Strike Talk To Dominate Teachers' Conferences

Niall Paterson, Sky News correspondent
Strike Talk To Dominate Teachers' Conferences

Two of Britain's teaching unions meet this weekend, with strike action high on the agenda.

Teachers, angered at changes to their pay and conditions, look set to vote in favour of further industrial action.

The NASUWT are due to debate the issue in Birmingham, while the National Union of Teachers (NUT) are meeting in Torquay.

Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT, said their conference will be a "referendum" on the coalition Government's performance so far.

"The depth of anger and frustration is evident in the motions balloted by members for debate," she said.

"There has been no respite from the attacks on every aspect of a teacher's working life and this is inevitably taking its toll."

A recent survey of 17,500 teachers by the NASUWT found over half were seriously considering leaving teaching altogether, and almost half felt their professional opinions were not valued.

Most damningly, 97% of those surveyed felt that the coalition's policies would not raise standards of education.

New figures also showed teachers won millions of pounds in compensation last year after accidents, injuries, assaults and discrimination at schools.

The NASUWT secured £12.6m for its members in 2011, almost a 20% increase on the 2010 figure of £10.5m.

The union said the compensation was awarded for successful claims for unlawful deduction of wages, unfair dismissal, breach of contract, constructive dismissal and discrimination on the grounds of sex, race, disability, age and trade union activity.

The NUT, the largest teachers' union, does not release an overall figure for the amount of compensation won on behalf of its members.

However, one of the largest settlements was for a teacher who suffered a brain injury after a pupil hit her in the head with a bus door.

She was awarded £222,215 for injuries, loss of earnings and future losses.

This September will be two years since teachers in England and Wales had their pay frozen, and they would have paid six months-worth of increased pension contributions.

The NASUWT estimates this has reduced the salary of a new teacher by £3,000 and an experienced teacher by over £5,500.

Earlier this week Education Secretary Michael Gove angered teachers' unions by announcing that universities would in future have a key role in setting A-level exams.

Christine Blower, general secretary of the NUT, said: "Yet again we see top-down initiatives being brought into schools regardless of what the teaching profession may think.

"The NUT is very disappointed that Michael Gove has approached Ofqual without consulting the profession as well.

"Not only would it have been courteous it would also, more importantly, have been the most sensible approach."

A source close to Mr Gove told Sky News: "Obviously the unions are hostile to giving the best universities control.

"They want Whitehall to keep control so they can influence the next government to keep dumbing-down exams to pretend everything is fine.

"We intend to make this as hard as possible for them."