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Kebede: Labour ‘on notice’ NEU ‘won’t tolerate’ cuts

The National Education Union (NEU) has put the potential incoming Labour government “on notice” that it “won’t tolerate” cuts to education, its leader has said.

In his first conference speech as general secretary, Daniel Kebede told delegates in Bournemouth this morning that Conservative-led governments had “failed education, education professionals, the children we teach and the communities we serve”.

He mimicked education secretary Gillian Keegan’s ‘hot mic’ moment last year, accusing her and her predecessors since 2010 of doing “an f-ing terrible job”.

Conservatives entered government “full of promises”, including “smaller class sizes; the best curriculum and an education system based upon best evidence and practice. They promised an enhanced status of the teaching profession”.

In 2015 they promised more maths and physics teachers and to “protect school funding”. In 2019, “they promised investment in PE, in sports facilities along with investment in art and music”.

“Conference, not one of these promises has been met.”

He warned that “rather than being based upon evidence and best practice this has been one of the most ideologically driven governments”.

‘Ready to work with Labour, but changes can’t be on cheap’

The “polling is clear” Labour will form the next government, and the party has promised “welcome reforms”, Kebede said, including recruitment of more teachers, free school breakfasts, replacing single-phrase Ofsted judgments and a review of assessment and curriculum.

But they are a “long way from the scale of change that we need to see in education”.  

“We are ready to work with a Labour government to embark on a journey of renewal.  To rebuild and to reinvigorate, to instil hope in our young people, and to champion a new era of possibility and progress.”

But “changes cannot be done on the cheap and Labour should proudly say that their number one priority is education”.

Austerity policies “have destroyed education” and the NEU “didn’t tolerate Tory cuts and we won’t tolerate Labour cuts either”.

“So just as we have placed this government on notice, Keir Starmer and Rachel Reeves, we put any incoming Labour government on notice also.”

‘Invest in education’

Kebede said any incoming government must “invest in education and our young people. To commit to bringing down class sizes and to rebuild and refurbish our schools.

“We want an incoming government to reduce the achievement gap suffered by poor children and tackle child poverty.

“Scrapping the two-child limit and introducing free school meals for primary children are two necessary and immediate starting points Labour should be committed to.”

An incoming government must also be “committed to making teaching a competitive career again, to address the recruitment and retention crisis. And we believe it is wrong that support staff are paid little more than the minimum wage.

“We also need a new national contract for teachers that guarantees they will be valued as professionals.”

But at the election, the NEU will “not tell members or parents who to vote for”.

“We will campaign for all parties to invest in education and educators and to end child poverty. We will fight to make sure education is a priority issue that politicians cannot ignore.

“But conference, the direction of this union under my leadership is not simply to wait for a change of government. This is not the NEU way. We are a fighting, campaigning, organising union.”

‘Ball is in Keegan’s court’ on strikes

This week, the conference passed a motion in favour of waiting to receive the government’s pay offer for September before moving to a strike ballot.

That motion “set the strategy”, Kebede said.

“Our members never take action lightly. They would always rather be in the classroom, doing what they do best – teaching and supporting our children.

“But if you give them no choice, they will act to save our schools – and it will be on you, Gillian Keegan. You cannot fall back on the STRB.  We all know it is not independent.

“Gillian Keegan, this is your chance. You can avoid further industrial action. The ball is in your court.”

Kebede also warned that politicians who “scapegoat refugees for political gain need to realise is that every time they spill their bile about refugees, they are making life for many children in schools much harder. They are fanning the flames of racism.

“And Conference, let’s be clear, this is deliberate. Particularly in an election year. Divide and rule. What they call ‘an anti-woke culture war’ is nothing other than old-fashioned bigotry.

“They seek to exploit our perceived differences, to stoke up fear and hatred, and drive a wedge between our communities.”

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