National Education Conference 2012 Report

National Education Conference Report by Sarbjit Dhariwal

“Speaking up for schools” 13th-15th July 2012

Welcome and Introduction to NEC and Presentation of Fred and Anne Jarvis Award to Melissa Benn

Speaker Christine Blower, General Secretary NUT

Christine Blower said the conference was a “Jewel in the NUT Crown.” She said we should be promoting the values of education and teaching as an attractive job and it should be a time to be standing up for values but unfortunately it is becoming a titanic struggle particularly with the new teacher’s standards document which is depressing. She referred to Melissa’s book “School Wars” which was published September 2011. She said she had worked tirelessly to make sure the values of comprehensive education are at the forefront of education. In the autumn the NUT will publish the new statement for education, which will set out clear values and how they will work in the classroom.


On Our terms: Renewing the Battle for State Education

Speaker Melissa Benn state education a campaigner and author of School wars: The Battle for State Education

Melissa Benn said she had gained a lot of flack for writing School Wars. In the last year there had been lots of changes and the govt had used their powers speedily and ruthlessly – she called it GOVErnment. She said the DFES website uses propaganda to reshape state funded education. Govt seeks confrontation at all levels and is now saying 30,000 governors are seeking self-satisfaction in their roles. The government changes the goal posts all the time and will definitely privatize schools with our society moving to be Americanized. The climate is that teachers are to blame but she stated no schools are perfect and there seems to be no opposition to Gove’s plans by the Labour government because it seems they believe the comprehensive narrative is old fashioned. There needs to be resistance to Govt plans on education and we need to meet coalition on own ground.

She stated that a way forward was to challenge the notion that Academies were better than local schools and in fact research shows that maintained schools come out better. It should be about all children being given the best education not streaming. She reported that the 1st 24 Free Schools take lower percentage of FSM children. The resistance to Gove is growing with head teachers angry. Need national movement with a “common sense voice” (suggested Roan Williams?????)

This could be done by

            •           Acknowledging the case for reform honestly - education should be run by the state not be a business.

            •           Showing comprehensives in a modern light

            •           Use Free Schools and Academies to our own advantage to show selectivity. This could be presented pictorially.

            •           Need to stress the principles of comprehensive education i.e. always based on sound education principles

            •           Using the international system i.e. learn from Finland and international scene

            •           Conducting conversation on own terms – use school improvement through collaboration not through competition

She said a different vision needs to be argued for which is not divisive. We need broad and balanced curriculum, well resourced schools and suggested untaxed amounts from bankers go to resource schools! She said if teachers weren’t happy children wouldn’t be!

Delegate Ann Jones from Warwick mentioned an increase in culture of fear in schools especially about capability with teachers working in a climate of data led activities.

Melissa said teachers should think about what system of accountability would work.

Gill Goodswin said we have had no support from the press and we need to be able to turn around the speeches Gove makes e.g. the use of some statistics released by academies to prove they are successful and we need to state this is based on previous work before they became an academy.


The Children’s Commissioners’ Inquiry into School Exclusions – A discussion on pupil behaviour and school exclusions.

Speakers John Connolly Principal Policy Adviser to the Children’s Commissioner and Michael McKeon, Advisory Teacher on Social, Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties with the London Borough of Newham’s Children’s Services.


NUT sated that preventing exclusions was the way forward.

John said his role was to be the voice of the child taking into account of UN conventions and said children have a right to a rounded education.

He mentioned they have a right of entry in any setting and to request information from any public body. Who have to give a response.

They looked at exclusions because

            •           It’s the worst thing to happen to a child

            •           Changes in law to remove the right of appeal to review

            •           Only 1 in 7 children’s views said schools were getting it right.

They collected views from OFSTED and data and found

            •           Exclusions sometimes necessary

            •           Schools try to avoid it if possible

            •           Use in extreme cases where nothing else works

            •           Schools were open and transparent

Good practice was shown where schools

            •           Engaged children

            •           Behaviour management was strongly linked with T&L

            •           Excusive ethos

            •           Strong commitment

            •           Co-operative links with agencies/other schools

            •           Strong curriculum

            •           Accurate diagnosis

            •           Where off site strong mainstream links

            •           Support tailored to individual

            •           Provision well resourced and attractive

            •           Child and family involved in decisions.

