The rowdy reception they gave John Patten, the Secretary of State for Education, on Wednesday, booing and jeering at his speech and hissing as he left the hall, is not the customary behaviour of an association generally known for its politeness and moderation.
Pat Moss, a primary headteacher from Rotherham, was unrepentant. 'When we go back to the classrooms, I think the teachers will say 'Good, you've shown solidarity with us'.'
But others confessed to feeling uncomfortable, ashamed even. 'The jeering was unforgivable, totally unprofessional,' said Jean Pitt, an Avon junior headteacher. 'You can understand people's frustration but I don't think people in our position should behave like that. We don't condone that sort of behaviour from children.'
Michael Willsher, a primary headteacher in Manchester, said: 'Our concerns are the very things that Mr Patten refused to talk about: testing and league tables. Most teachers accept the case for a national curriculum, for all its faults, but the curriculum should lead the testing - whereas Mr Patten seems to think that testing is the most important thing.'
Headteachers disagree about the form tests should take, some advocating written papers, others preferring a practical basis.
National league tables pose an even greater obstacle and the headteachers were firmly united against them. They reject Mr Patten's argument that tables are essential for public accountability on the grounds that the national curriculum and standardised tests, governing bodies and regular inspections already provide that.
Part of the objection to league tables is the fear of finding yourself at the bottom of them. But while headteachers argue confidently about the crudity of the tables and the fact that they do not 'compare like with like', many feel parents may be unduly influenced by them.
As Colin Orbaum, head of a Surrey middle school, said: 'Unless we make enough noise now, the tables will be taken as meaning more than they should. We are trying to make sure parents know what the weaknesses are.'
The teacher-training reforms, to be announced next week, also fill many headteachers with foreboding. Most do not want their profession 'diluted' by non-graduates, and even those keen to become more involved in training do not believe there will be adequate funding for this.
But with a difficult half-term ahead of them, the mood of many headteachers was irrepressibly boisterous. As Michael Round, head of the Croydon Comprehensive at the bottom of last year's league tables, said: 'We have only just begun to fight, and we are feeling powerful beyond measure . . . the teaching profession is right and the Government is wrong. There will be a national curriculum, there will be testing and there will be rising standards: but we will win.'Reuse content