Saturday 7 July 2007

National Education Conference

The National Education Conference of the NUT was held on the weekend of 30 June to 1 July. In many ways it underscores the need for a fighting leadership for the NUT.

Sue Palmer in a keynote introduction to the conference drew attention to the way in which the unrestrained "market forces" on the one hand and the highly circumscribed public education system in the UK is damaging children in what she terms a "toxic childhood". On the one hand an unfettered commercial culture will use any means necessary to maximise its profits: this includes encouraging children to pressurise parents into buying the latest "must have" toy or to buy foods which have long-term adverse effects on their health and short-term adverse effects on their ability to learn. On the other hand children are increasingly alienated by the culture of testing in schools which militates against any feeling that knowledge is inseparable from "people who know".

In the debate on secondary education Martin Powell-Davies drew attention to the tension between trying to elevate the role of practical subjects and the perceived intention of using practical subjects to keep the working class pupils in their place while reserving academic subjects to the elite.

In summing up the conference John Bangs came dangerously close to endorsing the Brown premiership by hinting that Brown will put a stop to the academy program. It is true that cooler heads at the DCSF were concerned that the academies programme was doomed and would only generate failure and potential scandal. A tactical retreat by Brown would not signal an end to the New Labour "project" and is certainly no reason for the NUT to scale down its campaigning against academies.

P F***ing I (as the final speaker at the conference, Mavis Grant, called it) will be very much a part of Brown's agenda and he has displayed no tendency to backtrack on that issue.

Derek McMillan

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