Teaching unions: Around the Easter conference halls

Written by: Dorothy Lepkowska & Jessica Morgan | Published:
Debate: Teachers from the NASUWT, NUT and ATL met at their respective annual conferences during the Easter period. Delegates from the ATL event, which took place in Liverpool, are pictured (Image: Sarah Turton)

The NASUWT, the National Union of Teachers, and the Association of Teachers and Lecturers all met for their respective annual conferences during the Easter period, with teachers debating a range of issues. Alongside their special reports (see below) Dorothy Lepkowska and Jessica Morgan round up some of the highlights

NASUWT: Online abuse

A third of teachers have fallen victim to online abuse from pupils and parents over the past year, yet the majority of schools have no guidelines in place to support them, according to a study.

The report, published by the NASUWT during its annual conference in Manchester, found that in almost half of cases no follow-up action was taken. More than a third of teachers stopped using social media to protect their privacy.

While 83 per cent of the 1,507 respondents said their school had social media policies in place, 68 per cent said these did not contain any references to supporting staff.

Teachers most frequently received abuse on Facebook (48 per cent), followed by RateMyTeachers (29 per cent), and Snapshot (22 per cent). The abuse consisted mainly of abusive or insulting comments about appearance and professionalism. In 38 per cent of cases, pupils posted pictures or videos of teachers without consent.

One teacher reported that a pupil wrote about her on social media that “all I ever do is talk about male sex organs”. She added: “I am a biology teacher and only teach this as part of the syllabus.”

Another described how pupils set up a fake Facebook account in the name of the headteacher, and used it to post racist comments.

It is not just pupils who are using social media to abuse school staff. Half of respondents to the survey said parents had posted inappropriate or insulting comments to or about them, usually on Facebook. These included threats of assault and making public allegations of complaints without first going through the appropriate channels.

Almost one in three cases of online abuse against teachers went unreported because teachers had no confidence that they would be taken seriously. Of those who did complain, 92 per cent did so to school leadership but less than a quarter felt their complaint had been adequately dealt with.

One teacher was falsely accused by a parent of hurting a child, which led to hundreds of comments about what should happen to the teacher, including death threats.

Chris Keates, NASUWT general secretary, said: “The findings paint a shocking picture of what is happening in our schools, where on a day-to-day basis teachers are getting no support despite being subjected to appalling levels of online abuse. Most worryingly, it appears that rather than setting a good example some parents think it is acceptable to abuse and threaten teachers online.”

She urged ministers to put more safeguards in place to protect teachers and pupils from online abuse.

ATL: SEND

Pupils with SEN and disabilities are being excluded so they don’t affect schools’ GCSE results and league table rankings, teachers have claimed.

Delegates at the annual conference of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) heard how vulnerable pupils were being “swapped” by schools and moved from one to another, with a minimum of understanding between teachers of their needs and challenges.

One teacher, who witnessed a meeting between school leaders with a view to swapping challenging pupils, said the manner in which SEND pupils are treated “borders on cruelty”.

Meanwhile, Karam Bales, a delegate from Berkshire, said some pupils were being “callously written off” by schools. Teaching assistants who would once have worked with these students were being deployed in other parts of the schools to cover shortage areas, he said, rather than supporting SEND students.

Where schools swapped pupils, heads often neglected to pass on details of the child’s needs or schools were misled on the challenges faced by the pupil. Delegates heard that SEND pupils’ needs were often not met because schools did not want to devote scarce resources to having them assessed, in case they required specific interventions. It was easier, therefore, to describe the children as “naughty” or badly behaved than to establish what they needed to access the curriculum.

The conference voted overwhelmingly in favour of commissioning research into instances of abuse of the exclusions system, where pupils are removed from rolls at examination or other times. The ATL will now carry out this work.

Trevor Cope, a teacher from Devon, said that when GCSE included coursework, then SEND pupils had a chance of passing the examinations. Now schools were “getting rid” of students who might fail.

