UK: Queen’s throne speech not welcomed by education unions

published 2 June 2015 updated 3 June 2015

Teachers unions in the United Kingdom are fiercely criticising the education policy included in the Queen’s Speech outlining the Government’s mandate as the new session of parliament following the national election officially opened.

NUT: Education problems exacerbated

On 27 May, commenting on the Queen’s Speech, Christine Blower, General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers (NUT) accused the government, run by a Conservative Party majority, of “claiming that it cares about standards” while really carrying out an “extended and accelerated privatisation of our school system”. The NUT is affiliated to Education International (EI), and Blower is President of the EI European region, the European Trade Union Committee for Education (ETUCE).

This Queen’s Speech “entrenches inequality”, said Blower, adding that the free schools already in existence have wasted vast amounts of taxpayers’ money. Such schools were often set up in areas of little or no need while other areas suffer a school place shortage, said Blower; provision for 500 more free schools will simply escalate this problem, she said.

“Head teachers are already in short supply, so the promise to [lay-off] more of them will simply exacerbate the problem,” added Blower in her comments.

Deploring “a generation of stressed pupils, with teachers working 60-hour weeks, too little of which is spent doing work which is of relevance to pupils”, Blower went on to say that accountability is the over-arching issue, and it is currently way out of hand.

“We are testing children within an inch of their lives and the vibrancy and love of learning that should be at the centre of the curriculum is all but lost,” she said.

More testing, more free schools, more forced academies and more pressure – all with less money in education and less money in the other services that support children – is “not the strategy that will give all children in this country excellent outcomes”, she stressed.

Blower also noted that there are alternative school improvement strategies which are better value for money, which facilitate better outcomes for children, and would stem the tide of teachers fleeing the profession.

“Trade unions are an important part of the fabric of this country,” she underlined, adding that working people fought long and hard for the right to be represented fairly and to challenge injustice in the workplace. “To try and legislate to take that voice away is shameful and one which will be challenged,” she warned.

ATL: Teachers’ rights undermined

The Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), another EI affiliate, was also concerned about the content of the Queen’s Speech.

The forced academy programme is policy making without evidence that it will work, said Mary Bousted, ATL General Secretary. There is no proof that academies perform better than other types of schools and there is great variation in the effectiveness of different academy chains, she added.

The announcement that 'coasting schools' will face interventions, including possible forced academisation, is a concern, as the Government has still not defined what a 'coasting school' is, she said.

The extension to the provision of free childcare to offer 30 hours a week for working parents of three- and four-year-olds should be welcomed, as “high quality early childcare is good for children and good for parents”, Bousted said. However, this initiative needs well qualified professional staff, excellent resources, and it cannot be done ‘on the cheap’.

In relation to the strike threshold, she condemned the fact that the Conservatives “are mounting an assault on the right of teachers and other public sector workers to make their views known to employers and to the Government”.

The Conservative Party has consistently refused to discuss ways in which to increase the percentage of trade unionists voting in ballots, and industrial action should always be a last resort, she said, adding that “natural justice demands that it is a realistic last resort”.