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At the Association of Teachers and Lecturers last-ever Annual Conference
Fundamental importance of professional autonomy
Just before Easter, delegates gathered in Liverpool, one last time, for the ATL annual conference. The decision, taken by members the month before, to form a new union, the National Education Union, meant that it was the last ever ATL Conference. Union of cer for the Independent School sector John Richardson reports...
ATL’s president Shelagh Hirst
opened the conference outlining her presidential themes, Hope, Health and Happiness. Re ecting on her 40-year career as a teacher, Shelagh commented,
“I loved it, and my hope of
making a difference to a child’s
life, academically, socially and emotionally through education was always realised.”
She explained that it is the preservation of the ability of educational professionals to make a difference that motivates her union work. Shelagh listed key issues impinging on this ability including workload, funding, baseline and primary assessment, recruitment and academisation.
Shelagh said that her personal motivation was shared by many
ATL members. And the reason that members voted, together with their colleagues in the NUT, to create
a new bigger union, the National Education Union. Shelagh expressed her excitement on this new ‘big adventure’.
ATL General Secretary Mary Bousted gave her usual authoritative analysis of the education scene. One of
her themes being the fundamental importance of professional autonomy to pupil attainment.
Mary argued that a teacher or school leader with professional autonomy should be able to say ‘no’, or ‘It’s not a priority’, or ‘perhaps, but not yet’. In one small example, teachers are told that they must mark in three colour pens, and often write more
in their marking than their students have written in their work. Teachers should be able to say “no - there’s not a jot of evidence that marking
in three colours improves pupils’ work, so I am making a professional
decision not to do it.”
From the micro to the macro, Mary
highlighted some of the signi cant challenges education faces, such
as the crisis in teacher recruitment caused by the toxic combination of excessive workload and pay austerity. She said that a graphic illustration
of the drain of experienced teachers leaving the profession now meant that in England half of teachers (52%) have less than ten years’ experience.
But, despite the challenges, there
is great cause for optimism in our enhanced ability to redress these issues. The future belongs to our new endeavour. Mary commended members “... on voting so clearly to do something really dif cult and daring... to stop being ATL and, with the NUT, to become the NEU. Because, ATL members recognise that, divided, unions can do something, but together we can do so much more.”
Kevin Courtney, General Secretary NUT, also spoke of the success that ATL and NUT members can enjoy together, citing the strategic alliance in the pension campaign in 2011. Amongst other things, Kevin pointed to the success members achieved in retaining the right of teachers working in the independent sector to join the Teachers’ Pension Scheme.
As part of the conference programme, members working
in the independent sector gather to discuss issues pertinent to
their sector. Members discussed current headlines but the focus of the discussion was what the new union means to members in their workplace.
Varshini Rajkumar, member of ATL’s Independent & Private
Sector Group, IPSAG, said the impetus around the new union was attracting new members enticed
by the prospect of having a greater voice to in uence the things that really matter to them at school.
In terms of the approach of the new union, Geoff Pye, Executive member for Essex and teacher
at Brentwood School, said the
ATL members have led in the independent sector and that he was con dent that this approach would continue.
Richard Vanstone, Avon branch secretary, and former teacher at Dulwich College and the Dollar Academy, Scotland, added that
the new union was based on realism and a changed political environment. He extolled the
great work that ATL has done,
and will continue to do as NEU,
in representing members. He also emphasized the bene ts that this brings for Heads and schools, in preventing problems arising and resolving them as painlessly as possible when they do.
And of course, there were many other discussions and debates, with members sharing their independent sector perspective.
Outside the debating chamber, there were numerous break-
out sessions, CPD opportunities
and fringe meetings. Amongst other things members discussed Cultivating Curiosity, Children’s Mental Health, T-Levels, Preparing for the Press, Working Memory, Mindfulness, and School Libraries. These sessions provide the opportunity for members to
learn from each other. Sharing of experience from all sectors enriches the overall understanding and good practice. In the discussion on Trans people in Education, Kester Brewin, Sydenham High School, GDST, commented,
“This is a really important issue, long marginalised. In our school, we have some really illuminating and inspiring presentations to both staff gatherings and students,
led by LBGT+ pupils. Pupil-led education, supported by af rmative policies within the organisation, is the progressive way forward.”
And the individual efforts of lead and active members was recognised. Outstanding IS rep was awarded
to Elizabeth Lampard, Abbotts Bromley School, Staffordshire for her work on behalf of members
in her school, local branch and nationally on IPSAG. Also, highly commended in the outstanding rep’s category, was Colette Gissane, St Albans High School for Girls.
Outside the conference hall, delegates were taught a lesson by pupils from Sacred Heart primary school in Liverpool.... on the chess board! Supporting the conference motion to recognise chess as a mind sport, Chess in Schools & Communities, organised a lunch time chess match. Unfortunately, the experience and guile of the ATL members proved no match to the disciplined concentration of youth, as the pupils effortlessly ran out champs! In the foreground playing chess is Geoff Pye, ATL Essex Executive member and teacher at Brentwood School. Photo courtesy Sarah Turton
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