Teaching union conference season – will Gove fare better than Blunkett?

Jessica Shepherd looks forward to conference season and recalls how Labour’s education spokesman spent half an hour trapped in an office in 1995. Michael Gove will avoid that fate by not being there. This is from the Guardian…

No teaching union conference has lived up to the NUT’s 1995 event when David Blunkett, then Labour’s education spokesman, and his dog Lucy were trapped in a small office for half an hour while angry delegates chanted strike slogans outside.

The pair were released only after pleas from the union’s general secretary, Doug McAvoy. Blunkett’s error? He had condemned classroom strikes and promised to fire incompetent teachers.

Over the next eight days, thousands of teachers will gather in Liverpool, where the ATL and the NUT are holding their conferences, and in Bournemouth, where the NASUWT is hosting its annual event. The combined membership of the three unions tops 500,000 and represents the vast majority of classroom teachers in the UK. But if the events fall short of the drama of 18 years ago, then this year’s conferences are still likely to have some bite…

After discussing the key themes likely to dominate this year’s sessions, Shepherd does sound a word of warning on the importance of conferences…

Conference observers say the teaching unions have had their heyday. How much influence they now have will be tested at a school-by-school level when local pay is introduced. What they decide at conference no longer influences government policy. “They have the potential to be important, but they need to engage in more solid research and talk to their members in more modern ways, such as through online forums. They have stuck to the traditional sort of conference approach for years,” said the former government adviser.

John Dunford, former general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said the unions “need to think more clearly about how to boost teacher professionalism. There is still too much of the old-fashioned ‘working-class’ trade union approach, which sometimes damages the profession when it is reprinted in the press.”

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