If they found illegal activity it was due to

            •           Technical breaches

            •           Coercion to ask parents to keep child at home

            •           Academies refuting appeals

John said if illegal exclusions school could be put into special measures. John said if the child is not hurting anyone else or affecting other children’s learning they should not be excluded.

Mike McKeon – Advisory teacher on Social, Emotional and Behavioural difficulties with the London Borough of Newham Children’s Services.

Mike mentioned the impact of pastoral support plans (PSP’s) a school-based program. These

            •           Identify specific targets

            •           Held during the school day

            •           Support provided by parents, school and authority

            •           Reviewed every 2-4 weeks

            •           Pupils identified at risk of permanent exclusion

            •           Aim to promote child’s social inclusion

            •           Input from home, school and authority identified

            •           Recognize students efforts and progress

He stated that exclusions are pressure valves for school.

You must have a PSP before you permanently exclude a child.

Jill Goodwin said to make school leadership and management inadequate rather than put school in special measures if pupils excluded illegally.


Creating Learning Without Limits – an alternative approach to school improvement

Speaker Alison peacock head teacher Wroxham School and Leader Cambridge primary Review National Network.


Alison started by saying there is an alternative from fear and blame and the treadmill – it doesn’t have to be like this.

Hargreaves (1982) argues that ability labeling leads to “destruction of dignity so massive and pervasive that few subsequently recover from it.”

Teachers are so exhausted because they care and nothing is ever good enough and teachers feel they are in the bottom set! It is fundamentally flawed where teachers are monitored to the inch of their lives! She said believe in every child and believe in every teacher – we all respond to encouragement and childhood should be joyous! Everyone should be allowed to be himself or herself because everyone is different.

Her alternative approach is

            •           Built around inclusion

            •           Ethic of everyone

            •           Co agency

            •           Trust

            •           Creative learning through 1st hand experience

It’s about trusting teachers and learning from 1st hand experience and creativity and she has been working with Robin Alexander for last 2 years on Cambridge primary Review. This has been

            •           The most comprehensive study of primary education since the 1969 Plowden Report

            •           A research review of pedagogy, assessment, CPD, childhood, learning and curriculum, school community

            •           A national professional network building a culture of enquiry underpinned by the principles of equity, empowerment, expertise and excellence

The aims of the review were the well being of children, engagement, empowerment and autonomy because this is how children learn best.

She referred to text “Creating learning without limits (2012)” which was a study of teachers who rejected the labeling of children and said don’t label a child as SEN, GT and it was lunacy to do micro leveling.

Also referred to book Drive by Daniel Peak – which said that human being get demotivated by grades.

She said we need to find alternative to providing evidence of skill development – but it is messy as learning isn’t straightforward and we need to create a culture to enable teachers to be more confident.

 The answer is to work in partnership and build expertise. – “expect more, teach better and children will respond.”

DfES won’t use the word entitlement now because with Academies there isn’t any!

She said excellence is about

Caring more than others think is wise

Risking more than others think is safe

Dreaming more than others think is practical

Expecting more than others think is possible

(African proverb)

Delegates questioned Alison about how to support colleagues who are vilified for not putting levels on work and she said A4L not about graded learning but about children saying what their “next steps” are.

She ended by saying lets do everything to make a difference.


‘Creating Readers: More than teaching phonics’

Speaker:  David Reedy, Past President of the United Kingdom

Literacy Association (UKLA) and Principal Adviser for primary schools in the London Borough of Barking & Dagenham        

David was critical of the Y1 phonics test and said becoming a reader is more than just phonics

Successful Primary schools

            •           Have broad and rich reading curriculum and have a balance of phonics, whole word and meaning based approaches to teach children to read.

