April 12, 2004
The NUT has its annual moan

The newspapers and TV are full of stories about how angry the teachers are. This puts it all in perspective:

Like the Grand Old Duke of York, Doug McAvoy, in his 15 years as general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, has repeatedly marched his troops to the top of the hill and then marched them down again.

Under his direction and leadership, the biggest teaching union has religiously opposed every education initiative introduced by both the Tory and Labour governments.

Delegates who give up their Easter break to attend the annual conference - the union's "supreme policy-making body" - have always reserved their special venom for national tests, school league tables, performance-related pay, academic selection, and Ofsted inspections.

For the past 15 years, every conference has climaxed with a series of votes for industrial action on one or more of these issues. On every occasion, the media - usually starved at Easter of domestic news - have helped fan the flames with headlines promising imminent classroom chaos.

Yet in all the 15 years of Mr McAvoy's tenure, the NUT has never once taken national industrial action - a record that fills this latter-day duke not with dismay but pride. For the fact is that everyone who attends the conference enters a virtual world.

The 900 or so delegates, most of whom revile New Labour, know that their resolutions will be rejected by the great majority of the union's 250,000 members, but they pass them just the same.
Mr McAvoy knows that the union's influence on governments of any hue is, and always has been, negligible, yet he presses his case with undiminished enthusiasm.

And the media know that the conference is a charade, yet they - we - report its doings as if they really mattered.

Yes, that makes sense. I confess that I had been wondering what all the hoo-hah about a possible teachers' strike was all about. Not much, it would seem.

Not being keen myself on "national tests, school league tables, performance-related pay, academic selection, and Ofsted inspections", you might expect me to sympathise with these rebellious NUT folks. But I hate all that rigmarole because I hate nationalised industries, and that is inevitably the kind of thing that nationalised industries consist of. They are inevitably either cursed with lots of overpaid drones or with lots of over-managed drudges, but also with bureaucratic procedures that offer no automatic means of knowing which is which or who is who. To solve each problem inevitably results in the exacerbation of the other problem. The point about markets is that they at least provide some clue as to whether you are contributing as much as you are being paid or not.

These teachers insist on the perpetuation of nationalised education. They abominate the idea of a total educational free market. They just don't like the politicians telling them what to do, because they regard themselves as all being over-managed drudges. But they would, wouldn't they?

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:12 PM
Category: Politics