Teachers' Unions in Conference: Barricades come down for minister: Decade of hostilities ends as government is warned against 'abusing good faith'

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The Independent Online
MORE THAN a decade of warfare between teachers and the Government was declared officially at an end yesterday.

The leader of the teachers' union which led last year's test boycott, and Baroness Blatch, Minister of State for Education, announced that they hoped to dismantle the barricades between teachers and the Government.

Lady Blatch, the first minister to address a National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers conference since Sir Keith Joseph, eight years ago, was clearly nervous but she was received with more than polite applause.

There was laughter and some 'hear-hears' for a speech which welcomed the union's decision to drop its test boycott and back the Government's curriculum review. Sir Keith, by contrast, had been heard in eerie silence.

Lady Blatch told the conference in Blackpool: 'I hope we can now dismantle the barricades, despite the efforts of some others to keep them piled high with ideological objections to testing.'

Nigel de Gruchy, the union's general secretary, who has been accused by the rival National Union of Teachers of 'cuddling up' to the Government, said: 'We have restored a civilised relationship with the Government. The teaching profession stands the chance of regaining all the lost ground of the last decade.'

Both he and Baroness Blatch thought the national tests for 7, 11 and 14-year-olds would go ahead despite the NUT decision to continue its boycott.

Mr de Gruchy said: 'The majority of NUT members don't accept most of what was said at Scarborough. The NUT can't deliver action in the primary schools.'

Baroness Blatch said she was confident that more schools would do the tests this year than last when all three main teacher unions joined the boycott. She said the streamlining of the national curriculum and tests proposed by Sir Ron Dearing 'amounts to a vote of confidence in the teaching profession, a new deal based on trust. But, as he has also made clear, the corollary is that public accountability must be maintained.'

She told delegates that the Government would consider the union's request for external markers for the tests to lighten teachers' workload. The NUT, which believes children should be assessed by teachers, is strongly opposed to external markers.

A second teachers' union conference also pulled back yesterday from further confrontation with the Government over testing.

But Peter Smith, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, speaking at the annual conference in Bournemouth, warned the Government not to make political capital over the decision to suspend the tests boycott this year. The ATL, along with the NASUWT, is co-operating with the compulsory tests for 7 and 14-year- olds, leaving the National Union of Teachers isolated in its boycott.

'But if our good faith is abused. . . if we find that the streamlining of the tests is cosmetic and expedient, just to get an unpopular government out of a fix, then there is every likelihood that this year's seaside rantings will become next year's reality,' he said.

'It is a very volatile situation. It would be a tragedy if the Government did not listen to us. I cannot rule out a boycott next year.'

Anne Keeble, president of the association, said that the review of the tests had to address the question of teachers' workloads. She knew that some members 'violently disagreed' with the decision to suspend the boycott.

(Photograph omitted)