Teachers may strike over pay shake-up

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The Independent Online
MEMBERS of the biggest teachers union will this weekend threaten strike action against government policies to raise standards in schools.

Leaders of the National Union of Teachers have put down an emergency motion at the union's annual conference in Blackpool calling for action, including strikes, if new education action zones, test beds for experiments in the inner cities, threaten teachers' pay and conditions.

Ministers have said they want at least some of 25 zones to be set up from September to tear up national conditions of pay and service. Some conference delegates want to go further than their leaders and boycott the zones altogether.

Left-wing delegates have also tabled a series of motions proposing strikes over government policies on oversized classes, new ways of sacking teachers and the closure of failing schools. The conference promises to be as stormy as ever, with the union's moderate leadership opposing many calls for industrial action.

Yesterday Doug McAvoy, the union's secretary, warned delegates not to indulge in "political posturing". They should, he said, realise that there was a credit as well as a debit side to government policies. "Any delegate who ignores the Government's spending commitments, its commitment to improve buildings, and its commitment to reduce class sizes for five, six and seven-year-olds is deliberately not wanting to live in the real world." The Government had made mistakes, such as naming and shaming failing schools and phasing in the teachers' pay award. "That enables people to argue that there is no difference between this government and the last. But there is a vast difference."

He argued that, though many motions on the agenda remained the same as in the past, many conference delegates' attitudes had changed. They realised that industrial action was only possible on an important issue which touched a nerve with most teachers. "There are people here from political groups in the union who acknowledge that privately but who would never dare to acknowledge it from the platform."

He dismissed as "political posturing" an attack on the leadership's decision to sign up to new government proc- edures to enable teachers to be sacked more quickly. Today delegates will debate a motion calling for strike action over the procedures.

Another motion due to be discussed today will call for industrial action over teachers who are bullied by heads, if school governors fail to protect them. Teachers are still angry with Chris Woodhead, the chief inspector of schools, who heads the Office for Standards and Education (Ofsted).

Delegates will consider refusing to comply with inspections if teachers believe inspectors are being confrontational or unprofessional.

They will also hear calls for strikes over members threatened with redundancy or dismissal after schools have been declared failing by inspectors.