Dr Mary Bousted


During the pandemic our members moved heaven and earth to keep children and young people learning.  In lockdown they transformed their work online, helping their pupils to learn remotely. 

When schools re-opened to all pupils, teachers and support staff worked to re-establish relationships with their pupils; to re-introduce them to the rhythm of school life; to help them back into school society.

They worked to identify the learning gaps and to address these. They coped with children and young people who have mental health challenges, without the support of a functioning CAMHS service.

They have soldiered on as their colleagues have succumbed to the Omicron wave which has been so devastating to staff and pupil attendance.  Keeping the show on the road, covering for colleagues’ classes, supporting pupils who missed learning because they have been infected for the second or third time.

They doubled their workload with exam classes, doing controlled assessments in tandem with preparing their pupils for public exams and SATs. 

And what is our government’s thanks for this dedication and determination to serve the nation’s children and young people?

Rishi Sunak says no pay rise which even matches inflation for teachers or support staff.

Michael Fabricant, a veteran backbench Tory MP who is well named, fabricated a justification for Boris Johnson’s law-breaking partying in 10 Downing Street, saying that Johnson was only doing what teachers and nurses did at the end of their working day.

Conference, Fabricant made a fool of himself. But he wont make fools of us. We know he is ignorant. And do you know what, Conference, parents and the wider public know it too.  Fabricant is a fool and his servile attempt to protect Johnson has backfired.

Now, Boris Johnson claimed there was no higher priority than education recovery after the pandemic.

Sir Kevan Collins, the man Boris Johnson appointed as his education recovery tzar said that £15 billion was needed by schools over three years to support children and young people in education recovery.  But schools are getting only a third of that.

Nadhim Zahawi introduced a white paper that dealt with none of the issues facing our schools.

Let’s look at that White Paper.  After twelve years in power the government wants to convince us that it is full of drive, determination, and zeal and that its reform agenda is as fresh as a daisy.

But the White Paper fails on all those fronts.  It is a shoddy piece of work with no new ideas, other than to carry on grimly with structural reform which evidence clearly shows has failed in its aims to transform educational standards. And the Green Paper is similarly shoddy – because it fails to provide for the scale of unmet need for children and young people with SEND.  Together, the White and Green Papers are the final thrashings of zombie education ideologues with zombie education policies.

The only way that the government can justify its obsession with academies and MATs is for it to deceive; to misrepresent data which purports to show that academisation raises school standards.

Luckily for the NEU we have colleagues who can investigate the truth behind the DfE stats. 

What our analysis shows is that the Government’s evidence for forcing schools into MATs is badly flawed – so badly flawed that the government systematically misreported Ofsted grades for many schools, claiming that improved grades were a result of being in a MAT when those grades were achieved by local authority schools.

The government didn’t tell the truth that outstanding local authority primary schools are much more likely to stay outstanding when re-inspected if they stay with their local authority.

Kevin Courtney

Conference, whatever we think about Ofsted grades, and we have more to say about them later on in our speech, they are this government’s measure of success.

And on this measure, their own measure, they completely fail to make the case for forcing all schools into MATs.

Conference, the whole premise of their White Paper is founded on fantasy. Their notion that if all schools just performed at the standard of the top 10% of MATs, then educational standards would be transformed.  

They say that if all schools achieved the performance of the strongest MATs, then “national performance at key stage 2 would be 14 percentage points higher and 19 percentage points higher for disadvantaged pupils

But conference, what their so-called “Case for a fully trust-led system” doesn’t tell you, what it deliberately suppresses is that the top 10% of MATs that the Government cites are the ones with the lowest number of children on pupil premium and the highest number of children in grammar schools.

Conference, the government paper is truly a statistics scandal.

And Conference, the only response government has to this uncomfortable truth is to argue that with a single governance structure, educational standards in the 90% can be as high as the top 10%, completely ignoring the statistics they have suppressed.

Conference, even if we all had the same governance structures as Mo Farah or Usain Bolt, some of us would still be straggling behind.

Conference, we have complained to the UK Statistics Authority about this disgraceful, deliberate misuse of statistics and the deliberate suppression of relevant data. We await their response, but today we want to talk directly to Nadhim Zahawi.

