The National Education Union (NEU) held an online Special Conference on 3 October. Over 600 people attended, with around 550 delegates.
Conference voted on various rule changes. They were not taken as a job lot, as I wrongly reported in Solidarity 565.
The rule change to allow the General Secretaries to extend their tenure beyond five years, if they had announced they were retiring, was withdrawn due to rank and file pressure. In a significant victory for the left of the union, the proposal to reduce the executive from 70 to 55 failed to get the two-thirds majority required, following strong speeches from Education Solidarity Network (ESN) supporters including Workers’ Liberty people.
Conference committed to continued campaigning on safety in schools during the Covid-19 crisis. The motion was strengthened by uncontentious amendments on Special Schools, campaigning for more buildings, staff, and resources, and testing for all school staff.
Further strengthening amendments included ensuring tighter risk assessments, promoting an escalation strategy up to strike action, and enforcing a maximum class size. Discussion on those amendments was stopped, whilst there was still plenty of time, in an undemocratic move by Jess Edwards of the SWP.
Conference also committed to campaign to ensure national pay increases and pay scales in every school, reduce workload and, to facilitate these things, effective rep support and training.
The last motion committed to continue campaigning on assessment, fighting for the replacement of SATs in 2021 by a system of moderated teacher assessment and a mixed model for GCSE and A levels for 2021. Amendments “declar[ed] our ambition to ballot primary members, if necessary, on a SATS boycott if government seeks to impose them next year” and to “commission and produce a series of articles, pamphlets and other materials putting the case for an end to norm referenced GCSEs and their replacement by criteria-based assessment, and an alternative to A Levels and BTECs”.
Neither of these last two amendments was nearly strong enough, but they provide some basis for the rank-and-file to continue to push for an effective policy.
The conference showed the potential for unions to get some level of lay democracy during the pandemic by using online platforms, and reaffirmed that the left organised through the ESN still has significant purchase in the union.