporting the teacher in the classroom is essential. They
are not, however, teachers on the cheap and should, if teaching is what they want to do, be
encouraged to train to be teachers and be paid the rate for the job.
The Teaching & Learning Responsibility system has led to many thousands of teachers
suffering pay cuts or the loss of responsibility payments. The criteria for TLR payments are
tougher and the increased discretion for schools has arguably led to greater inequality and
discrimination. The NUT will work hard to ensure not only that we get rid of this system but
that it is replaced with something that works.
Despite increased investment by government, there have been missed opportunities as it has
been spent in the wrong areas – an obsession with structural change and privatisation has
taken the focus off what really leads to genuine and sustained school improvement. After 13
years of a Labour Government the inequality in our society has got worse not better.
Children‟s lives are more unequal now than for a generation, as the poor become poorer and
the rich richer; an inequity that is reflected in our schools, with tight regulation as to where
and how the money can be spent. The increase in revenue terms funding per pupil in England
slowed from over 6% in 2008-09 to less than 1% in 2010-11. The situation has for some time
been worse in Wales where there are already massive funding problems. Colleagues, we
must stand together. Their problems today will be ours tomorrow.
Our members see the devastating effects of child poverty day in and day out in our
classrooms. Hungry, malnourished, poorly clothed, unhealthy and badly housed children can
neither learn effectively nor achieve their full potential. Poverty is not an excuse for
educational under-achievement; it is the most significant cause. Poverty predicts educational
outcomes in the UK more strongly than in any other OECD country. This is a shameful
indictment and exposes the wide inequality still in our society.
Sadly, the Government remains wedded to an ill-advised programme which seeks to extend
the privatisation of schools to Academies and Trusts. This does not raise standards for the
most vulnerable children. The main effects of diversity in choice in public services have been
to divide and separate further the rich and poor in our communities. Increased social
segregation by class does not lead to higher educational standards. Quite frankly, the
Government should stop messing about with school structures and the obsession of
encouraging privateers to meddle in the running of our schools, and start investing in things
that will actually work:
properly funded comprehensive education;
free school meals;
and the minimum wage.
These things will lift children out of poverty and allow them a real opportunity to reach their
Politicians keen for quick fixes have always been and forever will be good at supporting
untested, expensive and sometimes dangerous initiatives. There have been some good ones,
like Sure Start and Children‟s Centres, though sadly not always fully thought through and
developed. Some are hugely expensive and a waste of good public money, like the National
Challenge Trusts. They employ consultants at £500 per day to state the obvious, such as
telling high schools in challenging areas that they‟ve got serious problems to overcome and
that they seem to be doing everything they can in the circumstances!
Government seems happy to put in place initiatives, yet with no independent research they
claim success. In 2009 we saw the biggest piece of independent research completed on
primary education since Plowden - the Alexander Review, which the government has tried
hard to ignore.
They have misreported it.
Made fun of it.
They obviously haven‟t read it!
That‟s the problem with independent research. It is just that: independent, uncontrollable,
honest and challenging.
Three broad perspectives: children, the world in which they are growing up, and the education
which mediates that world and prepares them for it. These are the Cambridge Primary
Review‟s core concerns and together they provide the framework for its more specific themes
It is a refreshing read, even though rather academic in its language at times. It seeks to pose
questions, not to impose answers. No false limits or no go areas either, as there were with the
Rose Review and the Expert Group‟s report on assessment.
I commend the Review to you. If you don‟t fancy the 600 pages, then read the summary. It‟s
clear that many politicians and commentators, including senior figures in the DCSF, have not
even done that!
Something very important to me is equal opportunities in all its manifestations. There is still
so much to do. We must never become complacent about gender or race equality. The full-
time gender pay gap is at least 12.61%, which means that women who work full time are paid
on average just 87.4 per cent of men‟s hourly earnings. Across all ethno-religious groups,
women are paid less when compared to men in the same group, but black women in particular
face an even greater employment penalty in the labour market. Racist attitudes still exist and
attacks are increasingly in the news. We must ensure the best anti-racist education.
Domestic violence is still a major issue which affects not just the victims, the majority of
whom are women, but the children who deal with the aftermath of this and other forms of
abuse in their homes. The safeguarding agenda is doing little to tackle the causes and seems
only to seek to „deal‟ with the unfortunate outcomes.
It is also vital we keep working to promote disability equality by campaigning to ensure well
funded, inclusive education and appropriate access to schools. We should ensure that
reasonable adjustments are being made for teachers and pupils who need those services.
We must also ensure that Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender equality is promoted and
that homophobic bullying is recognised as a serious concern in our schools. In order to
achieve this we must support our members and enable them to challenge and end this form of
bullying through good quality training and a zero tolerance approach, as we do with other
forms of prejudice, both in classrooms and in staffrooms. It is the NUT that is taking the lead,
standing up for those colleagues and especially the children and young people we teach who
are the subject of unacceptable levels of abuse. This includes protecting our students from
racism, sexism and homophobia and celebrating the joy of human diversity and difference.
I know there are many things I haven‟t touched on which pose threats not only to education
but to our values and the world we live in, such as climate change and globalisation. This
speech may have come across as a speech akin to a Leonard Cohen song… I‟m showing my
age I know! But I am not a pessimist. I have been a teacher for more than 30 years – it‟s still
the best job in the world – and I know that the NUT will do everything it can to ensure that
we resist and challenge changes for the worst, as proposed by any government.
During my presidential year there will clearly be many threats to overcome! I am proud to be
your President. I will be even prouder to be President in the year we get rid of the blight of
Key Stage 2 SATs and league tables. The year we teach not test! The year we expose Ofsted
as the wrong way to judge true excellence, and the year we resist the ridiculous Licence to
Practise. All this will reduce teacher workload – the single biggest concern amongst the many
members I have spoken to around the country this year.
There is so much for the NUT to do to overcome the increasing inequality and restore the
vocabulary of Education to what it should be about – the powerful vehicle that can liberate,
not the barren language based on unfairness and judgement.
The National Union of Teachers, the largest teachers‟ union, my union, can and will rise to
these challenges, Standing Up For Education for a Fairer Future.