Increasing support and reducing burdens – my speech at the NASUWT Annual Conference – 26 March 2008

It’s a great pleasure to be here today to address my first NASUWT Annual Conference.


So thank you for that kind introduction – and for inviting me to join your Conference guests for dinner last night.


I was also very pleased to be able to spend two hours with a group of delegates last night talking through a number of issues that I know are of concern to you:


– from workload;


– to bullying and harassment of pupils and teachers;


– to increasing the amount of flexibility in the curriculum.


I know that many of the issues we discussed are also reflected in your conference agenda and motions.


And I hope that I will address a number of them in my speech today.


But before I do, let me start by thanking you and your trade union for the hugely constructive and important role you play in the Social Partnership, which had its five year anniversary in January.


As I said just now, there are still real issues to address – issues that concern the whole teaching workforce.


But there is no doubt in my mind that we would not have achieved such progress:


– in workforce remodelling – including introducing PPA time;


– with the changes towards a more fair and transparent pay and rewards system;


– and through a whole host of other measures to assist and support teachers in their challenging role – including drawing attention to the serious issue of cyberbullying;


without the leadership and work of NASUWT.


So I would like to pay tribute to the NASUWT National Executive and National Officers Committee for their great resolve and commitment.


And I know that all of their work is underpinned and informed by the detailed work of the Union’s Salaries and Conditions of Service Committee, under the Chairmanship of Roger Kirk.


But of course, we all know that none of this would have happened without the leadership of Chris Keates.


Like all the best leaders and all good teachers, Chris has always been inspirational; innovative and visionary.


She has done a fantastic job.


And believe me, she doesn’t give me an easy ride.


After we published the Children’s Plan back in December, I saw some analysis based on the number of comments that had been made about it in the press.


You won’t be surprised to hear that I was its biggest champion.


Closely followed by Jim Knight. And then Beverley Hughes.


Nor will you be surprised to hear that Michael Gove topped the list of its biggest critics.


But you might be surprised – some pleased even – to hear that Chris followed him in second place.


And when I asked for more detail on what she had said, the analysis was very revealing.


Because Chris wasn’t criticising our Children’s Plan ambitions:


– to help you unlock the talents and promote the health and happiness of all children, and not just some;


– to back parents as they meet their responsibilities to bring up their children;


– and to build a culture of prevention and early intervention so that no child falls behind.


But she said – sometimes in rather forceful tones – that I can’t – and shouldn’t – expect teachers to do all of this alone.


Not without more help and greater backing from Government.


And she is right.


We have to increase our support and reduce your burdens if we are to make this country the best place for children and young people to grow up.


We need everyone – parents, schools and colleges, health workers, social services, youth offending teams and housing officers – to all take their responsibilities seriously.


And we have to make sure this happens in every community, every school and for every teacher.


Over the last nine months as Secretary of State, I have learnt that it can be dangerous to place too much stock on individual examples.


Not least because every school I visit and every children’s centre I see is always an example of “best practice”.


I’m delighted that there are so many great examples.


But to achieve our ambitions for every child, we have to deliver the investment and support that makes that best practice into common practice.


Early on in my new job, I arranged to spend a day at a secondary school. Only the Head knew I was coming – and I wasn’t spotted at the morning staff meeting.


I spent a day there experiencing for myself the kinds of demands are placed on teachers and teaching assistants.


I sat in on one Year 8 English lesson:


– it was a lower set – and the lesson was about similes and metaphors;


– it wasn’t an easy class – but the teacher doggedly kept order, even though the lesson was persistently disrupted by bad behaviour;


– and the two teaching assistants played a really important supporting role;


– but despite the provocation, that teacher kept the class’s interest and helped them learn – in that case with the help of sherbet lemons; one for each pupil – what does it look like? What does it feel like? What does it remind you of? And finally, what does it feel like when you bite it?


After 40 minutes, I was exhausted just from watching from the back of the classroom – yet that was the fifth lesson that teacher had taught that day.


She did a brilliant job juggling those conflicting demands with such skill.


