1996 was the year in which all political parties declared that education was their number one priority. We were able to see what the present Government meant by this when resources continued to be reduced, class sizes continued to grow, and there was no reduction in the flow of ill-thought out new initiatives, and of moves to turn education provision into a competitive market where some win and some lose, rather than a public service guaranteeing high standards for every child.
All of these problems created much of our work as a local union branch during the year. We had to campaign to protect services and members' jobs. We also had to represent many people whose working conditions and health were affected by the continually increasing pressure on teachers. As the year ends, we are tackling the further insult to teachers that their pension scheme is being raided by the Government in a way that threatens to force most of us to work until 60, when all the evidence is that the job is just too demanding for most people to do this without damaging their health and shortening their lives.
If we look for a positive side to all this gloomy news, it is that the Union itself remains strong and growing in size. We have fought many successful defensive battles. With an election year coming, we are ready to put education on the political agenda in the terms that teachers understand it: anyone who wants to
form the next Government needs to know that the education system is unfair, underfunded and badly organised, and they need to put this right. They also need to know that teachers have put up for as long as they intend to with being denigrated, overworked and underpaid. National Labour politicians will need to appreciate that teachers expect a lot from them.
School Budgets for 1996/97 were cut in real terms yet again - by about 2%. 87 teaching posts were lost as pupil numbers actually rose slightly, and a lot more schools declared deficit budgets. This was after a major campaign by the NUT in the face of cuts of £7 million announced originally. In this campaign we worked together with the newly established Bradford branch of FACE, the parents' and governors' organisation fighting for more resources for education. We also participated in various national activities organised by FACE.
The annual census of pupils in January 1996 revealed that 59 classes in Bradford schools had 35 or more pupils with one teacher - there had been virtually none in 1990.
On October 19th a coachload of teachers, parents and pupils attended the national rally organised by the NUT in London to call for better funding for education. Apart from the coach driver getting lost and forcing us to run to catch up with the back of the demonstration, it was very heartening to see the Union's capacity to produce a genuinely national demonstration, bringing people together from the whole of the country. It was a brave decision to have a demonstration before the budget. The timing was right if we were trying to influence Government decisions, but it meant that we could not rely on the anger that is usually generated later when the bad decisions have been taken, and parents and teachers know how they will be affected. To have so many people attend without this stimulus was proof that the Union is alive and well.
As a Government present in the aftermath of the "riots", Manningham schools were all inspected. The individual reports all classified school performances as good or satisfactory. The proportion of lessons judged in these categories was above the national average for inspections, though the overall report approved by Chris Woodhead did not draw attention to this. The media, geared up for a "shock-horror - failing schools" story, went very quiet on the subject.
The introduction of the grading of lessons on a 7 point scale made OFSTED an even more unwelcome visitor to schools. We continued to issue detailed advice to members in schools about to be visited, and gave support to members in schools judged (for reasons very largely of external circumstances) to be failing. Bradford now has more of these than almost any other LEA - another indication of the very great degree of poverty and social disadvantage in parts of the district, not matched by resources to tackle the consequent problems and needs.
Nursery education came under threat in two ways in 1996. The decision to introduce vouchers threatened the quality of provision because of the way that it effectively reduced funding per pupil and forced changes in the pattern of provision. This threat arose as staffing ratios in many nurseries were already being worsened as a result of budget problems in First Schools. The NUT established an open forum for nursery staff which met regularly throughout the year. We also leafleted to make the public aware of the dangers, attended national and regional demonstrations and rallies, and met Councillors and Officers to discuss the issues. As a result of this sustained pressure, we were able to persuade the Council to make up some of the funding lost by the introduction of vouchers, and head off a planned reduction in nursery staffing ratios.
We, and our colleagues throughout the country, do a lot of work supporting members faced by disruptive and violent pupils and threatening adults. This year we have successfully resisted the reintroduction into schools of pupils whom our members believed constituted a threat to the health and wellbeing of staff and fellow pupils. We do not involve the media because of the problems this can cause for the schools, teachers and pupils concerned.
Thanks in large measure to NUT campaigning, Section 11 funding was extended to August 1998. The Labour Party has also said that it believes funding for the special needs of second language learners needs to be retained. Locally, we have so far successfully resisted attempts to allow the terms of employment of Section 11 staff to be varied school by school.
