Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Dinosaurs Still Roam...

For reasons which may be all too obvious, I have been spending some time looking at John Gummer's website. Among the gems I have discovered is this entry from 3 November. It illusrates perfectly how some trade union leaders still live in the dark ages.
3rd November 2009 - I've been thinking about an exchange I had in Manchester. Britain's second largest teaching union, the NUSWT, promoted itself at the three Party Conferences. Their stand was uncompromising. The posters contained no hint of renewal or improvement; no recognition of the huge increase in attainment that the nation demands. Simply a series of statements opposing even this Government's relatively feeble attempts at reform. Above them all the keynote claim 'PUTTING TEACHERS FIRST'.

I approached the imposing woman behind the counter. "Shouldn't that read 'putting children first' I ventured. "Certainly not! We're a Trade Union and I'm its General Secretary." Clearly I'd struck lucky and this was the big boss. "We put teachers first so we can get the terms and conditions that allow us to do the best for the children." "But haven't you noticed that on the commercial stalls around you businesses are saying that they put the customer first?" Mrs Chris Keates drew herself up to her full height. "I won't take lessons from the private sector with their bonus culture," she expostulated

I tried again. "Could you explain why your union has opposed every new proposal for reform and why none of these posters on your stand promote positive ideas for improvement."

"We're not opposed to new ideas. You tell me when we've opposed them." Mrs Keates was getting aggressive.
"Well, how about the Academies, you don't like them?
"We're not opposed to Academies as long as they abide by the nationally agreed terms and conditions." It was the old fashioned trade unionist speaking again.

"Does that mean you can't pay good teachers more and bad teachers less and make those decisions locally?" My modest proposal was greeted with a snort and a, clearly much-repeated, mantra about professionals and standards which added up to "No". I tried again, asking what experiments and reforms she would back. "You shouldn't experiment with children. Anyway, we've spent the last ten years putting right all the damage the Tories did to education."
"Ah", I said, "so you are a Labour supporter". The anger rose another notch. "I'm not. We'll work with Governments of any kind. I'm not a member of any political party". Well, maybe not, but how does any Government work with an organisation whose General Secretary seriously believes that she can learn nothing from the private sector - the sector that ultimately pays her wages and where the vast majority of children will ultimately work?

The archaic lack of realism continued when I spoke to her about the problems of school dinners. Children often come to school unable to eat with a knife and fork. More and more families don't own a dining table and eat all meals in front of the TV. Obesity is the health problem of our time. Children do not know how to converse and more and more suffer from eating disorders. In light of all this, I asked whether she would encourage her members to eat with their pupils and facilitate conversation over the meal, help them to choose the right diet, and keep an eye out for those with incipient eating problems. "Certainly not - we have professionals to do that".
Incredulously I asked "you mean dinner ladies?

"Well, yes. Teachers have professional support staff who leave them free to concentrate on their role".

And that, of course, is the problem. The NUSWT does not see education in the round. They betray the thousands of teachers in every part of the country who recognise that relationships built over the lunch table, conversational skills honed in the informal circumstances of the lunch break, and the understanding extended by those conversations for pupil and teacher alike - all are as much part of education as a maths project.

Teachers deserve better than this. They deserve a professional body run by people who recognise that education is much more than the classroom; that there are lessons to learn from the private sector; that independent schools might have ideas worth borrowing; that a new generation needs new methods as well as old. Above all a professional body that could only label its stand PUTTING CHILDREN FIRST because that was what it was all about
day in day out from first thing to the moment the last script was marked.


Giles Marshall said...

Every time a teachers' union leader speaks, the cause of teachers is usually put back several years. No wonder most of us in teaching try and get away at Easter, taking students abroad, or on treks in England - it saves us the embarrassment of watching the union conferences on the news. The age old problem with the unions is that those who are really committed to their teaching have no time or inclination to become active in a union, thus leaving the way clear to those who would rather agitate about their conditions than focus on pedagogy.

Nvertheless, the current attempt at a professional teaching body - the GTC - is laughable and wasteful. A small part of my salary is docked every year to pay for this monumental nonsense, with its unread magazines and unnoticed polticking in the corridors of Whitehall. Teachers don't need a professional body - they need a political system peopled by representatives who have enough wisdom to properly oversee and establish a decent framework for the public education system, and enough common sense and trust to allow the teacher at the interactive whiteboard face to get on with their job.

