ATL Conference 2012

At ATL's Annual Conference in Manchester in April, delegates lobbied for action on issues from local pay to computer games.

Strike action

Conference opened with a passionate debate that reflected a transformational year for the union. ATL's first national strike action in its history prompted the Oxfordshire branch to propose the motion to: maintain ATL's belief in consultation rather than confrontation, to ballot for strike action only as a clear last resort, to have a minimum of 51% vote in a ballot before strike action is sanctioned, to ask members whether membership of the TUC should continue, and for ATL to consider itself first and foremost a professional association, rather than a trade union. 

Proposer Bob Martyn acknowledged a "better-than-many-expected" outcome to the pensions dispute but stated that the strike action was unsettling for many members concerned that ATL would be drawn into an extended period of strike action.

Seconder Frank Havemann marched reluctantly on the November 30 day of action but would rather ATL was known for its "excellent CPD and helping members become better educators".

One of many speaking against the motion, Simon Clarkson (Leicestershire) said that ATL needed to be strong enough to face down Secretary of State Michael Gove forcing through "issues based on dogma that would blight future generations".

Niamh Sweeney (Cambridgeshire) received a round of applause when she stated "to allude that ATL does not exhaust all options before taking strike action was deplorable", concluding that after 127 years of no national strike action, "ATL is hardly a maverick, militant union".

Stephen Baker (Worcestershire) listed "what the TUC has done for us", including £1.3 million of funding for union learning and support for our rep network, and added that both ATL's general secretary and president have great influence in the TUC.

The vote was taken in parts, with the motion to reaffirm commitment to consultation and exhaust other means of resolving disputes being carried, while requiring 51% of membership to vote in favour, reconsidering TUC membership and being a professional association ahead of a trade union were all lost.

Market forces

The introduction of market forces into schools has meant less choice for parents, and children and schools using valuable finances for marketing rather than education.

Gareth Lewis (Wrexham) proposed that Conference agree the current admissions arrangements are a recipe for chaos. He felt things took a wrong turn "when politicians started to think they knew better. Everyone is an expert in education; for after all, they all went to school."

He added that market forces meant only parents and children who were already more advantaged had real choice when it came to school places, but that all children deserved to have good-quality education in their local schools. The motion was carried.

Local pay lampooned

Potential moves towards localised pay is the "next big challenge … and could be the most damaging government proposal" said proposer Ralph Surman (Nottingham).

Seconding, Kim Knappett (Executive) performed a mock auction with bidding for an experienced teacher against a newly qualified teacher to illustrate the danger of eroding a fair and transparent pay system.

Trevor Cope spoke for teachers in rural areas, pointing out that teachers do the same job wherever they work. With the average salary in his native Devon at £18,000, he feared for a time when he would be better off stacking shelves in Tesco than teaching. "Please support this motion," he appealed, "I need this." Delegates did not disappoint him.

Keeping the threshold

A contentious motion called on ATL to "look at ways of enabling members to renounce their post-threshold points so that they can be more competitive in the employment market".

Supply teacher Michelle Willis (Bristol) asked: "Why should a school employ me directly when there are cheaper versions on the market?" Supporting, Stella Jales (Executive) said she had been told that schools could not afford to employ her, choosing NQs instead.

Steve Taylor (Cambridgeshire) spoke against, saying the word 'renounce' sent out the wrong message, while Eric Stroud (Hertfordshire) reluctantly opposed the motion, believing it would set a worrying precedent. "ATL should never have a policy that renounces payment rights," he stated. Delegates duly voted against the motion.

Stress tests

The link between high workload and an increase in stress-related illnesses for teachers led to Kim Knappett calling for ATL to investigate the extent to which workloads are increasing and to come up with a plan of support for members to reverse the trend.

Ms Knappett said: "This is a serious issue for teachers; 73% feel their job negatively impacts on their health and four out of five on the senior leadership team feel the same. We need to stand up to government and say enough is enough."

Seconder Alastair Macpherson (Executive) spoke about the independent sector, including boarding schools where staff face unrealistic demands. He cited one member who was taking on so many additional responsibilities and hours that she was taking home less than the minimum wage. The motion was carried.

Part-time working

Trevor Cope entertained delegates in Gilbert and Sullivan fashion about the challenges facing part-time teachers.

