April 14, 2010

On 3 April, the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) announced that it was joining the National Union of Teachers (NUT) to recommend boycotting KS2 SATs. I”€™d better explain all these acronyms—or IBEATAs.

This alphabet soup signifies that Britain’s largest teaching unions have urged their members not to administer the forthcoming tests for literacy and numeracy (Standard Assessment Tests) for Key Stage 2 pupils (those aged around 11). They feel that SATs “€œhumiliate”€ pupils, encourage teachers to concentrate on English and maths, and that SATs are used to compile the league tables which rank schools by educational prowess. That there should be qualitative differences between schools and that parents should make hurtful choices based on these differences is an especial affront to the appropriately-named Christine Blower, NUT General Secretary.

Ms. Blower has long combined pedagogy with priggery. According to the Guardian, she originally intended to be a probation officer, but became a teacher instead so she could “€œfirst work with normal children.”€ She later specialized in children at risk of being put into care or custody—an interest she has apparently also pursued in her political career.

In 1999, the NUT’s then general secretary told members that Christine (then trying to unseat him), “€œ…is controlled and supported by a group of extreme Left organizations.”€

Foiled in this coup, Christine switched her sights higher. In 2000, she stood for election to the London Assembly on behalf of the Trotskyite London Socialist Alliance. Her affiliation was given as “€œNUT”€, and unluckily 97.4 percent of West London’s electors appear to have agreed with this self-assessment.

“Teachers who might otherwise fritter away their time teaching Reading, “€˜Riting and “€˜Rithmetic can instead ‘Gear up for the G20 Protests’ or protest against the ‘Imminent execution of Iranian-Kurdish teacher trade unionist.’”

The wider world was obviously not yet ready for her, so she unselfishly threw herself back into the enthralling world of teacher unions. By 2005, she was NUT’s deputy general secretary, becoming general secretary in 2008. She has subsequently devoted herself to ensuring that the union focuses on whatever is of the greatest importance to its 294,000 undervalued, bureaucracy-inundated members. Installment after compelling installment of “€œNUT News”€ reveals the depth of her insight into the very burningest issues:

   * Challenging Homo and Transphobia
   * Discrimination and Harassment
   * Disabled Teachers (“€œIt is high time for medical fitness regulations to be removed”€)
   * Change Trade Not our Climate
   * Show Racism the Red Card
   * Football and Freedom (possibly related to the former)
   * Robin Hood Tax Campaign
   * Bringing Down Barriers

Teachers who might otherwise fritter away their time teaching Reading, “€˜Riting and “€˜Rithmetic can instead “€œGear up for the G20 Protests”€, “€œVote to keep out the BNP”€, “€œTake part in bringing global citizenship to life”€ or protest against the “€œImminent execution of Iranian-Kurdish teacher trade unionist.”€ Those who have an awful lot of time to spare between now and 2015 can even help the NUT secure “€œa primary education for every child in the world.”€

As if all these crusades were not educational enough, there are innumerable high society occasions—the Black Teachers Conference, the Fred & Anne Jarvis Award, International Women’s Day reception and the Hope Not Hate concert (a.k.a. Hope Not Experience) featuring those well-known megastars the Screaming Bluejays. Members can keep tabs on all these valuable campaigns using the thoughtfully-provided “€œEquality Wall Planner”€, while those who find it all too difficult can attend the module on “€œTeacher Mental Health—The Impact of Leadership and Mangement”€ (sic).

Christine’s commitment to intergalactic ishoos is all the more admirable because she has had to overcome considerable personal underprivilege. She is described by her friends at the Guardian as looking like “€œa cross between Rosa Luxembourg and Rose West”€, and “€œnot a rousing or inspiring speaker”€—and by NUT allies as “€œnot very courageous, not very deep-thinking.”€ Meanwhile, enemies call her “€œa disgrace to the profession”€ or, more kindly, someone who “€œattracts attention—and a few sniggers.”€

She steels herself against such uncalled-for cattiness by relaxing with “€œher partner, Den, also an NUT member”€ and by wearing hats—but even this last harmless pursuit has attracted the opprobrium of the unenlightened, with one of her more mechanically-minded detractors observing, “€œThere’s not much going on under that bonnet!”€

We who relish invigilating idiocy can only hope that our heroine will not be deterred—and that we still have in store many more of Ms Blower’s oh-so-valuable ventilations.


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