Once deemed one of the most moderate of the teaching unions, ATL has gradually become more inclined to attack various aspects of government policy as it doing at its 2014 conference.
One of the most political criticisms relates to the culture of young children spending long days at school while parents are at work. The union laid the blame firmly on the fact that low wages are forcing parents to work longer hours, with children having to be left at breakfast and after school clubs or childminders. Not only are children getting tired, but quality time with their parents is reduced.
The union attacked new government ideas on lengthening the school day – something that 19% of academies have already done or plan to do, with a similar number considering the move. While this was sometimes justified as compulsory ‘enrichment’, in other cases it was to lengthen lesson time.
As Mary Bousted, ATL general secretary, said: “It’s really important for children to have to be children, to play with friends and spend time with their families. However, increasing living costs mean that for most families it is now unaffordable for only one parent to work.”
Not only do childen have to be at school for longer hours but so do teachers who now do more unpaid overtime a year than almost all other professions. Primary school teachers average 60 hours a week and secondary school teachers average 58 hours a week. They frequently have no or very short lunchbreaks. Many teachers now have to work with children or supervise them at that time.
ATL has also said the disappearance of staffrooms was a concern especially in new academy builds where they do their own work, socialise and have private conversations with others.
ATL could have gone further on this issue – the lack of lunchbreaks and staffrooms directly attacks the ability of teachers to organise. In many schools it is now very difficult to hold union meetings, either through lack of time at lunch or because there are problems getting a venue for them.
Another key criticism made by ATL of government policy is the “culture of cronyism” with private companies increasingly taking control of schools, and the”thriving on the spoils” of consultancy fees for free schools and academies.
The ATL passed an emergency motion at its annual conference calling for a school funding system in which all schools are funded in a “fair, transparent and accountable way”, with safeguards to prevent “unacceptable” financial practices.
It remains to be seen whether motions and reports can be translated into action. More than ever do teachers need to consider merging into one union which is capable of taking action on key issues. Recent action on pay and pensions by the NUT was not supported by the NAS/UWT or ATL and yet if it had been, the impact would have been enormous and have presented a real challenge to the government.