NUT conference: Union leader goads Michael Gove, saying she's proud to be a member of 'The Blob'
Delegates attack decision to spend £45m on new selective school in Westminster while existing sixth-form colleges face cuts
Richard Garner has been Education Editor of The Independent for 12 years and writing about the subject for 34 years. Before becoming a journalist, he worked as a disc jockey in London pubs and clubs and for a hospital radio station. His main hobbies are cricket (watching these days) and theatre. On his days off, he is most likelt to be found at Lord’s or the King’s Head Theatre Club.
Tuesday 22 April 2014
A teachers' leader has declared yesterday is proud to be a member of “The Blob” - the derogatory term used by Education Secretary Michael Gove to disparage his opponents.
Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, made the comment as she pledged “to lead as much action as our members feel is right” in the union's fight with the Government over Gove's school reforms.
She added that she and her deputy general secretary, Kevin Courtney, had “led more action than at any time in the last 30 years”.
“We have had: assaults on pensions; the prospect of working to 68 and beyond; deregulation of pay; punitive performance management; morale at a low ebb; an accountability system ruining the lives of many good and experienced teachers - as well as two in five teachers leaving in their first five years,” she added.
The union's annual conference voted on Monday for national strike action in June - the fifth time they have organised a nationwide walkout since the coalition Government took office.
Ms Blower said the union had to draw its own election manifesto for education to combat Mr Gove's reforms, adding: "Perhaps we'll call it 'Better Learning Outcomes for Britain - or 'BLOB'."
The Blob , the term used by Mr Gove to dismiss his critics, comes from a 1950's science fiction movie starring Steve McQueen - which was about an amoeba that ate humans.
Read more: What is 'the Blob' and why is Michael Gove comparing his enemies to an unbeatable sci-fi mound of goo which once battled Steve McQueen?
“I'm certainly very proud to be included in that group whom Michael Gove seeks to disparage with his use of that term,” Ms Blower said.
She also criticised plans for new compulsory tests for four-year-olds - to be introduced in 2016 - saying: “Not only are we testing children at far too young an age but a new and sinister expression has crept into our language. Children are now to be made 'school ready'. Surely, conference, what we want is for schools to be child ready.”
Ms Blower also hit out at what she termed the scandal of the Government's decision to spend £45m on a new selective school for sixth-formers in Westminster while existing sixth-form colleges were facing cuts.
“From the start the union has been absolutely right about free schools,” she added. “It's the wrong model and is leading to a massive waste of public resources.”
Her comments follow unanimous backing from the conference for strike action in sixth-form colleges where staff are facing redundancy. Conference delegates also announced plans for a national campaign to oppose the setting up of the new school.
The school, sponsored jointly by Westminster independent school and the Harris Foundation academy chain, will offer places for 500 “bright” teenagers, mainly from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Philippe Harari, from Cambridge, said cuts to existing college budgets meant larger classes and no longer offering some subjects like law, modern languages and history as A-level options in some areas.
In addition to the cuts in funding, the sixth-form colleges were also having to pay VAT on goods and services - unlike academies and private schools which were exempt. “This is a systematic ideological assault on the sixth-form sector,” he added.
Jerry Glazier, for the union's executive, accused Mr Gove of acting with “disdain” by cutting funding for sixth-form colleges “and then splurging £45m on a single selective free school in Westminster”.
Patricia Hartley, from Islington, said the campaign against the school would include a national lobby attended by representatives of sixth-form colleges throughout the country. The new free school is due to open this September.
“We should stand up for sixth-form college education for all working class students - not just all those with three A's who can go on to Oxford or Cambridge,” she added.
A spokeswoman for the Department for Education condemned strike action - saying it would only “damage the profession," and disrupt children's education.
Ministers, she said, had been meeting with teachers' unions and would continue to do so.
Mr Gove has praised the new Westminster free school, saying it will give a “fantastic opportunity” to disadvantaged young people - giving them the option of an education previously only reserved for the better off.
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