Teacher unions prepare for battle

17 Apr

At their conferences in April 2013, the National Union of Teachers (NUT) in Liverpool and the National of Union Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT) in Bournemouth reaffirmed their commitment to strike action on pay, pensions and conditions of service – in particular, the new performance management arrangements that will kick in on 1 September 2013.

The NUT was the more radical of the two unions.  The delegates unanimously passed a resolution of no-confidence in the Secretary of State Michael Gove.  Further, a significant segment of the members called for a boycott of Ofsted inspections urging members not to co-operate with inspectors when they arrived in their schools.

The unions are unlikely to win much support from Jo Public at a time when everybody has to share in the financial pain caused by the collapse of the economy in 2008.   Protesting against the new performance management arrangements and salaries based on their outcomes is also going to win little sympathy because such a system already exists in industry and within the senior leadership teams of schools.

Calling for a boycott against Ofsted flies in the face of accountability.  Government, local authorities and professionals are doing their utmost to improve the quality of education, raise the standards of all our young people and increase their chances of surviving in an increasing difficult and hostile environment.   Boycotting Ofsted inspections doesn’t help.  Besides, operating in this manner is not consonant with the good behaviour teachers are keen to promote among the pupils they teach.  Such modelling will undermine this objective.  Young people are likely (quite rightly) to accuse them of espousing the adage:  “Do as I say rather than do as I do.”

Rod Liddle, the national lampoonist, had something to say about the teacher unions’ whooping war calls, particularly those demanding that their contact hours with pupils be cut to the bone.

“Teachers are demanding that they should spend less time each week doing a thing they find really boring and annoying and could do without,” he wrote in The Sunday Times (7 April 2013). “Yes — that’s teaching children. They want their classroom hours cut to 20 hours a week, so they have more time to whine about Michael Gove.

“Before criticising them, mind, we should remember that the poor teachers have to recover from those interminably long school holidays, an imposition that does not afflict the rest of us. The teachers say they spend loads of time outside the classroom doing important things, such as failing to correct homework and not preparing lessons.
I suppose the less time the teachers spend with pupils, the less chance there is of our children turning out illiterate, innumerate and politically correct. Always look on the bright side, etc.”

Fortunately, it is only a miniscule fraction of teachers that attend such conferences. The majority are recharging their batteries during the Easter break and preparing for the next term, knowing fully well that sabre-rattling is going to scare no one, least of all the government.

The unions are doing better on helping “damaged” teachers win compensation.  In 2012 they won £22 million in payouts.   The NASUWT successfully secured over £15.5 million, an increase of more than 25% on the previous year.  The Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) recovered £4.3 million in compromise agreements and £1.2 million in compensation payments for injured members.

Case studies included the following.

(i)         A teacher was awarded £380,000 after his arm was slammed into a filing cabinet by a pupil whose football he had confiscated.

(ii)        Another teacher who was assaulted after refusing to return the football developed carpal tunnel syndrome and complex regional pain as a result.  Because he was unable to work after this incident, he was dismissed on health grounds and won a six-figure sum from his employers.

(iii)       A teacher in the Midland had her neck damaged when a pupil kicked a ball at her. Since then, she has suffered from continuing spasms and prevented from returning to work. She was awarded £71,000.

(iv)       An NUT member was granted £25,000 by way of damages when he discovered a poster in the staffroom with his name beside a cartoon image of a gorilla, a classic case of racism.   He went on sick leave as a consequence and was later dismissed on grounds of capability.

(v)        In 2005 an NASUWT member was punched in the stomach by a 7-year-old, aggravating a medical condition.  After a seven-year battle, during which time she was forced to retire on ill-health grounds, she won compensation of £118,000.

(vi)       A PE teacher in London, who fractured a wrist while putting away books in a storage cupboard complained that the cluttered floor of the cupboard was dangerous. He compensated in a £3,675 settlement.

(vii)      An NUT member in Yorkshire had her left elbow fractured and dislocated after slipping on an “unusually shiny floor” which had been polished to a “high gloss”. She received £9,000 in compensation.

Governors who have oversight for health and safety at their schools would do well to take note of the above.

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