The Best Education for All

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2006 National Delegate Conference
3 June 2006
Carried as Amended

Conference reiterates its policy and belief that children, families and communities are best served by a secondary system that is comprehensive, free of selection and accountable to local people through Local Education Authorities (LEAs) and condemns the government for effectively turning education (a social and cultural aspect of society) into a market, eroding the potential for collective responsibility and solidarity between individuals in favour of competitive individualism, substituting commercial values for a public service ethos. Education should break down social and economic barriers, not entrench the inequities of past generations.

UNISON has rightly championed unprecedented advances in education achievement over the past three decades – success that has been the direct result of comprehensive schools working in partnership with supportive parents, strong communities and innovative LEAs and local authorities. Conference welcomes the continuing commitment of the Welsh Assembly and Scottish Executive to a school system that is comprehensive, minimises testing children and is seeking to innovate curriculum and qualifications.

Conference is saddened at the prospect of achievement in England being undone by reckless reform. We commend and support the government for attracting people back into the classroom, progressive workforce reforms, innovative teaching, introducing new classroom technology and a renewed interest in school catering.

However, all these accomplishments will be undermined by an obsession with reforms that can only lead to a damaging break down of the school sector. The government is relentlessly pursuing its reform agenda for education through the use of Private Finance Initiative (PFI) and the Building Schools for the Future programme. This agenda reflects its commitment to neo-liberal policies which underpins its approach to public services generally and is already resulting in a mixed economy of schools; the introduction of the market into education and competition between schools; an increased role for the private sector in schools and developing and implementing education policy; a reduced role for local education authorities; lack of democratic accountability. The United Kingdom (UK) is at the forefront of applying the neo-liberal agenda to education and many of these policies will be exported and companies involved in Building Schools for the Future are likely to seek work in developing countries to exploit increased investment in education.

Conference is deeply concerned at elements of the Schools White Paper published in October 2005 and congratulates the work undertaken by members of the Parliamentary Labour Party who have drafted and backed alternative proposals (Reshaping the Education Bill, December 2005). Conference is saddened that a number of MPs in the UNISON group voted with Tony Blair and the Tories in order to pass the Education Bill.

Conference congratulates those members and regions who have developed a co-ordinated response to the government’s Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme, proposals for academies, and the government’s Education White Paper, and notes the recent NUT Conference decision to “explore the circumstances under which national industrial action, up to and including national strike action, could be taken to highlight the strength of opposition to the education bill”.

The proposals contained in the White Paper in relation to “all schools becoming Trust schools”, and a reduced role for the local education authority (LEA) will further enhance the development of a market in education; competition between schools; an increased role for the private sector in running schools and developing and implementing education policy; and a return to selection.

Conference further recognises that New Labour’s education plans are rooted in a discredited system of beliefs that the market and commissioning lead to improvements in public service delivery. Conference further observes that campaigns will only succeed if they challenge the very principle of applying market forces to services whose whole rationale is the use of public money to meet social need in a democratically accountable and responsive way.

Conference therefore calls on the National Executive Council to:

1)support work with parents, students, the trade union movement, those MPs and councillors who are against this government’s agenda of glorifying the market and against the government’s ‘direction of travel’, to campaign against academies where they are going ahead and co-ordinate and support trade union intervention in the BSF programme to maintain services in-house and for school support staff to be directly employed by democratically elected local education authorities; oppose the use of PFI; and argue against private sector involvement in the development and implementation of education policy;

2)ensure publicising and responding to the reform agenda for education is a key aspect of UNISON’s Positively Public campaign with branches and regions providing information to the Positively Public campaign on PFI and academy failures and the achievements or innovations of local comprehensive, maintained schools;

3)provide resources on the positive case for the UNISON vision for schools and credible alternatives to government policy;

4)continue to campaign for the removal of delegated powers for school governing bodies to determine any aspect of conditions of service for school-based staff and for these powers to be returned to the local education authorities;

5)undertake research into the emerging global education market and the implications for developing countries and seek to work with relevant trade unions and other bodies to challenge the neo-liberal agenda.

Conference also calls on:

a)encourages regions to work with the teachers’ unions and regional Trades Union Congress to co-ordinate activity opposing academies, the establishment of trust schools and responding to Building Schools for the Future;

b)branches to initiate and support the building of alliances with like-minded local campaigns in conjunction with other trade unions, parents, governors and so on.