In 'The very model of a modern part-time teacher' Mr Cope waxed lyrical about the expectations placed on part-time teachers, including understanding all policies, lesson planning and offering pastoral support. He ended by saying: "We're doing everything a full-time teacher does and it's not fair."

Seconder Phil Smith (Devon) spoke of members whose capability was being called into question by their headteacher when they were unable to cope with high workload. This sometimes led to them working part time to try to reduce their stress levels, but in reality meant they were working on their days off to catch up and so led to them feeling even more pressurised.

The motion asked the Executive to investigate the nature of the reasons for full-time teachers changing to part time, identify any well-being issues and make recommendations regarding teacher workload. The motion was carried.

Recruitment regret

All teachers would agree with Michael Gove on the importance of recruiting the very best candidates into teaching. "In fact, Gove has stated that he wants all teaching to be above average and outstanding," Geoff Pye (Essex) told Conference.

Sadly, this did not mean teacher recruitment was in good hands. Funding was now linked to achievement, with bursaries only available to those with a second-class or better degree. Tuition fees had rocketed, Mr Pye said, and teachers were being discouraged from staying in the profession because of "constant attacks" from the government on pay, pensions and working practices.

"We must continue to investigate among our members … what it is that attracts them to teaching — and what puts them off," he said.

Christine Bennett (Essex) told delegates she wouldn't have become a teacher in the current climate: "I know people who would make a very valuable contribution to teaching and will be prevented from doing so". The motion was carried.

Bursaries bungled

What connects Hugh Laurie, Michael Morpurgo and Carol Vorderman? They are all high achievers, excellent role models and, you might think, just the kind of trainees the government would like to see becoming teachers of performing arts, English or maths.

Yet under the new PGCE bursary system, Steve Taylor told delegates, their third-class degrees would make them ineligible for financial support, which is now only available for those with a second-class degree or better, and only to those training to teach 'core subjects'. Worse still, the students who began training before the new system have been denied any bursary at all.

Student teacher Caroline Gray (Worcestershire) said more than two thirds of trainees surveyed by ATL strongly felt this loss had had a negative impact on their training and teaching. The decision to withhold support from just one year added insult to injury, Ms Gray said. The motion was carried unanimously.

Managing behaviour

Successive governments have failed to introduce effective sanctions against unacceptable behaviour since the abolition of corporal punishment in 1986.

This controversial-sounding statement lay at the heart of a motion calling for ATL to research new and more effective disciplinary measures. Proposing, Julian Perfect (inner London) said ATL's survey showed behaviour remained a very serious issue, with up to a third of respondents having considered a change of profession because of it.

Mr Perfect made it clear that what was sought was not the reinstatement of corporal punishment, but rather new sanctions that, unlike exclusions, would not be compromised by financial considerations or targets.

"Why should teachers be expected to tolerate behaviour that would be tolerated in few, if any, other professions?" he concluded.

Seconding, Jean Roberts (inner London) said the support of management would be key. Even more important would be giving children the skills to moderate their own behaviour. The motion was carried unanimously.

Virtual violence

Violent computer games are not a new phenomenon but Alison Sherratt (Bradford) believes they are influencing children at a younger age than ever before.

Ms Sherratt revealed the vast majority of four- and five-year-olds had unsupervised access to TV and laptops, often to age-restricted games. Research had shown that violent games could influence teens, Ms Sherratt said — so how much greater would be the effect on younger children?

"We all expect to see rough and tumble but I have seen a lot more hitting, hurting and thumping in the classroom for no particular reason," she said.

Ms Sherratt was not calling for a ban on games, but asked for ATL to develop a researched policy statement that gave guidance for members, and could be used to lobby government about the issue.

Speaking in support, Jon Overton (inner London) said the real concern was of young people playing for long hours, depriving themselves of sleep and physical activity — a parenting issue, he said. The motion was carried.

A smartphone curriculum

Addressing the changing needs of students in the curriculum was the subject of two keenly debated motions.

Technology is changing learning, but Michael Gove's plans for a facts-based curriculum ignores this, said Jon Overton. Calling for a national curriculum debate, Mr Overton asked delegates to find Mozart's birth date using their smartphones. The answer — 27 January, 1756 — was shouted from the floor in seconds.

"We are no longer in an age where a substantial 'fact bank' in our heads is required," he said. "We need to equip our young people with skills; interpersonal skills, enquiry skills, the ability to innovate."