In the autumn, the Government announced its intention to clamp down on teachers retiring before the age of 60, by changing the regulations and removing some of the funding. It also promised to make it more difficult to obtain ill-health retirement in circumstances where teachers are already being turned down for a pension but being told by their doctors that they are never likely to be fit to work. These are cynical moves, not just to save money on pensions, but also to save money on teacher training, which has been massively cut in anticipation. We have mounted a large campaign against the changes, which continues at the time of writing. It has included a lobby of Parliament, and many Bradford members writing to and visiting their MPs.
We met regularly with local authority officers and councillors on behalf of individual members and schools as well as on general issues affecting all teachers. We are currently negotiating on protecting early retirement in Bradford, drawing up procedures to ensure fair treatment for teachers against whom allegations are made, discouraging and regulating the involvement of agencies in the employment of teachers, and treating teachers with chronic or long-term illnesses fairly. We have represented virtually all of the categories of centrally employed teachers this year, during the seemingly endless process of reorganisation of the Authority's centrally provided services.
We have a very active and well-organised group of Health and Safety Representatives. As well as inspecting schools and getting hazards removed, we have - through Cedric Binns who runs the system - obtained a policy protecting the position of pregnant women at work, improved the reporting of violence and accidents at work, involved the Health and Safety Executive in forcing the reinstatement of a proper staffroom at a school, and played a part in getting Bradford to carry out a pioneering survey on stress in schools.
We held two training courses for school NUT representatives. We have produced more than 20 newsletters for members. The Office has been staffed to allow members with problems or issues to raise to come and see an experienced Officer. We answer dozens of phone calls every day from members, and visit several schools every week at the request of members to discuss issues or raise problems with management.
Bradford delegates to NUT Conference 1996 were among those castigated by our own General Secretary in the media as "rabble rousers and wreckers" and "far left fanatics who have infiltrated the union". We received this treatment for opposing his proposals to restructure the union, and for opposing his strategy on a number of issues, including aspects of the Government's education reforms. On these, we felt that he and the group that supports him were too willing to concede to the Government on the principle of testing at 7, 11 and 14. We produced a special report on the Conference for all members, in which we explained why we had voted the way we did, and pointed out that some of us had been your local officers for 15 years and more so were fairly hard to describe as infiltrators.
We believe very strongly that the Union is only as strong as the will of its members to stand up for their own rights and the rights of the children they teach. This is done by teachers actively participating in the Union. Participation means more than the General Secretary sending out a ballot paper saying, "please endorse my views", without allowing any other point of view to be put. The function of representing members cannot be taken over by highly paid officials engaging market researchers and advertising agencies and firms of chartered accountants to produce reports, and parliamentary lobbyists to carry them into the corridors of power.
For the Union to influence what happens locally and to protect individual members, we need strong local structures.
The latest proposals for union "reform" seem to focus on removing powers and functions from local branches like our own, and we are committed to opposing these. For that reason we supported Gill Goodswen of the Kirklees Association in her successful campaign to be elected to the Membership Participation Working Party.
We lost a lot of active participants in the Union in 1996. Among these, Mike Cody, Chris Day, Phil Grayston and Geoff Whalley all left Committee as a result of retirement, or changes in their careers. We have been fortunate to replace them with new Committee members, although we still have vacant places. We were pleased to welcome back June Russell, following her recovery from ill-health.
Our team of local Officers - Cedric Binns, John Howarth, Sue Hoyle, Miriam Murch and Jane Rendle and our clerical assistant Lynne Thornton - were unstinting in giving their time and energy in supporting members. The pressure that teachers are under is reflected in ever-increasing demands on their time, and the work that they have to do in supporting and representing members has its own stresses. We are very fortunate that we can draw on their experience and commitment. we are also very fortunate that we have so many school and service NUT Representatives, willing to take up individual and collective issues on behalf of their colleagues.
I am now in my 17th year as Bradford NUT Secretary. This is not a post in the Union's full-time structure. Like my role as National Executive member, it depends on re-election, and I am employed and paid as a teacher in Bradford. Carrying out these roles under such an extended period of a Government utterly unsympathetic to teachers has not always been easy or comfortable. To paraphrase the slogan of the Union's pension campaign, it's not really a career. Fortunately it only sometimes seems like a sentence, because I and my fellow officers appreciate the thanks and the support that we get from you. I look forward to representing my colleagues in the better times that we are committed to bringing about.