Just like many of you do each and every day.


Since I began this job, I’ve visited over 50 schools and colleges.


And from all those visits, from the hours of discussions I’ve had with Chris and with many of you and from our Children’s Plan consultation, I know how driven you all are to help every child achieve their best.


And I know how important the issues are that NASUWT campaigns for – because these are the ways in which you need support to do the best for every child so they can fulfil their potential.


And that means:


– fair pay and good working conditions;


– excellent training and development;


– a curriculum that engages and motivates every pupil;


– effective discipline so teachers are able to focus on teaching;


– and children’s services that give you the support you need with problems that come from beyond the school gate.


And I would like to talk about each of these today.


So first – fair pay and conditions.


I know we ask a lot of you.


And I will never lose sight of the demands we place on you.


If you are going to do the best for all the children and young people in your schools, you need to have a reasonable workload and be able to focus on teaching – and not other tasks.


The National Agreement was a big step forward for teachers, and for children and young people, because it’s about both raising standards and tackling workload.


It was a great achievement for the Social Partnership – with NASUWT a leading member – and it has made a real difference in most schools.


But I have seen your workload survey and I take the issues it raises very seriously.


Expectations are rising all the time, and as committed professionals, you want to do the best for all your pupils.


But too often that can lead to long hours.


There’s no easy solution to this.


We must continue to bear down on unnecessary burdens, keep on improving the support available to teachers and make sure that teachers get the resources they need.


But all teachers should get the benefit of their statutory entitlements. Together, we have made real progress – and many schools are implementing the National Agreement well. But it’s not right:


– if teachers are being required to cover for absent colleagues during their PPA time;


– if teachers are still invigilating external exams;


– or if they are still carrying out routine administrative tasks like chasing up pupil absence.


And if you are not getting your statutory rights, I want to know about it. Government, NASUWT and the other partners are all in this together – and we all need to take our responsibilities seriously.


Where there are problems, the best place for them to be resolved is at the local level, and I know that many of you have worked hard to do this.


My Department has been working closely with NASUWT to strengthen the issues resolution process – and we will continue to do so.


But now, as a priority, I want the partnership to focus on:


– identifying and tackling cases where teachers are being denied their contractual rights;


– and looking carefully at the findings of your survey and discussing in the partnership how best to address the issues raised at both a national and local level.


It’s only by working together that we can do the best for all children and families, with fair conditions and a reasonable workload for every teacher and head.


And let me be clear, while the number of pupils per teacher and per adult in schools has fallen in both primary and secondary schools over the past 10 years with average class sizes well below 30, we must continue to make sure schools have enough resources to support the best possible teaching and learning.


Because this is the only way to make sure that pupils are given the attention they need and classes are manageable for teachers.


And your pay must be fair.


That is why I accepted the recommendations of the School Teachers Pay Review Body earlier this year. I’m committed to fair pay that continues to attract the brightest and the best into teaching, and rewards you fairly throughout your career.


And I want to match this with support and training – from initial teacher training to our new Masters degree in teaching and learning.


Which takes me to my second theme – excellent training and development.


Ofsted may not always be popular at union conferences – but they have said we have the best generation of teachers ever.


And it’s only if you can all make the most of your talents that you can be the best for all children and young people.


So we need to:


– keep on attracting the best people into the profession


– keep on improving the quality and relevance of the training you receive;


– and make sure that all newly qualified teachers get the support they need during induction;


I take seriously the concerns NASUWT has raised about induction.


All newly qualified teachers should receive the personalised support and the reduced timetable to which they are entitled.


It’s not acceptable for newly qualified teachers to lose this entitlement to provide cover.


So we will work with NASUWT on revised induction guidance to clarify these entitlements.


And we will explore with you what more can be done to improve induction.


And that will include how we can best link it to the new Masters in Teaching and Learning qualification that NASUWT is helping us develop.


I’m really excited about this new qualification – it’s a massive opportunity for teachers.


I’ve already said that we will cover the costs both to teachers and to schools.


