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'Leftist Fat Cat' or Teachers' Saviour? Interview With NUT General Secretary Christine Blower

28/05/2013 15:04 BST | Updated 24/07/2013 10:12 BST

Following my interview with Michael Gove's department, I present the very same questions to Christine Blower, the National Union of Teachers' general secretary.

Outspoken Bowler discusses Gove's curriculum, teaching standards, male teachers, multiculturalism and academies among other burning topics but as the debate over teachers' pay and pensions rages on, I cannot help but quiz Blower about her reported £112,896 pay.

'This pay is equivalent to a headteacher salary in inner London' her department tells me, 'many academies pay substantially more..'

I start by mentioning Bill Gates' and Mark Zuckerberg's advice for students to learn programming and code. I wonder if Blower welcome's Gove's fitting plan to shift the emphasis to an up to date ICT curriculum?

A The NUT has some serious concerns about the content of the new computing Programmes of Study. We do not dispute the importance of learning programming skills but believes that this alone is not relevant for younger children, particularly those who might have no or limited computer access at home. What is certainly vital is that the Education Secretary stops and listens to the advice he is being given about reforms to the curriculum to ensure that is a relevant and vibrant for all pupils.

Q As many schools now play an active role in increasing parents' awareness to potential online danger and  'internet conduct', I wanted to ask if you support schools also 'policing' students' out of school internet conduct? would you for example intervene if you heard of a student being cyber bullied by fellow students?

A Even though the bully might have occurred off the school premises, schools would rightly address the issue. If a school didn't intervene, then it is likely that an issue between pupils could escalate leading to problems on the school premises, so it would be counter-productive to ignore the incident.  Schools would take a similar approach if for instance a fight occurred between pupils on the way home, or if it became apparent that pupils were misbehaving on buses.

Q One of Michael Gove's stated goals is getting better standards of aspiration and higher expectations in poorly performing schools.

The Olympics have boosted the sense of aspiration and high expectation within many children but these qualities are still missing from many parents' culture/mentality, how can schools help instill these qualities in children ?

A I'm not sure I agree with you on that. Many young people have had their aspiration boosted by the Olympics but any legacy is sadly lacking by the loss of school sports provision. In order to keep pupils motivated we need to have a vibrant and relevant curriculum which engages all students. Michael Gove's proposal for the new national curriculum will do nothing to achieve this. Teachers are genuinely fearful that pupils will be forced to learn in a way that is inappropriate. Michael Gove needs to listen to those who understand education and start taking advice on what will really work for all pupils. He should also listen to other stakeholders such as the CBI which has recently warned against memorisation and recall being valued over understanding and enquiry, and transmission of information over the pursuit of knowledge in its fullest. Successful teaching and learning happens when you trust teachers to develop the curriculum on offer to students. It is also of paramount importance that schools are sufficiently funded to provide children and young people with the sort of experiences and courses that can so enrich their learning and interest such as music, drama, art and sport. Pupils from low income families cannot afford such activities out of school and increasingly many parents who would not identify themselves as such find it difficult to fund such pursuits. Cuts to school budgets and the pressure from league tables to achieve in a narrow range of subjects means that many schools do not, or cannot, afford to provide students with the wide range of subjects and activities that is so important to raising pupil aspiration and attainment.

Q Do excellence and competition conflict with tolerance and kindness?

A Excellence does not come through competition between schools but through schools working collaboratively together to share best practice. The London Challenge programme which this Government got rid of provided the support schools needed and made a real difference. The results spoke for themselves. Despite inner London boroughs comprising some of the most deprived areas in the country, London pupils outperformed many schools in better off areas. But no excellence and competitiveness are not in any sense the antithesis of tolerance and kindness. A well rounded person would display these qualities and characteristics appropriately.

Q In light of the education minister's introduction of teaching observation as a key part of assessment, before an offer of a teacher training placement is made, I wonder what teaching qualities you personally rate the highest?

A Passion and patience

Q Would you like to see more male teachers entering this noble profession?

A Teaching is one of the best professions in the world so for men or women it would be a good choice. The most important issue when deciding on a career in teaching is not someone's gender but whether they actually have the qualities to be a good teacher.

