NEU conference agenda

Welcome to Conference 2021 #NEU21 to all Independent Sector members. It's so important to participate in annual conference and make our voices heard. We are #stronger #together #togetherforchange 

Kevin Courtney:

Who of us could have predicted, in January last year, what 2020 would bring? What a terrible thing COVID has been for our nation and our world.

For all those who have died and for their grieving families and friends.

For all those children and young people whose education has been so disrupted.

For our members who have been heroic in their dedication to their pupils.

And in times of fear and anxiety, NEU members have turned to their union. They have sought advice, information and protection. And their union has been there for them.

Our focus has been to follow the science and to advocate for good education policy based on the science. We released, last summer, an international survey of the evidence on COVID and education. Because we wanted to follow the science, understand what it said and be honest and open with our members, with parents and with the nation. The calls we have made we have made on the basis of the science.

We have always been clear. The concern about schools was never that children would become very ill with COVID, but always about schools as vectors of transmission schools – to our members and out into the community, to parents and grandparents

Time and time again we have been proved right:

We were right to argue for schools and colleges to close to most pupils last March. We were right then to say that clinically extremely vulnerable (CEV) and clinically vulnerable (CV) staff should make their contribution working from home.

Right to ask other staff to be in schools and colleges, working on a rota to support those key worker and vulnerable children

We were right to argue, along with SAGE that there should have been a two-week autumn half-term as a circuit breaker and then with secondary schools operating on a rota basis.  If the Government had listened there would have been less deaths and less disruption to education.

When the Government ignored us, we were right to argue that schools should have been included in the November lockdown to suppress transmission rates from schools into the community.

We were right to argue that schools in Greenwich should be allowed to close the week before Christmas because of the new variant and soaring transmission rates.

Dr Mary Bousted:

We were right that primary schools should not re-open on 4th January in the middle of a pandemic, with infection and hospitalisation rates soaring, and with a new variant which was known to be up to 50% more transmissible. Our zoom meeting on 3rd January had 400,000 members and members of the public on-line. 

Gavin Williamson had decreed that primary schools would re-open come what may.

Blind to the gravity and danger of the situation, he kept on carrying on.

Knowing that it was unsafe to fully open schools, like King Canute he stood on the shores of ignorance telling education professionals that it was safe to go back. 

It was not.

And at least 25% of primary members signed section 44 letters, asserting their right to work in an environment which was not an immediate danger to their health.

This shows that Gavin Williamson was not believed when he said it was safe to return – a statement that Boris Johnson contradicted the very next day at 8pm on 4th January when he said that, unfortunately, schools were acting as vectors of transmission for COVID. 

We were also right to argue that the Government needed to adopt our education recovery plan. If it had done so, transmission rates in schools would have been reduced and pupils would have spent less time out of school home-learning.

We were right to argue that the Government needed a Plan B for GCSE A level and vocational exams. If it had listened to us, teachers would not now be in the position where they learned in late March what they need to know to provide the most accurate grades for their pupils.

Kevin Courtney:

And because we made the right choices and stood up for our members and for their pupils and their communities, the NEU has gained a huge reputation throughout the pandemic.  Because the NEU could be relied upon to speak truth to power, we have grown our membership, power and influence as a union.

We have seen a huge surge in membership – we are 35,000 stronger than this time last year. And we want to welcome all those new members to the union – be they teachers, support staff or school leaders in England, Wales or Northern Ireland.  We want to work with them and with our existing members to improve both their working lives and the education of the children and young people they teach and support.

And we have strengthened the union by increasing our school- and college-rep density. And this is so powerful for our members. 78% of the NEU’s secondary members now work in a school or college with a rep. The percentage isn’t quite as high for primary members, but it is much improved at 58%.

72% of the new reps are women. 38% are under 35. 7% of the new reps are Black – compared to 3% pre COVID. And we recruited over 200 reps after the Black Lives Matter zoom with Jesse Jackson.

The data is important. It allows us to benchmark where we are building the union from the base. But what is more important is what the data means. For the NEU it means that we are becoming, in schools and colleges, more representative of our membership. Young women are stepping up and taking responsibility. They are organising in new ways, using WhatsApp groups to communicate with their members and across their multi-academy trust or local authority. They are sharing their successes and their challenges, helping each other, supporting each other, and winning in their workplaces.

