Teachers vote for legal limit on class sizes

NUT conference: New Labour policies challenged
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The Independent Online
#David Blunkett, Labour's education spokesman,is today expected to receive a hostile reception from a teachers' union which yesterday voted to challenge a new Labour government over grammar schools and class sizes.

Delegates at the National Union of Teachers annual conference in Harrogate, North Yorkshire, voted to ballot members with over-size classes on strike action if Labour failed to cut class sizes for pupils of all ages. They also demanded that the party should stop watering down its policy on selection and abolish all grammar schools.

Today, Mr Blunkett will tell the conference that a Labour government would set new numeracy targets for all 11-year-olds. The party would aim to ensure that three-quarters of the age group reached the expected standard in national maths tests by 2002 and 90 per cent by 2007. At present the figure is 55 per cent.

Labour is to set up a new numeracy working group under professor David Reynolds of Newcastle University.

Labour has already said it intends that a 100 per cent of 11-year-olds should reach the expected standard in literacy within a decade.

Mr Blunkett will point out that the maths target set is less ambitious because standards are lower in numeracy. He will also emphasise the need for whole-class teaching involving fast-paced question-and-answer sessions which is used in maths lessons in countries such as Taiwan.

Two years ago heckling teachers at the conference jostled Mr Blunkett and penned him in an office. Last year he was warmly applauded.

Yesterday a series of speakers voiced distrust of new Labour. The party has said that it will cut class sizes but only for pupils aged five to seven and that it will be up to local parents to decide whether existing grammar schools should be abolished.

Tony Blair, the Labour leader, has also said that Chris Woodhead, the Chief Inspector of Schools, will keep his job. The conference passed a motion saying that he should be sacked and that the Office For Standards In Education, which he heads, should bee abolished.

On grammar schools, delegates backed a motion to consider action if a new Labour government continued with existing policies. Doug McAvoy, the union's general secretary, said outside the conference: "The policy of the present government is that they will extend selection. A Labour government has said there will be no further selection. This motion doesn't bring us into conflict with the Labour Party."

However, Christine Blower, the union's new president, told a fringe meeting on Saturday: "It is absolutely clear that we have to press the incoming government of the question of selection. No further selection is not good enough. Our policy is for free state comprehensive education."

On class sizes, delegates passed a motion demanding that there should be an immediate legal enforceable class size limit of 30 for all ages and that the Government should lay down a timetable for reducing all classes to no more than 26.

Members with over-sized classes are to be balloted on whether to take strike action or to exclude pupils by rota.

Mr McAvoy said: "Members will be encouraged, as in the past, to take class-size action where circumstances warrant it. But industrial action will only be taken if all other means have been tried and exhausted.

"We shall be trying to persuade Labour to go well beyond its present commitment on class size."

The conference passed two motions accusing Mr Woodhead of political bias and demanding that he be sacked. Hank Roberts, a delegate from Brent, north London, said that the Ofsted system was "unfair, unreliable and invalid" and that it should be boycotted.

Paul Lonsdale of Durham said Mr Woodhead had alienated all sections of the education world. "We need look no further than his incompetence with figure, his penchant for rewriting Ofsted reports and his wilful misinterpretation of research."

Leading article, page 16

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