Nadhim, 6 years ago your predecessor Nicky Morgan produced the last Schools White Paper. She called it Education Excellence Everywhere and in it she said every school would be an academy by 2022.  Well, here we are in 2022, and schools aren’t all academies, the rate of academisation has slowed dramatically, and the shine has rubbed off many multi-academy trusts.

Nadhim, you say you want to be evidence-led – so we are calling on you today to withdraw your flawed statistics and for your statisticians (lots of them) to sit down with our statisticians (Andrew Baisley) to agree a fair, common set of data that the public can use to assess your policies.

But Nadhim we have to tell you that, in the meantime, we are writing to every councillor, every head teacher, every Chair of Governors to tell the truth about what the statistics show and to explain your errors – and we will urge them alongside our members, parents and carers to resist this siren call for yet more structural change.

And to join with us in pointing out that your white paper ignores and down-plays the real pressing problems besetting our schools in 2022.

Dr Mary Bousted

Conference, we know that unequal pupil achievement in our schools is overwhelmingly due to the unequal society in which pupils are growing up. All of us here in this hall know that class, race, gender and other inequalities make a fundamental difference to pupils’ learning chances. And we know that inequality persists and worsens, and that the equalities work done by the NEU is needed now as much as it ever was.

Conference, when I was a Head of English in Harrow in the mid-1980s I taught in a school where 38 different first languages were spoken. I took the opportunity of the new GCSEs to bring into the curriculum authors from the many cultures and races represented in the school community.  Authors like Rosa Guy and Alice Walker, Maxine Hong Kingston and Vikram Seth, and many others.

The inclusion in the school curriculum of those writers transformed the participation of so many pupils who saw, in their learning, writers who shared their cultural and racial heritage. It transformed their participation in the curriculum.

I talked about this experience at a conference four years ago. I said that if a powerful knowledge curriculum means recreating the best that has been thought by dead white men – then I’m not very interested in it. 

Conference, the sky fell in.  I was monstered in the right-wing media. There was a Twitter storm with gales of outrage blown down upon me from the usual suspects – white men with traditional views. There was an article in Spiked where my ex-students were ‘pitied’ and where I was called a ‘philistine’, which I took as a badge of honour. If Spiked calls you a philistine, you are doing something right.

All of which shows me, personally, and us all, politically, that the culture wars rage and continue to rage and that they consume anyone who dares to challenge the narrow, monocultural base on which the current national curriculum, with all its assumptions on powerful knowledge is based.

On Tuesday this week we heard from key Black members who have helped to build real momentum behind the Union’s Anti Racist Framework. Members are making sure of its impact in their area as a tool for making real change around challenging racism.

And we are pleased to announce today a partnership with the Runnymede Trust and education experts to form an independent working group which will act as a point of critical interrogation for the government’s planned history curriculum changes.

We want to ensure that Black history, cultures and perspectives have proper recognition in all subjects and all year round. And this must centre the perspectives of those who were colonised or their descendants.

Kevin Courtney

We know that Wales has already undertaken a review of the whole curriculum and there is no reason this English government can’t do that too. And could do it with the profession. And use that review to decolonise the curriculum and take forward other pressing concerns.

For example, Conference we also have a big commitment to trying to support girls and the continuing barriers they face in access to different subjects; the sexist and racist stereotypes and the mental health pressures they face on and offline. 

The white paper fails to deal with these issues, but the NEU continues to campaign on sexual harassment and sexism in schools and we will hold a major one-day event in May to bring together members who are organising and campaigning against sexual harassment.

Conference, the White Paper we needed would have proposed reform of our creaking assessment system and of our broken accountability system.

But the biggest hole in the White Paper, the elephant in the room that ministers don’t want to see, is that we simply do not have enough teachers.  No education system can exceed the quality of its teachers – but our education system is haemorrhaging teachers.  And it’s not just leavers who are increasing the teacher shortage problem. The applications for teacher training this year are in freefall, below even the levels in 2019. Not only in traditional shortage subjects, but also in subjects which have traditionally recruited strongly, like English.

Conference, in our State of Education survey, now in its fourth year, we asked NEU members how they feel about their working lives. Are they getting good work? Is their workload manageable? Do they intend to stay working in education?

