Angry teachers threaten to boycott inspections

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Teacher unions will call for non-co-operation with school inspections at their Easter conferences, which start today. The move could mean staff refusing to talk to inspectors or to teach while they are in the classroom.

Angered by what they see as increasingly political statements by Chris Woodhead, the chief inspector of schools, and by the Prime Minister's decision that bad teachers should be named, union members will also call for the abolition of the inspection service.

All the three main classroom unions will meet in the next fortnight amid fears of a repetition of last year's conference season, when Labour's education spokesman, David Blunkett, was besieged by militant members of the National Union of Teachers. Gillian Shephard will speak at the conferences, the first Secretary of State to visit the National Union of Teachers' gathering for 16 years.

The Secondary Heads' Association meets at the end of April and the National Association of Head Teachers at the end of May.

All the classroom unions say that their members are furious about punitive new inspections set up by the Government. From next Monday, inspectors will mark all teachers on a scale of one to seven and report those scoring six and seven to their headteachers.

The two biggest unions, the NUT and the National Association of Schoolmasters/Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT), will both hear calls for members to break the law by refusing to work with the schools inspectors.

Doug McAvoy, the NUT's general secretary, said: "There will be support for non- co-operation with inspections. You can't expect teachers not to be irate about them and the way in which the chief inspector has gone out of his way to promote attacks on teachers."

At the Association of Teachers and Lecturers' conference, which begins today in Torquay, Devon, there will be condemnation of the chief inspector and calls for the inspection body, Ofsted, to be scrapped.

The NUT conference will also debate a motion to ballot primary-school teachers on a test boycott which could bring disruption to classrooms during next term's national tests for 600,000 11-year-olds. Mrs Shephard announced the new league tables last month, only days after saying that there would be no tables for 11-year-olds this year.

Mr McAvoy said: "There will be a lot of support for boycotting the 11- year-old tests in protest against league tables. We should have to ponder what support might be forthcoming for a boycott beyond the floor of the conference."

Violence against teachers and false allegations of abuse by pupils will also be high on the agenda. The Association of Teachers and Lecturers will publish a survey of 71 local authorities showing increasing discipline problems.

In the wake of of the massacre at the primary school in Dunblane last month it will call for new laws to ensure that schools invest in surveillance systems to protect against intruders.

ATL members will also call for ministers to introduce new investigative procedures to protect teachers against malicious allegations of abuse by pupils. Teachers say that these accusations, often perpetrated by pupils who have been disciplined for a misdemeanour, are becoming increasingly common.

At the NASUWT conference, delegates will call for the disciplining of parents who encourage disruptive children to misbehave. Nigel de Gruchy, the union's general secretary, said that he would rather see children on the streets stealing cars than in school disrupting lessons.

"It is better to wreck a car than to wreck a class if that's the choice," he said.

Classroom unions: Conference season opens with members calling for action against attacks on profession

National Union of Teachers

Membership: 189,293

Who they are: Teachers and some heads, mainly from primary schools. More left-wingers than other unions.

Key issues: Angry about league tables; furious about the naming of weak teachers by inspectors.

Militancy: Most militants are in the NUT but its leadership is trying to calm them. Conference will hear numerous calls from for industrial action, not least over testing.

National Association of Schoolmasters/Union of Women Teachers

Membership: 146,266

Who they are: Classroom teachers. The union claims to recruit more than half of all newly qualified teachers.

Key issues: Pay and conditions, violence against teachers, inspections.

Militancy: Not afraid to take action. Won a spectacular court victory during the 1993 boycott of testing, which led to climb-down by the Government.

Association of Teachers and Lecturers

Membership: 140,616

Who they are: Membership comes largely from secondary schools and independent schools and from further education.

Key issues: Disruptive pupils, school inspections, testing and the national curriculum.

Militancy: Increasing. Traditionally moderate, the association's conference will discuss affiliation to the Trades Union Congress.

Professional Association of Teachers

Membership: 40,036

Who they are: Many are former members of National Union of Teachers and National Association of Schoolmasters/ Union of Women Teachers who defected during the strikes of the Eighties.

Key issues: Negative effects of television and video games, nursery education - has special section for nursery nurses.

Militancy: Non-striking union established by two teachers who were ngered by the effects of industrial action.

National Association of Head Teachers.

Membership: 32,000

Who they are: About two-thirds are primary heads and deputies, the rest are secondary, nursery and special schools.

Key issues: Funding, testing - particularly of 11-year-olds - and nursery vouchers.

Militancy: Increasing. Headteachers may refuse to take action against staff who boycott tests for 11-year-olds.

Secondary Heads Association

Membership: 8,650

Who they are: heads and deputies at secondaries.

Key issues: Role of local authorities, funding, 16-19 review by Ron Dearing, government's chief adviser on the national curriculum.

Militancy: Almost none. Only known incidence was a half-day strike in Manchester more than a decade ago in support of a victimised colleague.