Speaking against, Viv Ramsey (Staffordshire) said she was "absolutely fed up with national debate", saying instead that more should be done to make current curriculum relevant.

But that argument was countered by Paul Campbell (Scotland), who said the example of Scotland's Curriculum for Excellence showed successful implementation depended on a continuous process of debate.

A second motion called on ATL to investigate the effects of the English baccalaureate (E-bacc).

Proposing, Alex Thompson (Cambridgeshire) said the E-bacc threatened to have a detrimental impact on disaffected children, encouraging divisions between those who study it and those who do not. Seconding, Theresa Dawes (Berkshire) said the E-bacc failed to ensure all pupils had access to a broad and balanced curriculum. "In practice it is simply another performance indicator by which to judge schools, introduced without any proper consultation or monitoring of its effect," she said.

Speaking against, Paul Scales (Berkshire) said there was as yet little real evidence that the E-bacc had narrowed the curriculum or caused segregation or stigmatisation. Both motions were carried.

Cuts and young people

"Where is the moral conscience of this government?" asked Eve Ellis (Barnsley) in supporting the motion calling on ATL to continue to highlight the impact of public sector cuts, in light of cuts to the education maintenance allowance (EMA) and Connexions, along with increased tuition fees.

Avril McConnell (Northern Ireland) reported on a decline in the aspirations of the young people she works with, while Paul Campbell (Scotland) asked that if young people perceive the government does not value them, why would they invest time and effort in their own education?

An emotional Sarah Curtis (Solihull) concluded that this was the greatest issue facing young people and urged Conference to support the motion, and delegates duly obliged unanimously.

A separate motion saw Conference vote to condemn the scrapping of the EMA, something that proposer Matt Mugan (Somerset) quoted Michael Gove as saying he would not do. "They cut EMA with no regard for the people it would affect," Mugan stated.

Charlotte Dee Hall (Manchester) was impelled to tell how she became a "working-class success" with the support of the EMA.

Pop-ins and drop-ins

Kim Knappett warned of the enormity of the issue of closer linking of performance management to capability proceedings. "Appraisal should be a positive process that focuses on the value the employee brings," she said, but most teachers find that "performance management is something that is done to them, not for them".

Supporting, Simon Clarkson, said the government "no longer trusts us to educate the nation's children. If you don't trust someone, you watch them and reduce their tasks to tick-boxes."

A related motion looked at lesson observations, something that proposer Lesley Davies (Doncaster) believes can be highly beneficial if conducted in a supportive manner. However, teachers experiencing "the learning walk, the drop-in, the pop-in, the work scrutiny, the book scrutiny and the lesson plan scrutiny" are becoming anxious and worried.

Seconder Glyn Kenyon (Bradford) said that managers' fear of Ofsted changed their perceptions when observing lessons, while Nick Clayton (Wirrall) called for observation to be "a dialogue for supporting, not destroying, teachers".

In a third motion Peter Walker (Executive) challenged the 'they should be put out to grass' attitude of some employers in proposing the motion to promote fair capability procedures for older teachers in all workplaces. All three motions were carried.

Inspection gadgets

Criticism of Ofsted was a recurrent theme at Conference, particularly in motions on the framework, and its controversial online schools rating system, ParentView.

Tendai Mashapure (Cambridgeshire) raised concerns about three elements of the new inspection framework in England — inspecting a small sample of schools, inspecting outstanding schools only if there is a 'trigger', and paid inspections.

They seemed to represent a cost-saving exercise rather than any real attempt at innovation, he said. A better system would help schools and teachers, by spreading best practice, being consistent, and providing recommendations for improvement.

Mr Mashapure added: "I would love to encourage Ofsted to think outside the box, [but the] problem is there is not much thinking inside the box."

Ofsted's most recent innovation, ParentView, was seized upon as an example of this. It was important that parents' opinions were heard, said Robin Bevan (Wirral), but ParentView was "absolutely shocking". While individuals are allowed to rate up to nine schools using the system, the email authentication process leaves it open to abuse.

Calling for it to be abolished, Mr Bevan warned data from ParentView could form league tables, or even trigger inspections. Both motions were carried unanimously.

The impossible dream

Used properly, targets can be a real motivator, Liz Smith (York) told Conference. However, she expressed concern over news that this year children would also be set an 'aspirational' target. For example, a child who is scraping Cs but could get Bs if they worked hard is set the aspirational target of an A.