The results are shocking. And the public need to know these results. MPs of all parties need to know them.

44% of NEU members tell us that they will no longer be working in education in five years’ time.

And the reasons why they intend to leave? Simple.

Excessive and intensive workload.  This is the key issue the White Paper should have addressed.

41% of NEU teachers working in England said that they spend more than 80% of their working lives feeling stressed. That’s shocking, isn’t it? But our conference delegates aren’t shocked because you see, every day, the damage done to our members by the incessant and excessive demands made on them – demands which have only intensified throughout the pandemic.

22% of members tell us that they will no longer be working in education in two years’ time.

This is the most serious problem our schools are facing. It is the most serious problem our children are facing – there are not enough teachers entering the profession and those that do leave, leave far too early – burned out by over work and exhausted by intense and unremitting stress.

So, what does Nadhim Zahawi’s White Paper say about excessive workload? What answers does it have to this problem?

Dr Mary Bousted

The White Paper says that that excessive workload ‘where it still exists’ - ‘where it still exists’ - will be solved with a staff wellbeing charter. 

Well, that’s OK then – nothing to see here. What an insult.

Which then promises that all schools will be inspected by Ofsted by 2025 in an accelerated inspection programme, creating mountains of unnecessary workload for our members.

All this on top of the pressures already created by a government which wants us to believe that Covid is done with – finished. A government which is putting GCSE and A level pupils, this year, through harder GCSEs and A levels – with higher grade boundaries.  And with the return of SATs in primary schools.

A government which has re-imposed the reintroduction, this year, of school league tables – as though any league table will tell you anything about the educational standards of schools.

When we talk to top civil servants, and to Government ministers, about the pressure on schools; about the truth that the pandemic is still raging in schools; about the unbelievable stress and pressure on school staff; about their exhaustion, it’s like talking to a brick wall.  Safe in the DfE offices of Sanctuary Buildings, they tell us that they understand, they are sympathetic, but that their hands are tied, and they can do nothing.

Conference, is it any wonder why teachers and leaders walk away in such huge numbers from the profession they love? Why support staff feel so exploited and undervalued?

Conference, you know, every teacher knows, that the schools where excessive workload does not exist are as rare as hens’ teeth – or government ministers’ honesty.  Teacher exhaustion and stress are endemic across schools and throughout the profession. 

The White Paper’s proposed solution of a staff wellbeing charter to tackle excessive workload ‘where it still exists’ is an insult to the profession – because it is completely inadequate to the scale of the problem and will do little, if anything, to address the stress and burnout created in teachers through a combination of a toxic accountability system intensified by the pressures of working in schools during the Covid pandemic.

So, if the government is reluctant to admit the facts on teacher workload, let’s look elsewhere, shall we? Let’s not be Little England about this. Let’s go international.

Every five years the OECD conducts its teaching and learning international survey. 2018 was the biggest survey yet with 48 countries taking part, including China, Japan, the US, Singapore, South Africa and New Zealand. Unfortunately, only England entered TALIS in 2018 – so no results for Wales and Northern Ireland – but we think that there would not have been much difference between the nations.

TALIS tells us that:

Teachers in England come second only to Singapore in the international league tables when the monitoring of their work is measured.  They undergo more lesson observations, more work scrutiny and more pressure to ensure their pupils do well in public exams, than any other country apart from Singapore.

England is third from bottom for teachers reporting that their schools have a collaborative culture characterised by mutual support.

JGS speech slide 1

Kevin Courtney

Teachers feel that they are being inspected all the time. The shadow of Ofsted and Estyn looms over every working day as leaders, under huge pressure themselves, find new and inventive ways to ‘monitor’ their teachers.

But whilst teachers in England are nearly at the top of the monitoring league tables, TALIS evidence also shows us that school leaders in England come near the bottom of the international league tables for time spent supporting teachers, working with them to develop teaching and learning approaches.

Conference, the blame is not fundamentally with school leaders. In our country the whole balance between monitoring and supporting teachers is completely out of kilter. The balance has swung far too far.

And the result of all this monitoring?

JGS speech slide 2

Teachers in England report double the stress felt by teachers internationally. Shamefully, England comes second in the international league table for teacher stress.

One of the causes of stress is lack of control. And England comes third from bottom in the table for the amount of control teachers feel they have over curriculum.