My ambition is that all teachers will gain the masters at some point in their career.


If we get it right, it could transform the status of your profession and raise still further the quality of teaching and learning across the country.


But as well as fair pay and conditions, and excellent training and CPD, you also need a curriculum that engages and motivates all your pupils – which takes me to my third theme.


Before I started this job, I met with a group of secondary school teachers in my constituency.


We were talking about why our area had lower staying-on rates in education compared to other parts of the country.


They said that too often the curriculum they were teaching to classes of 13,14 and 15 year olds just wasn’t interesting enough to keep them engaged and make them want to learn – and that it was so rigid they couldn’t change it.


And because of this, motivation slipped and results suffered.


I believe our Key Stage 3 curriculum reforms will provide the greater flexibility you need to keep pupils engaged.


And I’m really excited by the opportunity that our new Diplomas offer – motivating all young people by providing a combination of practical and theoretical learning.


I am really encouraged by the strong level of support they have attracted so far. Around three quarters of secondary schools and nine out of ten colleges will offer Diplomas from September 2009.


And this gives us a once in a generation opportunity to finally tackle the pernicious divide between academic and vocational learning that has existed in this country for so long.


But getting the right curriculum must start at the beginning of learning.


That is why I have asked Sir Jim Rose to review the primary curriculum – to create more space for basic learning.


But to teach successfully and achieve this, you not only need a really engaging curriculum, but a class that is not disrupted by bad behaviour.


Which brings me to my fourth theme – good discipline so that teachers can focus on teaching.


The 2005 report from the Practitioners Group on School Behaviour and Discipline, chaired by Sir Alan Steer and on which NASUWT was represented, marked a major step forward in identifying how to promote positive behaviour.


I’m grateful that Sir Alan is here today – and I know that he met some of you last night.


After his 2005 report, we passed legislation to implement the report’s recommendations for new powers for schools, teachers and heads.


As a result, schools were given clear statutory powers to discipline children and impose sanctions for breaches of school rules – including the power to confiscate personal items being used inappropriately or maliciously and the power to discipline pupils for bad behaviour while they’re on their way to and from school.


But I know you are concerned that these powers are not yet being fully used and there is more to do, which is why Chris has repeatedly impressed upon me the need to give teachers the support they need to maintain good discipline.


In our Children’s Plan last December, I asked Sir Alan Steer to review the progress made in the last two years, and to advise on any new issues that need to be addressed.


I am today welcoming his interim findings.


His report reflects Ofsted’s view that almost all schools succeed in establishing satisfactory or better than satisfactory standards of behaviour.


So I want to pay tribute to your professionalism and success in rising to those challenges.


As teachers on the front-line, you face continual challenges in maintaining good standards of pupil behaviour – both in dealing with general low level disruption and with the minority of badly behaved pupils.


And Sir Alan will continue to look at what more can be done to promote good behaviour.


There are four areas where I think it is right to go further now:


– cyberbullying


– behaviour partnerships


– alternative provision


– and parent support advisors.


I will take each in turn.


  1. Cyberbullying


Bullying in all its forms is unacceptable. And we will do all we can to prevent it.


We already give schools advice on the practical measures they can take to tackle bullying, including homophobic and cyberbullying.


And we will shortly provide a new curriculum resource pack called ‘Let’s Fight It Together’ – produced in conjunction with internet service providers.


But even before last week, NASUWT had already drawn attention to the impact of cyberbullying on teachers and staff with its national campaign on the issue.


I am clear that cyberbullying of teachers should be treated as a serious disciplinary offence.


I want teachers to be confident about reporting it to heads and – where appropriate – to the police.


And I want heads to be confident that the law enables them to punish such behaviour – even when it takes place off school premises.


We have made this clear in the Departmental guidance to schools on cyberbullying issued last September.


But I believe we need to take further action.