John Moss said...

That is why we must roll out the voucher scheme to primary as well as secondary schools and let the schools employ the teachers directly, with no compulsion to join a union and an nd to national "terms and conditions".

If they are true professionals, teachers will be perfectly happy to negotiate their individual terms and conditions with their employers, just like every lawyer, surveyor and engineer does in the private sector.

Akheloios said...

And when the board of Directors of some large company, or its shareholders, are asked if their primary concern is their customers they asnwer yes?

No, of course not, the organisation is there to protect the interests of the shareholders only. The company may attempt to give the best service it can to its customers, but if that affects the bottom line, they favour the shareholder's interests over the customers.

The same goes for Trade Unions. They are there to protect the interests of their members. They can try to give the best service they can to their consumers, children in this case, but if that affects the interests of the Union members then they choose the member's interests over that of their consumer.

It's the Government's job, whoever that Government may be, through regulation and investment, to maximise the benefits of the company's customers or school child taught by Union members.

Darren Jones said...

If only the dinosaurs only roamed, at the moment they govern too!

Mirtha Tidville said...

She`s Liebour.....Does anything more really need to be said...

John Bennett said...

John Gummer has never been a politician for whom I have had much time possibly due to his bad press over BSE. This article though is succinct and to the point. In particular I was struck by his assertion "education is much more than the classroom;". From personal experience I can say that the interaction in activities outside the classroom be it Rugby, Transport Society or foreign trips was at least as important in my development as the formal teaching.

Bird said...

As an ex teacher and head, I'm embarrassed by Gummer's post.
But union activists have embarrassed their colleagues for as long as I can remember.
Those who go off to conferences and spout far left political lines are generally from the secondary sector and quite often are Trots.
The NUSWT used to be a moderate union. The firebrands joined the NUT. I must say, most of my colleagues in the NAHT were right of centre, possibly because they had to keep the show on the road. I'm a little out of touch now.

Bardirect said...

Teaching used to be regarded as a vocation. When did it become a "profession"?

The true professions have always had obligations to regulate themselves, only quite recentlty modified by statutory regulation, for the protection of the public is in the interests of any profession.

Teaching is still an exception to this. Teaching assistants who inform parents that their child was assaulted are sacked. Teachers and heads who covered it up remain in post.

Aston Read Limited said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Richard said...

I was a secondary teacher for 18 years and briefly a member of NASUWT, until I was thrown out for ignoring an 'instruction' to strike. They are, of all the teaching unions, the closest to the old-fashioned Trades Union idea. They are there for the interests of their members and nothing else. The NUT is highly politicised, ATL (or whatever it is called these days) is genteel and professional, but the NASUWT is, and always was, the Rottweiler of teacher unions. They decide to strike, you strike or you get out. Their members tend to be the blazer-wearing barrack-room lawyer types (and that's just the women). But they are better than the NUT, as they are honest about their aims, and can be debated with on that basis. The NUT have a clear political agenda, very leftie, and cloak it in concern for the 'kids'. Mention 'falling standards' in an NUT meeting, and it's like farting at a perfumiers' convention.

Q said...




COMING SOON ON Iain Dale's Diary:

tapestry said...

Excellent bit of digging from Gummer, this time not a political hole for himself.

He is right to say - what about the customers?

The customers, it seems, are getting fed up with the service. Some teachers are taking their left wing power centralising methods a bit too far, and engaging in psychological methods to brainwash kids.

The suicide clusters take some explaining, but not when you realise what some of the teachers are doing to the kids.


Alexandra said...

Whilst I agree with the sentiment behind your post, at least she acknowledges her members interests. I pay £410 a year for the privilege of being registered and licensed by the General Medical Council (Our purpose is to protect, promote and maintain the health and safety of the public by ensuring proper standards in the practice of medicine). All doctors must do this to work, and consequently the GMC becomes involved if doctors are practicing below the expected standard. A recent one day course involving various aspects of poorly performing doctors did not once mention the responsibility the GMC had to try and help these people. Protecting patients is a hugely important role, but there was no recognition that the doctors who fund the GMC are also entitled to support. Before anyone mentions Shipman, there is considerable doubt that the new system would have prevented the awful events that every doctor abhors.

Logged Off said...

Well I suppose this does go to show that all of the unions are concerned only with feathering their own nest irrespective of who else gets hurt in the process.

