The annual conference of the National Union of Teachers, in militant mood after a successful boycott of national tests for seven and 14-year-olds last year, is set to pass a series of demands for industrial action.
Doug McAvoy, general secretary of the 180,000-strong union, told its annual conference in Scarborough yesterday that members in schools should campaign to support their colleagues in the country's 117 sixth form colleges.
The three main teaching unions are negotiating with the colleges, which became independent last April, over staff contracts. If these talks break down, strikes are almost certain.
The conference also heard calls for strike action on other issues. Deirdre Murphy, from Islington, said: 'I would like Mr Patten to spend just a few hours in the classrooms where we spend every day of our working lives.
'Nineteen-ninety-four is the time for action. It is time for us to unite to defend our education service, an education service based on need, not on Tory education policies. We can do it,' she said.
Mr McAvoy acknowledged that the mood of the conference was more radical than usual after a vote yesterday appeared to support action in defiance of trade union laws. Delegates also reprimanded the leadership for not taking stronger action last year over class sizes and over teacher appraisal.
'It does indicate the strong feeling on the floor of the conference for more determined action and that is bound to be repeated in some of the debates that are yet to come,' he said.
Members voted yesterday to refuse to cooperate with trade union legislation which they felt undermined their democratic rights, but Mr McAvoy said they had not committed the union to any illegal action.
In the late 1970s, the NUT suspended members who took part in wildcat strikes, and the union is no more likely to support such action now.