"The pupil knows that that is an impossible dream, switches off immediately and concludes that it is probably safer to give up now," Ms Smith said. "We are robbing our children of a love of learning and discovery."

The motion asking ATL to investigate the effect on pupil morale was carried.

Support staff — a hardy breed

The lack of a professional structure for support staff is "an absurdity and a disgrace". So said proposer Michael Freeman (Berkshire and Reading), calling for a national structure that guarantees equality of standards and recognition of their contribution. Seconding, Jenny Inglis (Berkshire) lamented the loss of the School Support Staff Negotiating Body, which had given the brief hope of national pay and conditions.

"Support staff, though, are a hardy breed … often the ones who don't give up on the pupils they work with," she concluded, and likewise ATL should not give up on lobbying government on their behalf. Conference agreed unanimously.

Toilet travails

The perennial issue of toilet training for young children was the subject of the motion calling for an investigation into the current situation in schools regarding staffing, facilities, training and safeguarding for staff and pupils. Proposer Jenny Inglis explained how a delicate issue is complicated by the opportunities for three-year-olds to have free nursery provision, and that responsibility for dealing with non-toilet trained children falls mainly to support staff.

Stressing that the motion was not blaming schools or parents, she called for government to take responsibility for supporting both. The motion was carried.

FE democratic demise

The right of governors to disestablish a college to become a company, charity or trust has resulted in a deterioration of terms and conditions for teachers and support staff and resulted in less choice for students, proposer Stephen Sidgwick (Executive) told Conference in an amendment to a motion regarding concerns about the loss of democracy in education generally.

In some FE institutions that had been disestablished and become private, 40% of staff were not on permanent contracts and the salary was, on average, 12% lower.

Graham Edwards (Redbridge) supported the motion, saying: "Conference should be alarmed by the rapid increase in legislation and actions that remove democratic input in England's education system and makes it an increasingly dictatorial one." The amended motion was carried.

SEN funding

Cathy Tattersfield (Executive) asked ATL, with others, to press for central special educational needs (SEN) funding for local services and facilities, to develop the current regulation and give informed guidance to ensure all schools provide appropriate education for children with SEN.

Ms Tattersfield spoke about the difficulty that SEN children would face if provision was in the free market where charities and pressure groups were filling in the gaps, as there were aspects of SEN, such as challenging behaviour or socially disadvantaged learners, not seen as 'fashionable'. Potentially, these groups of pupils would be left out of education.

Seconding, Caroline Kolek (Executive) called for teachers to be trained in SEN in initial teacher training as well as receiving regular CPD. The motion was carried.

Scottish supply scandal

"Want to teach? Can't afford to" should be the strapline for teaching, following cuts made to education by the Scottish Executive, said Alastair MacPherson. He spoke in particular about supply teachers, who have had their pay slashed following changes to the Scottish Negotiating Committee for Teachers agreement.

The basic lower rate is paid for the first five days, with appropriate rates for their experience to be paid after that. However, Alastair said most LAs are not employing supply teachers for more than five days even if there is a long-term absence of permanent staff. Supply teachers are now also expected to pay for their own CRB checks for every local authority they work in.

Seconder and supply teacher Grace Pooley (Scotland) spoke of "ad hoc pay for an ad hoc day". She is paid differently by the LAs she works for and very often is not left prepared work by the teacher she is covering for, which she said "results in an unfair day for both pupils and supply teachers".

The motion to lobby the Scottish Parliament to see a fair day's pay for a fair day's work for supply teachers was carried.

Pruning with chainsaws

Does Northern Ireland really need the bureaucracy of the Education and Training Inspectorate, or the Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment, when educational services are facing detrimental cuts?

The question was posed by Anne Millis, in supporting a motion decrying the "crude, hacking cuts" to DENI's education budget for 2011-2015, worth more than £800 million. "[The cuts] amount to an attempt to prune with a chainsaw, chopping indiscriminate chunks … instead of considered pruning which aims to stimulate re-growth and produce a healthy, thriving plant for the years to come," she told Conference.

DENI should seize the opportunity of the long-awaited new Education and Skills Authority, Ms Millis said, to take a "no sacred cows" approach to all education expenditure, and cut out waste while preserving front-line services. The motion was carried.


My role

My sector

My location

Find my branch