The war of words between Britain’s teachers unions and UK Secretary of Education Michael Gove heated up this week as members of the National Union of Teachers called on Gove to resign amid cheers of, “Gove must go!” The spontaneous chants broke out during the course of NUT’s annual conference held this year in Liverpool.
NUT members aren’t the first to call for Gove to step down. The other major British teachers union – the Association of Teachers and Lecturers – delivered the same message, although in a more moderate manner, just last week.
The NUT conference caps a week that was chock full of accusations and counter-accusations from both sides over the imminent introduction of pay for performance salary scales, a new national curriculum, school regulation body Ofsted, pension plans and standardized exams.
The NUT backed plans for a series of strikes later this year and called on members to consider a boycott of Ofsted and primary school literacy tests. In a sign of escalating tensions between unions and the Coalition, the NUT also passed a “motion of no confidence” in Mr Gove as its conference drew to a close on Tuesday.
Although the unions and Gove have never gotten along, the relationship turned particularly toxic late last month after the publication of the new national curriculum for primary and secondary schools in England and Wales. After a number of education professors expressed dissatisfaction with the plan, which they said relied too much on memorization and not enough on problem-solving, Gove dismissed their concerns by saying that they were “more interested in valuing Marxism, revering jargon and fighting excellence.”
In an editorial for the Mail on Sunday, Gove had more harsh words for the teachers unions, describing them as “ultra-militant” because of their plans for strike actions in the coming summer and fall. In addition, he questioned the motives of union members, saying that they resented excellence in all forms including in the form of new academy schools because those schools put the needs of students ahead of the union bosses.
Nick O’Brien, an NUT member from Norwich, told the conference that Mr Gove has described teachers as “enemies of promise”.
“It is Mr Gove and his government who have broken the hearts and futures of our brilliant young people by fixing exam results, scrapping the education maintenance allowance and being part of a vicious government whose policies have caused mass young unemployment,” he said.
“How dare he. Gove must go.”
The resolution passed by the NUT accused the Education Secretary of being “responsible for a range of policies and actions that have been, and will be, severely damaging to the education system”.