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National Education Union (NEU) Independent Schools Conference 2017
Concern over workloads ‘becoming unbearable’
Towards the end of last year, a hundred NEU school
representatives attended the Independent Schools Conference.
Held at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel, Tower of London, it was the  rst following the amalgamation of ATL and NUT. John Richardson, National Of cer for independent schools, reports...
 Centre piece of the morning was a lively panel discussion of questions from the audience. On the panel was Dr Mary Bousted, Joint General Secretary, NEU; Richard Harman, General Secretary, Association of Governing Bodies of Independent Schools; and Ed Dorrell, Head
of Content, Times Education Supplement, Nicky Powell, Founder & Director, Primary Matters.
So, what would Mary Bousted do if she had a magic wand? What does Ed Dorrell believe is a signi cant bellwether on the TES website? What does Nicky Powell believe to inhibit innovation and raising performance? And who believes that every child should have a “surrogate parent fairy”?
Given a magic wand to do one thing to improve education, Mary
would end child poverty, which research shows is the singular most important factor in educational achievement.
Articles on workload on the TES website are the bellwether, as Ed Dorrell explained, they always get more hits than any other topic.
There was broad agreement that league tables can corrupt school focus. From a school improvement perspective, Nicky Powell, expressed the concern that league tables inhibit innovation and performance improvement.
Were he to be given one, Richard Harman would use his magic wand to give every child a “surrogate parent fairy” to ensure that their voice is heard, their needs met and to level the playing  eld.
The panel’s experience, expertise and different perspectives was much appreciated, as Fiona Etherington, Surbiton High School, commented, “Loved
the spectrum of responses. Participants were really interesting to listen to and clearly very knowledgeable”.
In her General Secretary address, Mary informed conference that the NEU membership in the independent sector now numbered approximately 30,000.
She made the persuasive case that NEU was a truly modern education union, warmly welcoming into membership all staff working in schools and colleges. The NEU embodies the ethos of “the whole school”, a spirit held dear in the sector.
A key concern of Mary’s speech was that many teachers’ workloads have become unbearable, driving them from the profession. A shocking statistic is that less than half of secondary school teachers (48%) having been in teaching for more than ten years.
Mary highlighted the critical observation of Dr Rebecca Allen, Director of EducationDataLab, that the ‘audit culture’ in schools has intensi ed workload over the past 15 years.
Today teaching is no longer a private endeavour that takes place in a classroom. Now teachers are required to create a paper trail that proves learning has happened, for people who were not present in the room at the time.
The solutions? School leaders need to understand that they can’t audit teaching and learning. The tools and the evidence simply don’t exist. Teaching must become do-
able and compatible with having a family. It can be done, and without compromising learning.
In the afternoon sessions, members had the opportunity to discuss with colleagues practical issues in the classroom and workplace.
In the session, ‘Inspiring Schools in service of society’, Justin Blake, NEU contact and Head of Social Responsibility at Windlesham House School, led discussion
on school culture, values and leadership. This session included useful resources and national initiatives to support and inspire, such as Step Up to Serve and
the WE Movement and INSPIRE. Co-facilitator was Nicky Powell, Founder and Director of Primary Matters a leading practitioner supporting school improvement.
In the ‘Legal Update’ seminar, Jayne Phillips, NEU (ATL section) Deputy Head, Legal Member Services, gave an overview of
recent legal developments, while John Richardson, National Of cial, independent sector, focussed on charitable status and public bene t.
Richard Vanstone, Secretary ATL Bath and NE Somerset, and Jennie Bremner, National Of cial for the independent sector led the session on ‘what does the new union mean to you?’ Richard drew on his experience of more than 30 years working in two large independent schools, Dulwich College and the Dollar Academy.
The two main “water-cooler” topics of conversation were meaningful staff engagement
and the increasing use of pay benchmarking by employers to try to justify pay cuts. The latter being the topic of a motion from IPSAG to Annual Conference last Easter.
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