We want to thank all those members who have stepped up and volunteered to be workplace reps, COVID reps, Health and Safety reps. The strength of the union is their strength.

Dr Mary Bousted:

And we must be there for them post-COVID.

We cannot unthinkingly go back to past ways of doing things. We must recognise that there is a ‘new normal’ of new and successful ways of working in the union – to consider what we want to keep doing differently.  Whilst we will welcome, when it comes, the return to in-person meetings in the union – at branch and district and Executive level, at Conference and in CPD events, in regional councils and so much more – we must not forget that for many of our members these events are just not accessible, because they have caring responsibilities. 

So, we have some pressing questions to think about:

  • Why can’t we make zoom available for all meetings, so that members can attend either in-person or remotely – which may be far easier for women with child-care in the evening or at the weekend?
  • And, with blended attendance, how are we going to structure our meetings so that they are welcoming and interesting to all members?

Procedures are important. But we must remember that the procedures are there to serve the purpose of the union which must be to engage, to empower and to energise our members so that they can organise, collectively, to make their working lives better.

Throughout the COVID crisis our members have been remarkable. Remarkable in their commitment to their pupils, remarkable in their dedication to them – turning to new technologies to teach remotely. Remarkable in their compassion for their most vulnerable pupils – feeding them and making sure that they were safe. And remarkable in their connection with their union.

Kevin Courtney:

In his remit letter to the School Teachers’ Review Body (STRB), Gavin Williamson acknowledged that schoolteachers and leaders had made a huge contribution to the nation’s efforts in responding to the unprecedented challenges arising from the COVID-19 pandemic. He praised their ‘extraordinary dedication’. He then went on to argue that their pay should be cut.

Gavin, don’t think that we haven’t noticed. We have.

Words are cheap. And you want teachers and lecturers on the cheap. You want teaching assistants on the cheap. You want supply teachers on the cheap. 

We are not fooled by your talk of a ‘pay pause’.

Let’s call it out for what it is, Gavin – a pay cut. 

A pay cut for the professionals who you relied upon to educate the nation’s pupils remotely. Who, with no CPD completely transformed their practice, using new technology to communicate with pupils in their homes.  Our President, Robin Bevan, calls this the biggest and most successful IT infrastructure project ever accomplished in the UK.

He is right.

A pay cut for the teachers who you, Gavin Williamson, are relying on to support education recovery throughout the next year and beyond so that children and young people are supported to fulfil their potential in life.

And the continuation of low pay and term-time only contracts for support staff who did so much in the pandemic to keep in touch with pupils, to keep them safe, and fed, and connected with their school.

We will make this case in Wales and Northern Ireland – we have some politicians who listen more than Gavin – but we need politicians who will act.

Dr Mary Bousted:

There is no justice in these pay cuts. We know the truth when we see it and the truth is that this Government was fulsome in its praise of the public sector – for nurses and doctors, for teachers and leaders, when it was desperate. But when things get back to a new normal – because of nurses and doctors and teachers and leaders – it reverts to type.

We see you, Boris Johnson. We see you, Gavin Williamson. And we don’t like what we see.

We don’t like what we see when it comes to this Government’s track record on child poverty. Of course, we knew about child poverty before the pandemic – but COVID has revealed, for all to see, the extent and severity of child poverty in the UK.

The NEU’s survey of members on the poverty of so many of their pupils tells a shocking story.

What they have seen, in their remote lessons, getting glimpses into their pupils’ homes, has been shocking.  Children living in damp, overcrowded accommodation with nowhere quiet to work.  Children who have no food in the house. 

All those Tory MPs who castigated teachers in the first wave of the pandemic about the amount and quality of remote learning didn’t mention the shocking fact that, according to Ofcom, between 1 million and 1.8 million children live in homes without internet access or without laptops or other IT devices essential to learn remotely – and, if we are honest, to live fulfilled lives as citizens in the 21st century. Children are going to find it so much more difficult to learn if their lives are blighted by inequality and insecurity.

It should be understood by everyone, even those Tory MPs who voted against giving poor children free school meals in the holidays, that children cannot learn if they are hungry and are hugely stressed if they do not know whether they will be hungry soon.  If they are living in crowded, damp accommodation with nowhere quiet to learn – a huge problem for many children in the pandemic. If they are trying to do remote learning on their mother’s phone because their household is not connected to the internet, or if they don’t have laptops.

