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One Weekend in Birmingham: Responding to Nicky Morgan at the NASUWT Conference

31/03/2016 17:09 | Updated 31 March 2016

Why are teachers in England, on the whole, so against Academies? Well if you'd had the Easter weekend I'd just had, you'd know. Eventful is the short way of describing my four days in Birmingham at the NASUWT Annual Conference. Three speeches later, we arrived back in Coventry, exhausted.

Staying in a hotel surrounded by nightclubs on a bank holiday weekend with a young family may not be most people's ideal scenario. Especially when fellow guests are less than considerate at 3:30 am having had their fill of 2-4-1 'Fish Bowl' cocktails, whatever they may be. Fire alarms were not my friend in the early hours of Sunday morning.

Having said all that, as my wife and I remind ourselves regularly, my daughter thinks nothing of being put up in a hotel as I attend various conferences as a member of the NASUWT. Not a lot to complain about on that front.

Who exactly are we, the NASUWT, you may ask. Well, you'd be forgiven for asking that. Even some teachers don't really know the difference between one union and another. "Are you the more or less 'strikey' one?" pretty much covers the level of investigation most people go into when joining a union.

I come from a family of teachers. My Mum a head of English. Uncles were a Technology teacher and a Headteacher in a school in Africa. My Dad did a short stint in a young offenders' school before moving into the probation service and my Aunt, the most recent retiree, a languages and drama teacher.

Yes, you really could say that teaching, alongside nursing, is the family trade. I've been a NASUWT member since I joined the profession in 2001. Why did I become a member? Simply because my Mum, a member before me, recommended it. For the first 10 years, it was simply an insurance policy; nothing more, nothing less. All that changed in 2010 when the Coalition government came into power. My own Headteacher, himself a former union man, stood up in our morning meeting and said that he noted that there were no union reps in the school and with the national climate that might be something people want to address.

And so, having discussed it at home, I decided to have a go. Little did I know, that it was a decision that would lead to a place six years later when I would be sharing a podium, and addressing, the Secretary of State for Education, a certain Rt Hon Nicky Morgan MP.

I went to Birmingham with no real idea of what I might speak on, even if I would speak at all.
But there I was, room 408, woken in the early hours. I succumbed to that most common of modern vices and reached for my iPad. I was greeted with the leaked content of Mrs Morgan's speech where she was to tell a room of people precisely what would upset them the most; It's all our fault.

Presumably, this was to get footage of red-faced trade unionists foaming at the mouth, splashed across the news channels, displaying the kind of restraint toddlers are known for when their favourite toy is snatched from them.

However, despite the politically influenced picture painted by obedient correspondents from Sky News and sadly, and increasingly so, the Beeb, she met a hall of a thousand people, overwhelmingly respectful, polite, firmly doubtful of the message, but characterising people who witness rudeness from children on a regular basis but are professional enough to keep their real responses to themselves.

So predicting all this, in the wee-small hours, I opted to get our retaliation in first.
What I've come to learn in recent weeks and months is that everyone is true to their ideals and ultimately the Tories are doing what they think is best. They are fiercely loyal to the mantra that market forces are able to solve all ills in society.

Which is precisely where Academisation comes in. The great big public education sale is now on. There are some great deals out there. Sponsor an academy or indeed build a chain to form a multi-academy-trust. Rebrand. Change the school to have a spangly new uniform. Heads become Principals. Pay generally goes up for the leaderships teams of these trusts, no questions, while the rank and file teachers fight and scrap with their line managers to ascend a pay scale that has been frozen on the whole for the last six years.

But my key objection to academisation, aside from the break-up of national pay and conditions, the open goal for widespread corruption, the attempt to financially squeeze a profession on mass until it's pips squeak.

No. Aside from all these things my key objection is that it doesn't work at helping kids achieve.
Evidence shows that while the number of schools achieving the better Ofsted gradings has increased (and let's not get into whether Ofsted are used a political tool). The vast majority of that increase has come from Local Authority-controlled primary schools.

Essentially any gains in education have come from outside the government's one and only 'magic pill', Academies.

I can't speak for other trade unions but the NASUWT keeps the children in our care at the forefront of our minds in all our dealings and negotiations.

And so, back to Nicky. I can respect a government I disagree with as long as they are open about their aims and motives and the public agrees with that.

What is far harder to respect is a government who sneaks major and insidious policy through the back door of a media cycle awash with immigration, Brexits and raving American 'politicians'.

The truth needs to be in the light.

Embedded below is a poem delivered by Paul Nicholas at the NASUWT conference last weekend, which received a standing ovation

Dear Nicky

Dear Nicky, up this morn at 4am,
I looked at BBC and then,
Saw you'll be telling us to do our bit,
For education, well here we sit,
Pray tell, what stone is left unturned,
We can't work harder and we're concerned,
You see, the red writings on the wall, we've seen
If you want a positive response, perhaps write in green?

Dear Nicky, you'll say shortly, "please aspire"
"we need our teachers to aim higher"
Well Nicola, let's talk that through,
Aspiration's kind of... what we do
It's the fabric of our existing core
Twas ever thus from days of yore
"No, no," you'll say, "compare with the privately schooled"
Well if that's a level hockey pitch, you're the one who's been fooled.

Dear Nicky, you see, aspiration's a many splendoured thing
Who knows what each small soul will bring
"ACHIEVEMENT" by you, the definition's narrowing
But we see hope crushed, and I'll tell you it's harrowing
We test, we test, children's academic rigour
They're sick of tests... as they say, "Go figure"
Please let them play, the research is compelling
Can even do more good than spellings

Dear Nicky, whilst we discuss aspiration
Can we take some time for calculations
I'm a mathematician, a degree I've got, you see
Although my degree kind of starts with a three.
On that, under Michael, "Only ones and twos, they're the best"
I'll tell you I was beginning to get a little stressed
But now, gone is QTS, what a show!
NOW ANYONE CAN HAVE A GO!

Dear Nicky, I got a little side tracked there
So back to sums while we're here
Was George, who announced "Academies! The only way to go"
Did that skip the final edit in the manifesto
But listen, you're a lawyer, "Academies, please take the stand
Answer truthfully. That'd be grand"
As a tool to improve, you're shown to be wholly ineffective
And remember, after all, that's your primary directive
You're not just here to break up LAs
"No, no, FREEDOM. A SWIRLY WHIRLY UTOPIAN HAZE
Whereupon Principals can choose it all"
Unless your academy chain comes complete with ball
Because even Heads, not always our 'faves'
Are scared for their jobs, more than in previous days
"No, no, academies, free to do as you like"
Oh yeah, so they've got the money for a national wage hike?
And so where exactly is this all going?
I've got a suspicion and I'll tell you it's growing
That in this capitalist model of profit and loss
You're just not counting the real cost
But outside forces will do their bidding
But they can have it for free, it appears they're all winning.

I mention free, let's talk free schools, bound to crop in today's speeches
Which one... Dave's fave!... you know the one, PERRY BEECHES!
There's a few round here, they're doing well
Particularly the heads, just swell
It appears they can do private work on the side. (rubs fingers) Precisely!
"My school can pay me to consult. That'll do nicely"

Dear Nicky, the prosecution could go on and on
But where's our appeal... FE funding... parent governors... gone
The jury's returned and history will be your judge
And you say we're the ones who just won't budge
But my daughter, she's no enemy of promise (she's six)
Her generation hangs in the balance, and here I stand in your midst.

And so the judgement, no dispute what it will be
On each and every count, the verdict, "GUILTY!"

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