It amuses me that they rail against fat cats when their primary objective seems to be personal enrichment through higher incomes for less and less input using any tactic going. They do not occupy any high ground, they are down in the same dirty pit of greed as the rest of us. If only they would admit it.

John East said...

"The company may attempt to give the best service it can to its customers, but if that affects the bottom line, they favour the shareholder's interests over the customers."

Akheloios, either you are talking tongue in cheek here, or you win the "Dumb comment of the month award."
If the latter then your understanding of free markets and capitalism leaves a lot to be desired. In the absense of a monopoly or a cartel then any company that neglects its customers to boost the bottom line soon ceases to have a bottom line because the neglected customers go elsewhere and said company goes bust.
This is exactly why we need vouchers and competition between schools. To get rid of those educational establishments run
for their "shareholders" (loony left members of the educational bureaucracy) who I daresay share your naive understanding of competition.

Charlotte Corday said...

So what's new?

Some years ago I shared a flat with a teacher at a London comprehensive. One day she came home about to explode with anger.

One member of staff taught Italian part-time. Few pupils took Italian O-level (this was some time ago). If they did, it was usually because they had an Italian parent.

The teacher's marriage has ended and she needed a full-time job. So to give her a full-time post, several pupils were TOLD that they were doing Italian lessons. In order to fit this into the schedule, French and English lessons were reduced so that they could study Italian.

The reality was that virtually none of them stood a chance of gaining an Italian O-level. Many of them had only a borderline chance of getting an O-level in French and some were weak candidates for an English Language O-level.

So in order to assist a fellow teacher, the school was prepared to sacrifice the O-level chances of a large number of pupils.

Since when have the teachers' unions put pupils first?

thehoatzin said...

Teachers are pretty much the only sector of society that I can think of who can boast better results year on year. And given the raw material that, you, the rest of society give us to work with, along with the parlous state of buildings and resources, that's quite amazing.

I'm all for performance-related pay. I'd be quids in. And you'd be paying more tax for it.

Bob Piper said...

Yes, for once, Iain gets it right.

Chris Keates lives in the dark ages. The poor woman's longtime partner is none other than Les Lawrence, truly a man from the dark side. Lawrence has been a Tory spokesperson for education on Birmingham City Council since Adam were a lad.

Poor old Gum-drop. He must have been eating those infected beefburgers he was shoving down his kids' throats for a bit of cheap publicity to impress the Old Witch of Finchley. As ever, the dozy sod was too dim-witted to realise his colleagues were all lining up to stab the old bat in the back.

John East said...

Thehoatzin, a few minutes ago I jokingly awarded Akheloios my "Dumb comment of the month award", but I'm afraid that I acted prematurely. I should have waited for your gem of a comment:

"Teachers are pretty much the only sector of society that I can think of who can boast better results year on year."

How many do you think, inside or outside New Labour, believes this crazy claim? OK, I'll give you Gordon Brown, after all we all know the guy is delusional, but here in the real world most of us are well aware that "year on year" improvements result from continual dumbing down, the lowering of standards, and the fiddling of data.

I'll bet, if you were old enough, you also admire the year on year production improvements in the old Soviet tractor factories.

The Purpleline said...

Any profession, where no Teacher is sacked for poor performance, cannot call itself a true profession.

We should use more technology in the classroom I cannot understand why we cannot use the services of video linked teaching between private schools and state schools or between top state schools, where a teacher or school excels in a specific subject,

I am sure a state school would benefit, and more importantly, the pupils would benefit if taught by a top rate Teacher, teaching at a private school, as they would enjoy the same science course and exam.

Perhaps the only way to stop the old bitter class battles that divide our society would be to have interactive classes, specialised subjects, to raise standards.

Costs would not be large and some of the Teachers in the state schools might learn from the experience & vice versa.

I also advocate exchanges of pupils and teachers between state and private schools, for certain subjects. Not compulsory, but choice led and fully funded. So a bright pupil at a state school could swap an afternoon at a top private school to follow a certain course and subsequently a private school pupil could attend a state school, if they so wished for a special subject, such as sports, drama, music. I would like a Teacher to comment on the above proposals. It is something I am interested in pursuing as a private business opportunity..

Bardirect said...

My 8 year old daughter often comments that the reason her teacher has either marked her demonstrably correct homework answers as "wrong" and often incompletely marked is that he is "only a primary school teacher" whereas she aspires to be a doctor/scientist/astronaut!