“Some of my students would never be able to pass these examinations, so what does a headteacher do? He thinks, I’ll get rid of them from the examinations by excluding them,” Mr Cope said. “These pupils have a right to an education. It is not fair.”

Rob Groome, a teacher from Norfolk, said there were currently 105 children in his region who were not in the education system because there was no provision for them. He said he had heard of schools “excluding pupils who are high risk because they are not going to hit their Progress 8 targets”.

Mr Groome said league tables were putting pressure on schools and without them students would have better life chances.

NUT: Grammar schools & selection in education

A teaching union has said it will seek legal action to stop grammar streams from being set up in non-selective schools.

The National Union of Teachers (NUT) has written to education secretary Justine Greening threatening a judicial review.

The union says it has evidence of some academy trusts advertising for pupils to join grammar streams within their schools.
Streaming by ability is permitted within schools, but the NUT says these practices go much further, effectively creating a wholly separate grammar stream within comprehensive schools.

The NUT says any selection by ability is unlawful after the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 prohibited the expansion of partial selection. Solicitors’ letters have been sent to schools with grammar streams asking them to provide information on these practices.

NUT general secretary Kevin Courtney refused to name the schools in question and said the union will challenge Ms Greening’s plans for grammar schools as set out in the government’s Green Paper last year.

The Green Paper sets out the plans for the creation of new grammar schools but also includes the idea of trusts of schools being encouraged to establish centres for their most able pupils.

Mr Courtney said: “We know the government has no manifesto backing for grammar schools. If the government has legislated not to have grammar schools, there shouldn’t be ways of sneaking around it. That’s what we think schools are doing at the moment.

“The NUT will be investigating possible legal routes to challenge the expansion of selective education and will continue to campaign for a good local comprehensive school for every child.”

Clive Romain, the union’s senior solicitor, said schools could be “subject to court action” if they were in breach of admissions procedures.

He told SecEd: “When parents send their children to what they understand is a comprehensive school and they then learn that in fact there is a particular grammar stream, which is created from a certain group of children who then, throughout their whole school career, are in that privileged grammar stream … they can be quite understandably concerned about that.”

At the time of writing, Ms Greening is yet to respond to the union’s letter.

NUT: The Juhel Miah incident

The teacher who was escorted off a flight to America while on a school trip with his pupils says the US embassy has denied the incident ever happened.

Juhel Miah, a maths teacher at Llangatwg Comprehensive in Neath, spoke at the National Union of Teachers’ annual conference in Cardiff during Easter. He described to delegates the incident, which took place in February and made national headlines.

Flying with his pupils and three other teachers to New York via Iceland, Mr Miah described how he was stopped at every security check before boarding the plane. However, as he was settling his students onto the flight he was then asked to leave the plane. He said: “I thought it was a joke and asked on what grounds they were denying me access.”

Since the incident, Mr Miah has continued to ask for an explanation as to why he was taken off the flight and told the NUT’s annual conference that the last correspondence he had from the US Embassy stated that the incident didn’t happen.

He said: “The last email I had was from the American Embassy and the very last paragraph says: ‘Mr Miah has never applied for a visa, nor has he ever been denied entry to America.’

“What was I meant to say to that? I’ve got plenty of footage of me being escorted off the plane, I’ve got an ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization). Even though I’ve got every proof, every document needed – these are the people I’m dealing with.”

Mr Miah said that he was concerned about the impact the incident might have on his pupils: “What a message that was to the children on my flight. The hardest thing for me was to go back to school. I was dreading what they were thinking. Thank God they know who I am.

“What I hate is that I was taken away from doing my job, there were nine boys I was in charge of – and I was taken off without being given a reason. I’m going to try and get an explanation."

More from the union conference halls

For more reports from the debates at the ATL, NASUWT and NUT annual conferences, which all took place during the Easter period, see:


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