Easter Conferences and Votes of No Confidence

One of the aims of 3D Eye is to be an objective and non-partisan source of information for those who want to stay in touch with broader developments in the world of education, in Britain and elsewhere. To this end we’d be failing our readers if we didn’t report on the increasing tensions between teachers and the government with regard to the way education is run in England by the secretary of state and his department.

Just over a week ago the following report appeared in the Guardian newspaper:

Teachers union passes vote of no confidence in Michael Gove

Conference delegates say education secretary has shown ‘abject failure’ to improve education or respect teachers

by Jessica Shepherd, education correspondent

Hundreds of teachers have passed a vote of no confidence in the education secretary, Michael Gove, and the chief inspector of England’s schools, Sir Michael Wilshaw.

Delegates at the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) annual conference overwhelmingly carried the motion. Teachers described Gove and Wilshaw as showing “abject failure to improve education or treat teachers, parents and pupils with respect”.

Mary Bousted ATL

ATL is the most moderate of the classroom unions and it is the first time in its history that delegates have passed a motion of no confidence in an education secretary.

Gove stoked teachers’ anger this weekend by writing in the Mail on Sunday that they were against his plans for performance-related pay because they “resented the recognition of excellence”. He also said headteachers of academies, unlike other state schools, “put the needs of children ahead of the demands of shop stewards”.

Jean Roberts, from London, told the conference of 300 teachers: “We have no confidence in Gove or Wilshaw. If any of us behaved to our pupils the way they behave to our profession, we would be sacked.”

Teachers are angry at changes to their pay and pensions and the scale of reforms to all parts of the curriculum. They are expected to voice their fury at Gove and Wilshaw at their annual conferences over the next week. The National Union of Teachers will also propose a vote of no confidence in Gove and call on Wilshaw to resign.


Reporting on the National Union of Teachers‘ annual Easter conference, the Guardian said this:

NUT passes unanimous vote of no confidence in Michael Gove

Teachers at union conference call for education secretary to resign, saying policy is based on ‘dogma and political rhetoric’

One of the biggest classroom unions in the country has unanimously passed a vote of no confidence in the education secretary, Michael Gove, and called for his resignation.

A 1,000-strong audience at the National Union of Teachers annual conference in Liverpool heard that Gove had “lost the confidence of the teaching profession … [and] failed to conduct his duties in a manner befitting the head of a national education system”.

Teachers cheered “Gove must go” after the no-confidence motion was carried.

Gove had “chosen to base policy on dogma, political rhetoric and his own limited experience of education” and made “drastic” changes to schools without consulting parents, teachers, children, governors or councils, the motion said. It added that Gove had demoralised the profession with a “discourse of failure” and carried out government business through private emails.

Gove was “destroying the education of all our children and must go”, Jane Walton, a teacher from Wakefield, told the conference.

Oliver Fayers, a teacher from Camden, north London, said teachers had a duty to hold a “failing secretary of state to account”. Nick O’Brien, a teacher from Norwich, said Gove was making teaching a profession that “no one in their right mind would consider joining”.

Christine Blower, general secretary of the NUT, said that if the secretary of state chose to “plough on regardless”, his “poll tax moment” could be around the corner.

Christine Blower

Gove “should now recognise that morale in the teaching profession is at dangerously low levels”, she said. Referring to an NUT poll, Blower said only 8% of parents thought the government had made a positive impact on the education system.

She said teachers were not the “enemies of promise” that Gove said they were. “We just have the temerity to assert that the secretary of state is wrong. The academisation and the onward march towards complete privatisation of our schools and our education system is wrong,” Blower added.

A week ago, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers – the most moderate of the classroom unions – overwhelmingly carried a motion of no confidence in Gove and the chief inspector of England’s schools, Sir Michael Wilshaw. Delegates described Gove and Wilshaw as showing an “abject failure to improve education or treat teachers, parents and pupils with respect”.

It was the first time in the union’s history that delegates had passed a motion of no confidence in an education secretary.


It’s our view that this is a critical moment for the teaching profession in England, and possibly a pivotal moment in the history of education in this country. We have no doubt that this government will remain as intransigent in its education policies as it is with regard to economic policy, since both sectors are being driven by ideologues with strong neo-liberal agendas, who have no proper understanding of either education or economics.

It could also be a tipping point for the key people in the Labour party who carry the responsibility for education policy, since they must surely recognise the anger within a traditionally moderate and middle of the road professional association like the ATL, and also within the NUT, whose members are in the main sensible and reasonable.

We happen to know that certain members of the leadership group in the Labour party, such as the MP Jon Cruddas, have a concern for education and an understanding of the key issues. At the recent education conference of Compass – an increasingly influential forum for progressive politics – Mr Cruddas said these were the key issues he wanted his party to address:

  • We need to reconsider the creation of academies
  • We need to address the abolition of the Education Maintenance Allowance for young people.
  • We need to deal with the right for schools to employ unqualified teachers.
  • We need to think again about how we train teachers.
  • We need a proper focus on the needs of the 50% of pupils who are not interested in or not suited to university courses.
  • We need to reconsider Pring’s Nuffield Review of 14-19 education.
  • We need to deal with the idea of whether schools should be allowed to make profits.
  • We need to respect and trust our teachers [as they do in Finland] and see them as part of the solution instead of as part of the problem.
  • We need to ask again what education is FOR.
  • We need schools to produce wiser and more knowledgeable citizens who have the ability to live satisfying and rewarding lives.
  • We need to ask ourselves which values and virtues we should aim to develop and nurture in our young people.

Mr Cruddas also went on to mention three key books that ought to be read by those who want to reform or reinvent education in England (and elsewhere) –

Finnish Lessons by Pasi Sahlberg
School Wars by Melissa Benn
Radical Education and the Common School: a Democratic Alternative by Michael Fielding and Peter Moss

Mr Cruddas pointed out that Sahlberg’s book describes how 20 years of political consensus in Finland has enabled the country to build the world’s most successful education system, which is based on the comprehensive principle and equality of access to high-quality teaching.

3D Eye has commented several times on these books, as well as on the education system of Finland, which we respect highly.

We’ve said this before and we’ll say it again – teachers, politicians and parents should be prepared to deepen their understanding of the key issues in education in order to take part in enlightened and productive discussions about the future of education.

We applaud the ATL and the NUT for their principled stands and their votes of no confidence, and we truly hope that all teachers and parents (as well as politicians) will give their backing to the attempts by these organisations and their members to resist the commodification and deprofessionalisation of education in this country.


Dr Mary Bousted is the General Secretary of Association of Teachers and Lecturers. A summary of her thoughts on the key issues in education can be read here – https://3diassociates.wordpress.com/2012/12/09/compass-conference-radical-approaches-to-education/
– as can the thoughts on education of Neal Lawson, the founder and Chair of Compass.

See also: MOOD: Another Great Educational Debate (3Di Associates)


About 3D Eye

Gary Foskett and Clare Blackhall are educationalists, writers and consultants. We work with schools and other organisations who share our vision of how schools, businesses, etc should work in the 21st Century. We also run courses and contribute to conferences - speaking about our three dimensional model of intelligences and how schools, colleges and universities can develop the full potential of all their staff and students. We also offer consultancy for businesses and public sector organisations to support staff training and organisational change and development. For more detailed information read our blog at https://3diassociates.wordpress.com/ or see our website at www.3diassociates.com.
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