JGS speech slide 3

Nadhim Zahawi needs to concentrate on changes which address this reality, not on more structural reform that will actually make pressures worse.

And it is not just the international comparisons which are so damning.

The British Skills and Employment Survey collects data from working adults in England, Wales and Scotland roughly every five years.  Instead of comparing with teachers in other countries, it compares teachers with other professions in this country

Two indicators of job quality are assessed in this survey:

  • Work intensity, which is defined as the rate of physical and mental input to work tasks, and
  • Skills and discretion, which includes the influence you have over decisions about the tasks you do, how those tasks are performed and the quality standards to which they work.

Conference, the results of the SES are alarming. They show that on the first measure – work intensity – this has soared for teachers, so that 85% of teachers reported they come home from work exhausted, every single day.  That’s twice as much as in any other profession in this country.

Francis Green who has done research on the SES concludes that ‘no other large occupation has shown anything like this degree of work intensification’.

And that alarming increase in work intensification has been happening at the same time as an equally alarming decrease in the second measure:  the choice given to teachers about how they work and their ability to participate in decision making in their school.

Only 20% of teachers report that they do have an input into decisions in their schools. And that finding is echoed in the TALIS survey where England comes 46th out of 48 countries for teacher involvement in management decisions in their school. We are not talking here just about questions of school policy. We are talking about the fundamental right of highly skilled professionals to make their own judgements about how they teach, how the pupils in front of them can best learn.

Dr Mary Bousted

Conference, how has it come to this? How has it come to this level of micromanagement and mistrust?

We think that we know the answer.

Ofsted. An agency which terrifies school leaders, and they pass their terror down onto teachers.

We are approaching the 30th anniversary of Ofsted.

77% of NEU members who responded to our state of education survey disagree with the statement that Ofsted is contributing to school improvement.

76% disagree with the statement that Ofsted acts independently of government.

86% of NEU members believe that Ofsted inspection introduces unsustainable or harmful levels of burden into education.

Let’s look at Ofsted, shall we?

Ofsted – an agency which has run through 5 different inspection frameworks in 9 years. How can judgements mean anything over time when the framework changes so often?

Ofsted – an agency which does not know, according to a National Audit Office report in 2017, whether its inspections are raising standards and improving lives because it has not, in its history, published any research to support the notion that its inspection judgements on schools accurately reflect the quality of education they provide. 

Conference, sometimes the self will intrude. I am a survivor of 25 Ofsted inspections, during the period in my career when I worked in University Departments of Education training teachers.

During that period of intensive and frequent inspection of initial teacher training I am very willing to report that I did meet some excellent inspectors – ones that were thorough, reasonable, knew their subject and reported fairly and accurately.

But Conference, I also met too many inspectors with weak subject knowledge; with distant teaching experience; with poor analytical skills and terrible communication skills.  I met too many inspectors who should have been nowhere near education – never mind inspecting education quality.

So, based on my own exhaustive professional experience, I am certain that Ofsted has major problems with quality control of its inspectors, and that those problems go right up to the level of HMI.

Conference, none of us here is against accountability. But we are against tyranny. It’s time to end the tyranny of Ofsted.

Kevin Courtney

It’s time to end the tyranny of an inspection regime which belittles the work of teachers and leaders doing the hardest jobs in the most deprived schools – and gives them negative grades even when they are doing great work in difficult circumstances.

And that’s why we have launched our replace Ofsted petition, which has already been signed by tens of thousands. Let’s get hundreds of thousands of people to sign it.

This is the biggest single thing Nadhim Zahawi could do to recreate an education system which young graduates want to work in. Give us an inspection system which supports, not humiliates.

Give us back a profession where teachers feel valued and respected and rewarded for the invaluable work they do. And where support staff are valued too.

Conference, we say it’s time to value educators and value education.

And that means proper pay and conditions for support staff with the reinstatement of the SSSNB.

It means a return to proper pay and pensions for supply staff – with an end to the agency profits rip-off.

It means a national contract covering teachers in all state funded schools with proper limits on working time and guarantees on teacher voice.

It means an end to the tyranny of Ofsted and its replacement by a supportive system of inspection.

