Profession must back the school revolution, says union leader

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The Independent Online

A teachers' leader warned his members yesterday to avoid being "written out of the script" for education reform by failing to embrace change.

Peter Smith, the general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, urged his members to work with the Government to modernise the teaching profession and avoid merely reacting to events. He told the association's annual conference in Belfast: "I have a persistent concern that the teacher organisations are busy writing themselves out of the script."

He was talking at the end of a week-long conference that voiced concern over teachers' stress, work-loads and the government's testing regime.

Mr Smith warned delegates to keep in touch with teachers at the grass roots. He criticised resistance to government plans to introduce a "fast-track" promotion scheme for promising new teachers.

He said: "Fifty per cent of the teaching profession at the moment is over the age of 45. In 10 to 15 years' time those teachers will have left the profession. The real point is that there will be a fast track because the number of jobs in the teaching profession at middle and senior management level will open up simply because of age and simply because of demography." But Mr Smith attacked the Government as interventionists, and claimed: "New Labour is really old Labour in an Armani suit." He criticised ministers for being too restrictive in their policies on schools, claiming the creativity that marked out the best teachers could be stifled by persistent government intervention. "If we go back to basics in the way that some people may advocate, we squeeze out the creativity of the Seamus Heaneys, the Shakespeares and the Benjamin Brittens," he said.

He warned the Government not to curb teachers' professional judgements, arguing that such action ran the risk of alienating the new generation of teachers and people hoping to switch to a career in teaching. Mr Smith called on the Government to keep teachers at the heart of its plans. He said: "Tony Blair should remember that you can only govern by consent and that only if you have the teaching profession onside and engaged will we actually deliver the world-class education service we all want."

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