So I have asked the Cyberbullying Task Force – under Kevin Brennan’s chairmanship and with NASUWT, the other social partners and internet service providers – to urgently consider how to go further to tackle cyberbullying and harassment of teachers, including:


– what more we can do to ensure all school staff and heads are aware of the powers available to them and use them;


– and what further actions we should take, working with industry, to ensure in all schools we can stamp out abuse of teachers with anti-bullying policies that protect all staff from cyberbullying.


I have asked the Task Force to report its conclusions to me by July.


  1. Behaviour partnerships


Schools need support from each other to improve behaviour.


Sir Alan’s 2005 report recommended that all secondary schools should work in partnerships to manage poor behaviour.


Almost all secondary schools are now working in these partnerships.


But as Sir Alan says, just a few schools not co-operating in an area can undermine their effectiveness.


So I accept his recommendation that all secondary schools – including academies – and all pupil referral units should now be required to be in these partnerships.


And I have asked Sir Alan to now look in more depth at how these partnerships are working and how to spread best practice across the country.


iii. Alternative provision


One key role for behaviour partnerships is to deliver effective early intervention and high quality alternatives to mainstream school so that young people at risk of exclusion or truancy to get back on track before the problem gets out of hand.


Many of these children are amongst the most vulnerable – with 80% having special educational needs.


I am determined not to stand back and let these children fail.


Pupil referral units are helping but the overall quality of alternative provision is not good enough. I will therefore be publishing new proposals in a White Paper in the summer and legislating at the earliest opportunity.


And just as we have strengthened accountability in mainstream schools – with our National Challenge to lift all schools above the threshold of at least 30% of pupils getting five good GCSEs including English and Maths by making sure local authorities have a plan for every school that is not yet on an upwards trajectory – so we will make local authorities accountable for the results of pupils in alternative provision too.


  1. Parent Support Advisors


As well as partnerships between schools to tackle poor behaviour, we need partnerships with parents to foster good behaviour and a culture of mutual respect.


The vast majority of parents take their responsibilities seriously and ensure their child behaves well inside and outside of school.


Sir Alan has welcomed the development of Parent Support Advisers, who offer high quality advice with parenting and provide support for parents and their children at the first sign of any social, health or behavioural problems.


We need to ensure that Parent Support Advisers are targeted where the most help is needed.


And I have also asked Sir Alan to give further thought to what more can be done to reinforce parental responsibility so all parents play their proper role in the next stage of his review.


Because just as teachers can’t do their job without support, so schools can’t tackle all the barriers to learning on their own – and this is my final theme.


Because children are only at school or college for around 14% of their time – overcoming all the barriers to teaching and learning means putting schools at the centre of excellent integrated children’s services.


And let me be clear, none of this is about turning teachers into social workers or housing officers.


Nor is it about piling up additional responsibilities on schools without making it easier for them to get the help they need.


But it is about schools building stronger partnerships with other services – often co-located – and being confident they can call on them when needed.


Because while some of you have good relationships with your local health services, youth centres, police stations and sports facilities, others have also felt it’s more difficult than it should be to maintain reliable relationships and get specialist help when you need it.


In some areas – such as safeguarding – we have made real progress.


But a child is still at risk of underachieving at school because of mental health problems or because they have trouble at home that’s preventing them doing their homework.


I know about the work that NASUWT has done on CAMHs.


I announced an independent review of CAMHs as part of the Children’s Plan. A call for evidence will be made next month and I would strongly encourage NASUWT to take part.


Because, as our Children’s Plan makes clear, it is only with teachers and schools, children’s services and Children’s Trusts, parents and government all playing their full part and accountable for what they are doing, that we can make this the best place for children and young people to grow up.


You all make such a difference every day.


And every day I know many of you feel frustrated that you could be making an even bigger difference if only you had the support you need.


The truth is that we can’t solve every problem overnight.


But with the right support and in partnership with all the social partners and the wider community, we can continue to do our best for every pupil, in every school, in every community.


As the UK’s largest teaching union, you have a huge role to play in helping us to achieve our ambitions.


So I look forward to building on the work we’ve done over the last nine months to do so in the months and years to come.


Thank you.

Posted November 26th, 2015 by admin