Teacher unions clash on tests: Defiance by NUT 'a fiasco'

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The Independent Online
DIFFERENCES between two teacher unions erupted yesterday with one union leader accusing another of 'cuddling up' to the Government.

A dialogue with John Patten, the Secretary of State for Education, was called for by the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT), while the National Union of Teachers (NUT), meeting in Scarborough, defended its continued boycott of national tests. Leaders of NASUWT fear the Government plans a clampdown on public sector unions that will include legislation to force teachers to carry out tests.

Nigel de Gruchy, the union's general secretary, said: 'The time has now come to speak up for 300,000 teachers who are not represented by the NUT. The majority of teachers recognise that we have won an enormous victory (over the tests). Meanwhile, the situation in Scarborough is lurching from farce to fiasco.'

The NUT has 180,000 members who are serving teachers, the NASUWT 140,000. The third union, the National Association of Teachers and Lecturers, boasts 153,000 but many are retired members.

Mr de Gruchy dismissed as 'puerile' the suggestion by Doug McAvoy, the NUT's general secretary, that he was 'cuddling up to the Government'.

Speaking at the opening of NASUWT's national conference in Blackpool, Roger Kirk, the union's new president, called for a dialogue with Mr Patten to cover everything from school funding to the curriculum.

The NASUWT has already called off its test boycott and the split between the unions is the Government's best chance of avoiding further disruption of testing this summer. While the NUT on Sunday called for an indefinite test boycott, Mr Kirk claimed victory in last year's action against the tests and argued that a real dialogue was taking place between the Government and teachers for the first time in a decade.

He said Mr Patten's acceptance of Sir Ron Dearing's review simplifying the curriculum and testing was 'a major achievement of momentous import'. The Government's admission that its testing and curriculum policy was wrong raised questions about all its other education policies.

Yesterday, NUT members threatened industrial action unless primary school teachers are given one day a week free from teaching by next year. The conference also called for union backing for teachers who want to take action against oversize classes.

The union's moderate leadership found itself in an increasingly difficult position last night after being defeated for the ninth time in three days, this time over its policy on primary schools. Delegates said staff should refuse to cover for absent colleagues if they were not given 20 per cent of their day free from teaching in order to do marking and preparation.

The conference called for selective action on class sizes and approved a national campaign with other unions to reduce numbers in all classes to below 30. A recent union survey found 29 per cent of primary and nursery classes had more.

Several speakers linked the issues of class sizes and non- contact time to that of pay. The Government's refusal to fund this year's 2.9 per cent pay rise would mean job losses which would worsen conditions for pupils and remaining teachers, they said.

Mr McAvoy said any industrial action by schools or divisions of the union must be approved by the executive and its action committee, and there must be a two-thirds majority of staff in favour. Not all members would be as keen as those at conference to take action but an increasing number were angry with the Government.

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