Q Male teachers naturally bring different qualities to those of their female counterparts, not better or worse just different.

All teachers and head teachers I talked to welcomed the current rise in the number of male teachers and I wondered what your position on this development is. 

A There is no evidence to show that male teachers are better than female..

Q Multiculturalism is a burning issue for many. I interviewed many tolerant parents who resent any exceptions made on religious grounds, ( from wearing earrings on school grounds to enabling the existence of faith schools..)

Would it not be simpler and fairer to have just one code of practice for all parents and children to adhere to?

A As more schools become academies and free schools, the number of institutions which act as their own admissions authorities will increase. Accountability and fair access will be difficult to monitor in such a complex admissions landscape. At a time when most parents want a school admissions system that is fair and easy to use, under these proposals they are more likely to get one that is unfair and divisive.

Always Someone Else's Problem, a report by the Office of the Children's Commissioner raised this issue of unfairness. The majority of those who gave evidence to the report raised concerns about the admissions policies of schools being used as a means to exclude pupils: examples of parents of SEN pupils being dissuaded from applying, parents being told that expensive school trips were compulsory and school uniforms being prohibitively expensive were given. Academies have excluded pupils and carried out fixed term exclusions at a far greater rate than state maintained schools. This is a pattern that has been evident over a number of years.

We need to have a clear and transparent admissions policy for all schools that ensures every pupil, regardless of educational needs or parents' wealth, can gain a place at school. Surely that is the point of state education.

Q Many schools are choosing to become Academies, what is your overall view of the success of the process to date.

A There is no evidence to show that academies in themselves boost the attainment of pupils and yet the Government is insisting on pursuing at break neck speed this fragmentation of our education system. The Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee report Department for Education: Managing the Expansion of the Academies Programme, makes clear that Michael Gove's haste to expand the number of academies at all costs has come at the expense of financial accountability and value for public money. It is quite extraordinary that in these times of cut backs and austerity the Government has found millions of pounds to support its academies and free schools programme. It is hard to see how the Education Secretary can justify spending tax payers' money in this way. This programme will create a chaotic and unaccountable education system. Michael Gove must urgently rethink this policy which is neither needed nor wanted and is a dreadful waste of public resources and money

Q In Bromley (Kent), where all but one secondary schools are now academies, many have suffered financial detriment since they converted..

A Many academies found they were not entitled to as much money as they had been led to believe prior to conversion. Costs of replacement services have also often proved considerably higher than those provided by the LA

Q Can you please comment on the a question from a local secondary school headteacher who asks - how does the government believe that secondary schools which are suffering cuts of hundreds of thousands of pounds to their sixth form funding will be able to sustain adequate sixth form provision, particularly in light of the raising the school leaving age?

A We do not believe they can. A survey of 450 NUT members in Sixth Form Colleges showed that an overwhelming 90% believed that funding cuts are impacting negatively on their students' education. Cuts to staffing and courses, removal of the Education Maintenance Allowance and larger class sizes were all mentioned as contributing factors. 75% of those surveyed believed that funding cuts would narrow the range of subjects offered to students within the next two years. A further 62% believed that funding cuts for 16-19 qualifications would limit the number of study hours students are funded for and some respondents commented that they felt this situation could worsen. Half of respondents believed that funding cuts would affect the teaching of practical subjects while only 8% believed the cuts would have no effect on practical subjects. These funding cuts come at a time of the highest ever levels of youth unemployment and on top of the reduction in the EMA and a tripling of university fees. We are failing future generations by this short sighted approach to education. The Government needs to ensure that schools and colleges are properly funded to guarantee a first class education for all our children.

Q I would like readers to form an opinion on the important issues raised. I feel their judgement might be affected by the knowledge that a person who 

has previously opted for a teacher strike is such a high earner, specially at these hard times..readers know what ministers' pay is but expect (rightly or wrongly) a 

teaching professional's pay to be more in line with average, perhaps slightly above 

average pay..  

The pay is equivalent to a headteacher salary in inner London - many academies pay substantially more. Our union pay scale is in line with the national pay scale for teachers..this is the professional rate.