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Last Updated:  Thursday, 20 February, 2003, 14:10 GMT
Clarke snubs teachers' union
Charles Clarke
Clarke: Not going to conference
The Education Secretary, Charles Clarke, has issued a deliberate snub to the largest teachers' union, the NUT.

In a departure from tradition, Mr Clarke has said that neither he nor any of his ministerial team will attend the National Union of Teachers annual conference this Easter.

Mr Clarke said the conduct of NUT delegates had "not encouraged a positive dialogue" and had "seriously damaged" the image of the teaching profession.

Ask Charles Clarke about his plans: 1430GMT

The union has called the decision "immature".

Ministers are due to speak at the conferences of the other big education unions.

Mr Clarke himself is due to address the Secondary Heads Association in Birmingham at the end of March and the second biggest union, the NASUWT, in Bournemouth after Easter.


Traditionally education ministers have received a rough ride at the NUT conference.

It's a bully-boy tactic
NUT leader Doug McAvoy
In 1995 David Blunkett was chased, heckled and forced to take refuge in a side office.

In 2000 delegates staged a walkout during a speech by Estelle Morris.

That angered their general secretary, Doug McAvoy, who shouted above protests from the hall: "If you want to be taken seriously you won't do it by losing the respect of the public."

Ms Morris was still heckled and slow hand-clapped at last year's conference.

In other years, delegates have held up protest placards during ministerial speeches.

Workload wrangle

Ministers are also understood to be displeased that the NUT is the only teachers' union to have refused to sign the recent workload deal, intended to reduce teachers' hours by greater use of classroom assistants.

It's a question of whether or not it's a good forum in which the education world debates the issues and takes them forward
Education minister David Miliband
Commenting on Mr Clarke's announcement, Mr McAvoy said the decision smacked of "political immaturity".

He said the workload agreement was "flawed" and his union disagreed with the government and the other signatories on five key issues - on which the government had failed to respond.

"I have no doubt that the NUT is acting in the best interests of teachers, pupils and education," he said.

Mr Clarke's decision was "a bully-boy tactic", he added.

"Why do you have to sign up to something that's flawed in order to continue a dialogue? It doesn't make political sense."

But education minister David Miliband said the NUT conference had shown it was unwilling to be part of a serious dialogue.

The union's leadership had not made its conference "a serious forum for debate".

The shadow education secretary, Damian Green, said in a statement: "I will be attending as usual and I am quite happy to argue for Conservative education policy in front of any audience.

"I suppose we shouldn't be surprised that he is embarrassed about having to defend his policies."

You can put your questions to Education Secretary Charles Clarke, in a LIVE interactive forum on Wednesday, 19 February at 1430GMT.

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The BBC's Mike Baker
"Ministers have had enough"

Teachers reject workload deal
09 Jan 03 |  Education
Charles Clarke
17 Oct 02 |  UK Politics

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