National Union of Teachers (NUT) general secretary Christine Blower told conference delegates in Brighton the planned academisation of 17,000 state-run schools in England within six years was “wholly unacceptable”.
She commended schools who have already pulled out of controversial baseline testing for four- and five-year-olds, after the NUT passed a motion calling on Education Secretary Nicky Morgan to scrap primary assessments.
Ms Blower, giving her last NUT conference closing speech as general secretary ahead of standing down in May after six years at the helm, also called on members to back junior doctors in their proposed strikes over forced changes to contracts and working hours.
During the 38-minute speech, Ms Blower said: “Our priority motion on the Wrong Priorities White Paper has put us in the right place and in a good position to move forward on campaigning with a broad coalition of people and organisations who have already expressed horror and dismay at this wholly unacceptable Government plan.
“Total academisation represents the total abolition of national pay and conditions, so there are issues in every school.”
She also described the “chaos” in the current assessment system, through the likes of SAT tests for seven- and 11-year-olds, as well as the baseline assessments for new starters.
She said: “Primary members have been incensed by what the Government has done. The cavalier attitude that pervades the DfE (Department for Education) ... just shows how far this Secretary of State is from understanding the realities of primary education.”
“The hideous and distorting weight of unacceptable assessment” was “at the root of” the difference between the methods teachers would like to use and what they are compelled to do to hit targets, the NUT general secretary said.
She added: “An excessive focus on exam results is turning our schools at all levels into exam factories. This is bad for pupils, bad for teachers and is clearly the antithesis of what NUT members believe to be a good education.”
She said welfare cuts and continued high use of food banks have seen children “coming to school hungry and tired”.
“These things happen because we have a Government that just doesn’t care,” she said.
Acknowledging junior doctors, who have been locked in a dispute with health ministers over changes to pay and conditions, Ms Blower said the union would continue to offer solidarity on each of their forthcoming strike days.
She said: “As we have heard from delegates, and we know from our own experience, the attacks on junior doctors is largely the same as the attacks on teachers.
“We have common interests, we should indeed unite our fights.
“If there is scope to take action with junior doctors, you can be sure we will.”
The conference has seen delegates welcome the first political party leader in living memory when Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn gave a speech on Friday, its opening day, while motions have also been passed rejecting the Government’s anti-radicalisation strategy.
Surveys have also demonstrated widespread concern over workload and teacher shortages.