Members gather for largest ever disabled teachers' conference
Members of the NASUWT have taken part in the most successful Disabled Teachers’ Consultation Conference ever with a record number of attendees.
The Union’s annual conference in Birmingham heard from disabled members from across the UK who shared their experiences of living and teaching with a disability.
And the numbers at the Hilton Metropole Hotel at the NEC in Birmingham were swollen by twice as many members attending as last year’s conference.
General Secretary of the NASUWT, Chris Keates briefed members on the impact of the Coalition Government’s cuts while highlighting some of the key issues faced by teachers with disabilities.
She told them the fight against discrimination in the workplace was “even more critical” now and said “savage” cuts were having a disproportionate impact on disabled workers.
And she pointed to new research which shows that families caring for disabled children or partners will lose thousands of pounds a year in benefit cuts.
Ms Keates told the conference the NASUWT had been “extremely active” in response to the concerns of disabled members over issues including academy conversion, pensions, the impact of the cuts and the misuse of capability. “Many of the issues you raise are at the heart of our agenda,” she added.
But she stressed: “There is still obviously a lot more to be done. We are not complacent and I am sure you wouldn’t want us to be. We want to empower you and other disabled members to play a full and active part in the Union.”
Ms Keates said: ““The fight against discrimination in the workplace, particularly with regard to disabled teachers is becoming even more critical.
“The Coalition Government has a contemptuous attitude for working people in general, its savage austerity measures have decimated public services in every nation of the UK and particularly focussed on the education service.
“With each announcement it is clear there is going to be a disproportionate impact on those people who under the Equality Act have what is called protected characteristics which will of course include disabled workers.
Ms Keates told members about the latest Big Question survey results of more than 17,000 teachers. She said there were some “extremely worrying” variances in the responses of disabled teachers to some questions.
She said: “Seventy four percent of disabled teachers said they couldn’t afford to pay more for their pension, 62% said they might opt out of the Teachers Pension Scheme – that is five percent higher than the generality of teachers.
Excessive workload was the top concern among 53% of disabled teachers. A majority (60%) of disabled teachers felt their opinions were not valued by school management as opposed to 47% of other teachers.
She said: “One stark factor that has come through has been the large number of teachers who if it wasn’t for the recession want to quit teaching altogether.
“There is no doubt that after just two-and-a-half years the Government has plunged the profession back to the potential teacher retention and recruitment crisis that we had in 1997 when the last Government took office.
The General Secretary also briefed delegates on the current situation regarding the highly-successful industrial action campaign and the joint declaration with the NUT telling them: “This is about saying here are two unions who together represent nine out of ten teachers which have coverage of virtually 100% of the schools across England and Wales.
“It is sensible for us to be sending a message that we will be co-ordinating our action.
“We have got the right strategy, it is a strategy that has resonated with the whole profession.”
The conference heard fears that plans to restrict criminal injuries compensation would affect teachers who face violence at school, while some teachers spoke of the pernicious practice of managers sending emails to staff at night while they were at home.
Delegates also heard about the Equality Act and its watering down by the Coalition Government from Richard Reiser, a leading disabled international equality trainer and consultant.
Other workshops included mental wellbeing at work with Tom Pollard of MIND, and a workshop looking at recent changes to the welfare system.
There were also legal surgeries and expert advice on the Union’s new Disability Leave Policy with Stephen Smith, Principal Official for Equalities and Training and Bob Johnson, National Official for Pay, Pensions and Conditions of Service.
Further information about the NASUWT’s support for teachers with disabilities can be found at www.nasuwt.org.uk/DisabledMembers
MEMBERS URGED TO FIND THEIR VOICE AS A REP
Members were encouraged that an important way for them to find their voice in the Union was by becoming a workplace representative.
NASUWT General Secretary Chris Keates said becoming a school rep was “straightforward” and would be a vital link between the Union and its members.
She told the conference: “One way that you can become involved, a very straightforward way is that if your school doesn’t have a rep you could become the workplace contact or the workplace rep.
“That is a very important way of you being a link and a communication between the NASUWT locally, regionally and nationally and the members in your school.”