And whilst we fight for this together at a national level we also need to celebrate the victories we are scoring at schools and colleges up and down the land.

And every time our members win in the workplace, they demonstrate to themselves, and to other members in other schools the strength of the union.

That’s why our Value Education Value Educators orientation is so important.

So I want you to join with me in celebrating just some of them – in campaigns over workload, over pensions, over unacceptable management – that our members, together with their reps and officers are winning.

At Starbank Academy in Birmingham.

At Gordano school in North Somerset.

At Tring Park in Herts.

At Bristol Grammar.

Nottingham Academy.

Beal School in Redbridge.

The VEC in Pool.

At Leaways in Hackney.

At Shaftesbury Juniors in City of Leicester.

At Cedar Road Academy in Northants.

In all of these and many more – our members have won, sometimes after a ballot, sometime after a strike, sometimes just after a meeting.

Dr Mary Bousted

Conference, staff at Woodfields School, Coventry have always gone above and beyond to provide a positive experience for their pupils. However, when their new leadership team expected them to work without breaks or PPA, NEU members stood up and said no. After the Principal refused to communicate with the union, members were balloted and voted to take industrial action. Once this news had reached school leadership and the Local Authority, communication resumed, and the dispute was resolved. They were supported by Union Officers, the Action Committee and fellow NEU members during this time. They are proud to be a positive example of the power of the collective voice.

And let us celebrate a win achieved in a group of schools whose employer did not value educators. The Girls’ Day School Trust, a group of 23 independent schools, declared that it would close the Teachers’ Pension Scheme to staff, and threatened to ‘fire and rehire’ them all. The GDST claimed it was hard up. It did not lower itself to reply to our letters, even when a huge majority of its teachers voted for strike action in protest. Only after two weeks of united strikes by our members did they talk. Our members working in GDST schools have kept their teachers’ pension.

Conference, these victories in schools give us hope. Hope that things can be different. That members can be supported to find a voice in the workplace. That collectively they can organise to transform their working lives. That these problems are not intractable – they are solvable. That is why we must recreate these victories throughout the union, in every region and nation we organise in. So that all our members can see the power of the union to transform their working lives.

Conference, it has been three years since we were last all physically together.  In that time, we have learned new ways of working, new ways of reaching out to the members.  In that time, we have had a Zoom call, on 3rd January 2021 which had over 400,000 people online and which was viewed by over a million people in that week.

The union became central to our members’ lives during Covid.  We have to work to make the union important to the members after Covid.  We have to listen to members and talk about the issues that matter to them – we have to show them that the culture of fear and compliance in schools here is not replicated throughout the world.

That there are better ways to work. That respect for professionalism is essential. That teachers should not be working in command-and-control schools. That their opinions and expertise should be heeded and valued.

That teachers and support staff and leaders deserve to be paid properly for the essential work that they do.

Kevin Courtney

Conference, we have shown that there is power in a union – and power in the NEU.  We must harness this power, direct it and make it work for our members, and through them for children and young people who have suffered so much in the pandemic.

Conference, we defeated Micheal Gove when he tried to remove protections over working time from the STPCD in 2014.

We defeated Nicky Morgan’s White Paper 6 years ago.

And we are fighting this White Paper’s plan for all schools to join MATs now.

And we can do that internationally as well. Conference, 5 years ago we had a representative from Kenya at one of our conferences. Wilson Sossion told us of the negative effects of so-called low fee private schools in his country and other African countries.

Well, together with our Global Union Federation, Education International, and our sister unions in Kenya and Uganda, the US and Australia, we started a campaign against Bridge International Academies. They were backed by Pearson and by the World Bank.

But in March, the World Bank as a result of our collective perseverance and solidarity decided that it would stop investment in Bridge.

An important step forward and an important victory in the fight against education privatisation internationally.

Dr Mary Bousted

Conference, we know that we can do this. We can build from strength. If we are united, if we are focused, if we are determined, then we can achieve great things.

There is much to do – have a good rest if you have a few days before next term – but know that the work you do can grow our union, grow our reps, build our influence over workload, over pay, over assessment and accountability.

We can build for a huge TUC demo on June 18.

We can build for that campaign on pay.

And we can win in our workplaces.

Because, Conference, we are, all of us the National Education Union.