With such cynicism there is hope for the future.

happyuk07 said...

What? A teaching union putting pupils first? That would be a first!

He could not have been that naive surely? Unions exist to benefit unions, nothing more.

Teachers don't need a professional body. What they COULD do with, in my opinion, is some brute to wave a big stick and get them to do their jobs and teach.

And keep politics and crap like 'An Inconvenient Truth' well out of the classroom.

King Athelstan said...

After 10 years as a member of the preternaturally crap GMB, I've about given up on unions. By the way has anybody ever come across one of the mythical opt-out forms?

thehoatzin said...

Mr East

You're great. You judge my politics and my age from almost no information, your writing is truly awful (those conditionals in that last sentence are awesome) and you are patently unaware of who decides the 'standard' of exams etc. Yet you arrogantly award your 'dumbest post' of the month.

Your idea of vouchers and competition between schools is an advertisement of your ignorance as if it were a virtue.

Perhaps you could refer us all to the fiddled data you mention. If it's so obvious and everywhere, it should be very easy to do so, shouldn't it? Or perhaps some tangible evidence of lowered standards, rather than your gut feeling?

And given the recent calamity of the free market plunging us into unimaginable debt, maybe YOU should try to understand how it works too, and then stop it all going tits-up next time.

You're the last person I'd allow to inflict his dogma onto a child and a wonderful example of someone who decided to stop learing a long time ago because he already knew enough.

Besides, you're just jealous of my paid holidays, sick pay and excellent pension...

John East said...

Thehoatzin, surely it should not be necessary for me to spell out the obvious, but as you requested some evidence of dumbing down in education try the following.

Try for starters this Times article, “Exam regulator Ofqual: science GCSE is dumbed down” for an example from secondary education. (

Perhaps this article covering tertiary education will help, “'Universities are dumbing down': 77% of professors claim pressure to award higher marks has increased” (

I apologise if my "truly awful writing style" upset you, but I’m afraid you will have to make allowance for the fact that I was taught in a British school.

Oh, and one final thing. I’m not sure why you should suggest that I'm jealous of your paid holidays sick pay and excellent pension because these facts were unknown to me before you pointed them out.
Good luck to you anyway. I respect those of us who profit from their talents rather than those who worship socialism and sponge off the state. Even so, I can’t see how bragging about your financial situation furthers your argument.

enquiringmind said...

Interesting that you should bring this up Iain. A week ago I had the dubious privilege of reading a copy of 'Teaching today', the NASUWT's magazine for members (my girlfriend's housemate is a teacher and, for some reason, apparently a member of the union).

Most of the magazine's contents came firmly under the category of "you couldn't make it up", whatever the subject; I may well forward some examples for your enjoyment.

On politics the union says it is 'political[...] but not party political'. But in the wording of a summary of the 3 main parties' policies on teachers' pay & conditions it is perfectly clear where the Union stands. It stands on the side of:
• Labour's guarantee of a 2.3% pay rise in September.
• Labour's guarantee to maintain the School Teachers' Review Body (which recommends the teachers' pay award)
•Labour's commitment to denying flexibility to schools in the matter of individual teachers' pay
•Labour's "Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act" - the act that seeks to ensure schools abide by the national Pay & Conditions Framework.

Anyway, on seeing this blogpost I purloined said magazine from the recycling to bring you this particular example - Chris Keates' comments on the Tories' plans for teacher training. Extracts are as follows:

The Conservative Party's plan to 'incubate' teaching talent has been met with criticism by the NASUWT. [...] Chris Keates condemned the Conservatives' announcement that they will increase support for 'three elite programmes for teacher training' as a thinly veiled route to [...] promote [sic] free schools. [...] Michael Gove MP has announced a substantial increate in support for organisations dedicated to the recruitment and training of Excellent Teachers [...] which will be given the funding they require to expand [throughout] England and into primary schools. Ms Keates said: "It is disappointing that the Conservatives plan to hijack schemes designed by [Labour] to nurture teachers and leadership in schools in a bid to advance their party's vision of elitism in every aspect of education."

The complaint is over the way this will link into Academies and encourage teachers to work with parent groups on the foundation of new schools.

Heaven forfend the idea that increasing funding nationally for the nurturing of Excellent Teachers might actually be worthwhile.