Teachers ended their conference season today by unanimously backing a motion of no confidence in Education Secretary Michael Gove – the first time in its 143-year history that the National Union of Teachers had taken such a step over a Secretary of State for Education.
It meant that the season both started and ended with a no confidence motion in Mr Gove – delegates at the traditionally moderate Association of Teachers of Lecturers passing a similar motion at the first of the Easter conferences of the teachers’ unions ten days ago.
The move at the NUT conference at Liverpool was greeted with enthusiastic chants of “Gove must go” by delegates.
Nick O’Brien, from Norwich, supporting the motion, recalled how Mr Gove had dismissed teachers and professors who had opposed his curriculum reforms as “dogmatic Marxists and enemies of promise”.
“How dare he!” he added. “It is Gove and his government who have broken the hearts and futures of our brilliant young people by fixing exam results, scrapping educational maintenance allowances (for 16 to 18-year-olds) and being part of a vicious government whose policies have caused mass youth unemployment.
“How dare he! That’s why Gove has to go.”
Christine Blower, general secretary of the NUT, added: “Quite simply the Secretary of State has lost the confidence of most teachers.”
Research had shown only eight per cent of parents thought the Coalition Government had had a positive impact on education.
“If the Secretary of State chooses to plough on regardless with such little support his ‘poll tax moment’ could be just round the corner,” she added.
In her conference speech, Ms Blower tried to list the points of conflict between the NUT and the Government – including forcing schools to become academies, scrapping annual incremental pay rises for teachers, increasing pension contributions, reforms to GCSEs and A-levels, tougher inspections and new national curriculum proposals.
In an attempt to emphasize the growing opposition to his proposals, she stopped her speech to show the names of the 100 professors of education who had opposed his curriculum reforms for “dumbing down” standards in a letter to The Independent.
In reality, the motions of no confidence do little but show the deepening divide between Mr Gove and the teachers’ organisations. There is little prospect, therefore, of any solution being agreed between the two sides before strikes over the Government’s pay and pensions proposals start in earnest in the summer term.
A spokeswoman for the Department for Education, responding to the proposals, said: “For too long other countries have been outpacing us.
“Our reforms are giving teachers more freedom, increasing choice for parents so every child can go to a local school and ensuring we have an education system that matches the world’s best. This ambition is surely something the NUT should approve of.”
She added: “We have significantly reduced bureaucracy, given more autonomy to schools than ever before through our academy and free school programmes and are ensuring good teachers are better recognised through the pay system.” (Ministers will replace annual increments for teachers with heads being given the power to decide on pay rises for themselves.)
It therefore seems, following the conferences, to be a case of – sadly – let battle commence.