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Government education policy is a damaging catalogue of misaligned objectives, says new UCU leader

30 May 2007 | last updated: 14 December 2015

Government education policy is a catalogue of misaligned objectives which are damaging the education system, Britain's standing abroad, social cohesion and the health service, new UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, will tell delegates at the union's inaugural congress.

Speaking in Bournemouth today Sally Hunt will criticise the government's lack of strategic approach to education policy and cite 'crazy, shameful and appalling' examples.

The new general secretary will also say that she does not believe boycotting Israeli academics should be a priority for the union, nor does she think a boycott has the support of the majority of UCU members.

Talking about government policy, Sally Hunt will say: 'Even when the policy is right, the end result is so often wrong. Take English language classes for foreign speakers, the government champions social cohesion - but access to courses restricted. Crazy.

'Take health, where community care is prioritised yet our members who train nurses are made redundant to fund NHS deficits. Shameful.

'Take science, where, despite warm words from ministers, we are still shutting labs almost as fast as they are building them in China. Appalling.

'And take lifelong learning, which ministers tell me is at the heart of the government's agenda, yet the results of cuts in funding led to a 17% reduction in adult learners last year.

'This is not education policy. This is a catalogue of misaligned objectives each with unintended but entirely predictable consequences. The reality of government policy for too many UCU members is job insecurity, increased casualisation and higher workloads.'

Speaking ahead of Wednesday afternoon's international debate, including motions about a potential boycott of Israeli academics, Sally Hunt will warn that if UCU is to criticise the government for lacking a strategic approach, the union must lead by example. She will say:

'To meet future challenges we have to prioritise and the best way to do this is to focus on what our members actually want us to do.

'I simply do not believe that the majority of UCU members support an academic boycott of Israel or that they believe it should be a major priority for the union.

'Most want us to retain dialogue with trade unionists on all sides - not just those we agree with. It's the approach we have in Zimbabwe and Colombia and it's the approach I think we should have here.

'We in this room - including me - do not have the monopoly on wisdom. We know that a lot of the best ideas come from our branches and we must take advantage of that. Everybody has a stake in building our new union.'

Sally Hunt is speaking in Bournemouth International Centre at 12.15pm at the first annual Congress of the new UCU union, the largest post-school teaching union in the world, formed from the merger of AUT and NATFHE.

Also speaking today is be Frances O'Grady, TUC deputy general secretary, and Colombian trade union leader Eberto Diaz, who will urge support for campaigns to end the political assassination of teachers and trades unionists in Colombia.

Today's Congress business includes reports and debates on equality, health and safety, external relations, pensions and employment rights, international and European work.

One motion will highlight calls for UCU to give guidance on how to deal with bullying and harassment, an increasingly common experience for lecturers and other staff in further and higher education.

Another, from UCU members at a horticultural college, urges the union to press for educational and language training amongst support for the rights of migrant workers.

A motion from lecturers at a London college calls on UCU to help efforts to combat climate change by negotiating on 'greening the campus' - to improve  workplace energy savings and environmental improvements - and 'greeting the curriculum' - promoting sustainability throughout all aspects of teaching. It also calls on the union to review its own practises and reduce its own 'environmental footprint'.

The Congress continues on Thursday and Friday.

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