            •           Are clear that the purpose of reading is to make sense of what is read and reading is not simply just to say the word

Phonics is essential for decoding but it is not sufficient for pronouncing accurately all words and we can’t depend on just one strategy we need many strategies.

Children who monitor their own performance and self correct based on reading for meaning will make greater progress and we need to make reading enjoyable and phonics alone doesn’t do this!

To increase knowledge

            •           Reading environment needs to be physical and social

            •           Teacher should read aloud

            •           Give independent reading time

There are two strands- reading for instruction and reading for pleasure and we need both!

One delegate asked about accents and dialects and David said language is built up in identity but all children should be aware of standard English.

Another delegate asked about Germany and the fact their children start reading at 6/7. David said they are read to a lot more and German is a phonic language.



Finnish School System – a different story’


Speaker:   Laura Nurminen, Member of Executive Board, Trade   Union of Education in Finland,

She said Finland was ranked at the top in PISA and all Finnish children must learn Finnish, Swedish and English. She gave historical background and said after WW2  Finland started to build up education system.

She said education was at the “soul” of Finnish people and all political movements share a positive attitude.

In 1970’s there was total reform.

School starts at the age of 7 and have no private schools, no academies and after 9 years children can go to one of 2 routes, one to university or more vocational training.

High quality education is a right for everyone. Universities are free but there are high stakes.

Teacher training is

            •           University level and need a degree

            •           Research based

            •           Is about developing pedagogical knowledge

            •           Has supervised training

            •           Takes 6 years

            •           Includes diagnostic skills

5% of applicants get into teacher training and most have master’s degree – a higher academic degree. Teaching is a respected profession. Teachers are involved in writing their own flexible core curriculum at school and this means they have ownership. They teach 19 lessons in primary and 30 in secondary and have one union with 95% membership.

Finnish educational key factors

            •           Equal opportunities

            •           Competent teachers

            •           Flexible curriculum

            •           Encourages assessment and evaluation

            •           Has student counseling, special needs education and student welfare team

            •           Has co-operation and collaboration

            •           Teachers are trusted to do their best

            •           Public comprehensive education is inclusive

            •           Free of charge

            •           Every child can go to school in own district

            •           There are no gender specific schools

            •           There are no private schools

            •           No variations between schools – all are good (recognized in teachers nature to do their best)

            •           No standardized tests (have not found good enough reason to have them)

            •           No inspections

            •           Built on trust

            •           Evaluating system is not based on comparing children but one another but to themselves

            •           Accountability is through responsibility

            •           Assessment is ongoing

            •           SEN children have SEN classes within own school

            •           No- one is excluded

            •           People can visit the school at any time and watch lessons


Alex Kenny, Chair of Education and Equalities Committee

Referred to ballot and the organization of it. Said we need to start asserting claim ownership and ourselves and said that because we have 85% of teachers involved in the ballot we can gain some ground. He said to think of what might be possible with Alison’s and Laura’s speeches.

He said this Government is ideological but has no research to back up for example the phonics test. The thread that runs through is lack of trust of teachers and we need a big discussion on this.


We need to share what we have heard this weekend with associations and schools and prepare ourselves for a battle for the future and state education.



Samida Garg, Acting Head of Education and Equalities Department


Samida said what would be happening in the next school year.

She said we need to reclaim the profession and said the campaign against the phonics check will continue will 71% of respondents to the questionnaire saying action should be taken with a possible boycott.

Publications due include Gender stereotypes and 14-19 Reforms.

The NUT will be issuing an education statement soon about what we stand for.

The academies and the free schools campaign will continue


Closing Address Marilyn Harrop, President, NUT

Marilyn said as President she was proud to come from the people, as she was never a Divisional Secretary.

She said thank you to everyone and said the weekend had been a wonderful event.

She said the NUT had made an historical agreement with the NASUWT and encouraged everyone to vote yes in the ballot. She said we had an unrepresented government out of touch with reality and determined to destroy state education and we need to get together on the 20th October on the march in London.

She urged everyone to have a rest over the summer to gain energy for the autumn term.