Teachers have been urged to assert their professionalism and recognise what happens to them in schools affects the quality of education for children and young people.
NASUWT members at the largest-ever annual Disabled Teachers Conference were told their rights had to be respected and they had to be treated with dignity and have their voice heard.
That message was delivered by the Union’s General Secretary Chris Keates who raised some of the key issues faced by teachers with disabilities and briefed them on the work of the union and its campaigning to deliver for the teaching workforce.
Ms Keates warned members that any move by the School Teachers’ Review Body (STRB) to increase further pay flexibility – such as allowing heads to move teachers down the pay scale – must be resisted.
“I don’t need to tell you the potential this would have for widespread abuse,” she told the packed conference in Birmingham.
She highlighted how the Union was rising to meet the challenges disabled teachers faced with the support and commitment of members.
But disabled teachers were meeting among a climate of attacks on working people in which only EU legislation had “maintained the last vestiges of workers’ rights.”
And many felt they had no option but to take on supply work, as well as having deep concerns about being able to tell their employer about their disability and seeking reasonable adjustments “in an increasingly inflexible working environment.”
Ms Keates went on: “The NASUWT has continued to work tirelessly to empower teachers as professionals, to support them in reclaiming their status and reclaiming their classroom from government policies which deprofessionalise, demoralise and denigrate the profession.”
“We have a Government in Westminster unlikely to deliver the fairness, equality, democracy and social justice to which this Union is committed.”
Ms Keates pointed to NASUWT research which highlighted that 74% of disabled people said they lost job opportunities because of their impairment or health condition.
The most overwhelming concern identified by disabled teachers was excessive workload, with 88% citing it as their top concern. And 76% of disabled teachers now say that administration and curriculum change are the main drivers of excessive workload.
This was closely followed by lesson planning and pupil target setting.
On pay Ms Keates said: “In England and Wales the challenges on pay are set to continue.” Teachers in Northern Ireland were yet to be paid anything for 2015-16 and in Scotland the NASUWT was taking action against a pay deal in return for worsening conditions of service.
Without industrial action though the position would have been far worse, Ms Keates reminded members.
She said: “Despite the immense pressures of the last five years, with the support and commitment of you and all our members we have remained strong.
“The determination of our members to make as stand in the workplace to implement our action short of strike action and defend the terms and conditions, challenge management bullying and appalling management practices has paid dividends.”
Concluding, Ms Keates told members:
“First and foremost – always assert your professionalism.
“Your rights have to be respected, to be treated with dignity and to have your voice heard and you need to ensure that it is. And when teachers are in short supply that is an even more powerful position
“Recognise that as a professional what happens to you affects the quality of education for children and young people. So what happens to you is important.
“Your pay and conditions of service are inextricably linked to the provision of high quality education.
“Working conditions which enable them to focus on teaching and learning.
“When you stand up for your rights and your professionalism.
“When you stand up to secure the support you need, you are standing up for standards.”