Speech to the National Union of Teacher’s Conference

Thank you for the welcome because I think history proves me correct that I’m the first ever Labour Leader to speak to a National Union of Teachers conference.

I do that because I’m very proud to call myself a trade unionist. I’ve been a trade union member all my life and I will be until the day I die.

I’m proud to lead a Party that is campaigning against the Trade Union Bill and the Bill, if it becomes an Act, that we will repeal in 2020. Because strengthening trade union and employment rights is a fundamental human right and strengthens our society altogether.

I want you to know that we will stand up for the trade union rights in every profession, every area and I absolutely admire and value the work of the trade unions in the teaching profession and the National Union of Teachers.

We will be standing alongside you, not just for teachers, but for all education staff; teaching assistants and ancillary staff. Because it’s a team that makes a school work, it’s a team that provides the support and comforts that our children need in schools, and I understand that very well.

Why do I understand it so well? Because my late mother was a maths teacher and a member of the National Union of Teachers.

As a maths teacher she would be much in demand now because [laughter], I’m very well aware of the shortages, but there are one or two pupils around the country that need extra tuition. One of them is George Osborne.

Having just presented to Parliament a Budget that simply doesn’t add up, in fact it has a massive great black hole in it. I think maybe a little extra tuition would be helpful to him. Is anyone offering? Somebody, come on, please?

But, it’s also a very strange Budget because it’s suddenly headed off in the direction of education structures. And then said there was going to be forced academisation of all schools.

Now let’s be clear, this is an ideological attack on teachers and local-parental accountability.

It was nowhere in any Tory manifesto. It’s something that’s just be dreamt up at the last minute and stuck into the Budget.

I want schools to be accountable to their parents and communities – not as a process of asset-stripping our education facilities to be handed over to somebody else.

So the first thing that is always done ahead of privatisation of any services is to attack the skilled staff. So it’s about breaking national pay bargaining, expanding the use of unqualified teachers, driving down pay, driving down terms and conditions, and driving down standards.

There is not a shred of evidence that academies automatically improve standards. There are very real fears about the intentions of a Government and those who pay themselves exorbitant salaries to run academy chains.

Now I don’t suppose there’s too much love in this hall for Sir Michael Wilshaw, but he recently reported to the Education Secretary that focussed inspections in seven of the largest academy chains showed a lack of improvement and in some cases a decline in standards. Quite important observations.

Lucy Powell, our Education Shadow Spokesperson, spoke at your rally in London on Wednesday night to assure you that Labour will be fiercely opposing those plans. And we will.

80% of community primary schools are rated good or outstanding. Taking away local control and accountability is actually just demonstrating how hollow the Tory’s policies on this area of devolution are.

Cutting out local authorities will mean Councils no longer have the power to ensure sufficient school places in their areas.

There is a crisis in our schools now. Children are facing rising class sizes, there is a shortage of teachers and parents already face a crisis in some places in school places.

Forced academisation will do nothing to address any of those problems. Yet in Osborne’s Budget over £600 million has been allocated to a needless re-organisation that has addressed not a single issue that matters to teachers, parents or pupils.

So you see where the priorities are – spending money on a reorganisation nobody wants, to reduce the influence and control of local authorities in order to bring in unaccountable academies. Those are the Tory priorities. There absolutely not ours.

To asset-strip and cut school funding in real terms. There values are absolutely wrong.

Government policies impact in many ways on children and as teachers you deal everyday with the emotional and stress problems that many children face all over the country.

The upheavals in their lives caused by a housing crisis. Caused by having to move very frequently because of high levels of private sector rent and issues like that. You as teachers deal with those problems day in and day out. You feel the stress our children face because of inadequate housing policies in this country. You feel the stress of half a million children living in poverty in this country and over a million families using foodbanks.

There is something very sad when parents ought to be all delighted at the prospect of a school holiday to spend time with their children, possibly to go away. For some families a school holiday is a total nightmare; no longer will the children get breakfast in school, no longer will they get lunch in school, those children are going to have a very hard time because of the poverty of their families.

Not right, not good, not necessary, immoral in modern Britain. We can and should do things differently.

And it’s small wonder that the attainment gap is now wider than when David Cameron became Prime Minister. Disadvantaged children are getting left further and further behind. Social deprivation is holding back thousands of children. Children simply unable to concentrate properly because they arrive at school too hungry to be able to learn properly.

I know of so many of your members, in so many schools, who reach into their own pockets to give children something to eat in order to start the day. I admire you for doing it, but you should have to do it.

And so, in Wales Labour has acted. Bringing in free school breakfast for all primary schools and despite the block grant being cut by over a billion pounds by central Government, the Welsh Government has maintained the meal system and the free breakfast system. I think they should be applauded for that – well done them on having their priorities right.

Children are stressed by their parents’ financial worries caused by job and benefit insecurity and insecurity in housing. Homelessness has risen every year this Government has been in office. Child poverty is forecast to rise every year throughout this Parliament.

This is the fundamental issue. Instead of constructing a market in the education system the Government should be alleviating the obstacles that hold back our children.

A distant Government would also know that the best advice on improving education comes from teachers.

So they should listen to you and alleviate the problems you face.

The pressure of work forced more teachers to quit last year than ever – 50,000 and the Government has now missed its training teacher recruitment targets for the past four years.

This has resulted, as you well know, in half a million children now being taught in classes over 31 in primary schools.

One in four schools are increasing their use of supply teachers. One in six are using non-specialists to cover vacancies. And more than one in ten are resorting to using unqualified staff to teach lessons.

Labour wants to work with you – with parents, with pupils, with local authorities, with our communities to defend education, the principle of education, and stop these plans of forced academisation.

To me, education is a fundamental right for all of us. Those that fought and campaigned for free state education in the 19th century. Those that campaigned more and more for raising the school leaving age and all the other things that we’ve campaigned for. And those that campaigned for free adult education, so that everybody, wherever they come from, whatever their background,

whatever their abilities can make the most of their lives. Can have access to the wonderful body of learning that should be available to everybody.

Surely that it is the principle on which we should approach education policy, not the marketisation and academisation of our education system.

I want to say thank you to this Union for the work it has done. I want to say also, a special and personal thank you to Christine Blower.

She’s standing down as General Secretary in May. She took over at a very difficult time after the death of Steve Sinnett.

And she’s steered this campaign with campaigning vigour and principles.

And it’s been a pleasure to have been with her at so many events, conferences and demonstrations over the years.

I’m sure you all appreciate, as the rest of us do, the huge work that Christine has done. Christine, thank you so much.

I know she’s going to play a huge role in  your Union, the Labour movement, in all the great campaigns that we’re all involved with.

Because when we do things together, when we campaign together, when we work together. When we have that dream and that vision of a decent society where everybody can participate and everyone can achieve. And we don’t have to have the grotesque levels of poverty and inequality in our society, we’re much more effective, much more efficient, much happier society.

Thank you very much.