The NUT Conference debate on OfSTED showed the depth of anger against this pro-privatisation, demoralising inspection regime, as well as the depth of understanding as to how this regime is damaging education.
After the debate, the NUT announced that members at Downhills School in Haringey, facing the threat of forced academisation after a critical OfSTED inspection report, are to be balloted for sustained strike action. This followed an excellent Anti Academies Alliance fringe meeting last night where the meeting heard from Downhills parents and NUT members including Rachael Thomas, a Headteacher from Bristol also fighting the threat of being forced to become an academy.
Some excellent speeches from Conference delegates revealed the reality of the OfSTED regime. A delegate from Manchester pointed out how inspectors had decided to stop observing lessons in his school’s inspection because they had seen too many good lessons and this was in danger of contradicting the ‘satisfactory’ grading that they had decided upon beforehand! Another from Camden pointed out the difficulties of teaching students from poor backgrounds, who may have fled war zones, who may have high levels of special needs, yet find that schools in these challenging circumstances are criticised by OfSTED so that they can be placed in a ‘category’ and then targeted, like Downhills, for being turned into an academy. As she rightly said, “the government wants us to ‘close the gap’ when their policies are widening that class divide”.
An amendment from Coventry and Lewisham was agreed that asked the Executive to ‘consider whether non co-operation with inspection arrangements could be pursued as a workable action strategy …. in the light of the decision by INTO to do so in the North of Ireland”. I pointed out the excitement generated in our Lewisham meeting at the thought that we could say “Class, stop what you’re doing, there’s an unwelcome visitor in the room, let’s wait until they leave”.
One lone delegate, John Blake from ‘Labour Teachers’ opposed the amendment claiming the strategy was potentially illegal and certainly unwise. But Conference overwhelmingly agreed that the Union considers the strategy. As I said to Conference, let’s talk to INTO and UTU about how they have achieved a united action and how they have given confidence to teachers to carry out their work-to-rule – and then perhaps we can give confidence to teachers in England and Wales to do the same.
Nicky Downes from Coventry NUT, and Phil Clarke from Lewes, Eastbourne & Wealden NUT, successfully proposed an amendment that ‘congratulates organisations such as Boycott Workfare, Youth Fight for Jobs and Right to Work for their successful campaigning and protests against workfare”.
The amendment confirmed the NUT’s opposition to workfare and the work programme and called for “all placements of unemployed people on work experience schemes to be genuinely ‘voluntary’, without the threat of loss of benefits, and to pay at least the minimum wage”.