Kevin Courtney:

What COVID has exposed is the reality that schools and colleges are far more than institutions where children are educated. One of the most brutal effects of austerity is that so much of the public realm which children and their families relied upon has disappeared: youth centres closed, Sure Start centres closed, libraries closed, and benefits cut or arbitrarily terminated. As these public services have been decimated, so schools and colleges have stepped into the breach – feeding children and clothing them, becoming counsellors, helping parents who can’t fill in their benefit forms.

Anne Longfield talked about this in her final speech as Children’s Commissioner: “Seeing headteachers walking around their communities handing out food parcels to locked-down children – not just to make sure the children are fed, but because it was the only way to see them and to make sure they were OK – that has been incredibly moving.” And she added: “If the pandemic has taught us one thing, it’s the fundamental role that schools play in vulnerable children’s lives – way beyond teaching.”

And so it is entirely right that this year’s Fred and Anne Jarvis award goes to Marcus Rashford, who has been an ambassador for the fundamental right of all children to have enough to eat.  And we want to commend him here and thank him for the work he has done, and continues to do, to stand up for the children that the Conservatives would want us to forget and whose policies make these children’s lives even harder. 

If Boris Johnson means what he says about wanting to level up, he would focus on one important thing.  He would make it his mission to eradicate child poverty which is the biggest cause of unequal outcomes in our education system. 40% of the education attainment gap between rich and poor children is set in stone before they start school. Other countries have done this. If we want to increase the life chances of all children, we must stop them living nervous, anxious narrow lives where they do not know, beyond their school dinner, where the next meal will come from.

Dr Mary Bousted:

Teachers, leaders and support staff have gone beyond the extra mile in this pandemic. They have stepped into the wasteland of public services decimated by austerity, rolled up their sleeves and worked to protect the most vulnerable.  They are heroes and they should be treated as heroes. As should our other key workers.

But as the return to school becomes the new normal it is remarkable how quickly the new normal becomes the bad old days. Workload went through the roof for teachers and leaders with remote learning. You would hope for at least a modicum of relief. But now we are back to in-person teaching and learning, and in too many schools and colleges the bad old days have come back. With the threat of Ofsted inspections looming, some leaders, fearful of the inspectors, reinstate in-school accountability practices which work only to exhaust teachers, not to improve the quality of their teaching or their pupils’ learning.

So now we are seeing the re-emergence of lesson observations, and book scrutiny and curriculum audits. All of which are built on mistrust and all of which denigrate our members’ professionalism. What should be a collegiate conversation becomes dictation. And what gets diminished and destroyed in this? Teacher professionalism, autonomy and efficacy.

The OECD says that the essence of professionalism is informed choice and autonomy – the ability to use your experience and knowledge to make informed judgements.  Now, the stats we are going to use next are from the 2018 TALIS survey run by the OECD. I am afraid that there are no figures for Wales and Northern Ireland because those nations did not take part in TALIS. England has now pulled out of this international survey as well. We opposed this strongly, but we think that the survey results are so worrying that the Government did not want any more bad news.

So, what does TALIS tell us? Well, the most startling and shocking finding is that England comes top of the OECD league table when it comes to teacher stress. 38% of teachers in England reported that they felt a lot of stress in their work – when the OECD average for teachers feeling a lot of stress is 18%, less than half the figure in England. 

That’s shocking, isn’t it? But I bet it’s what you knew already from your own experience.

Teachers don’t mind working hard.  The profession already works the most unpaid overtime of any profession, with working weeks regularly exceeding 50 hours.

But teachers do mind – they mind very much – being told what to do and spending hours and hours of wasted time filling in forms, inputting data and marking. Teachers in England also come top of the marking league table. Other countries are investing far more in other forms of assessment, in addition to marking, and focusing on conversations between pupils and teachers which allow for much more detailed and focused feedback.

Nearly 40% of teachers in England feel that they do not have enough control over their practice and are able to make professional decisions about the content of their lessons.  Across the OECD, 81% of teachers feel that they do have control of their practice. What are we doing wrong in this country to make teachers feel so lacking in professional empowerment and judgement?

What are we doing in this country to make leaders so ground down? Why do they feel so strongly that the Department for Education is a hindrance rather than a help to their work? Why do they feel so unsupported by government despite their heroic efforts to educate children, to care for them, to run a test track and trace programme in their schools and colleges?

How is it that the government could have got this pandemic so badly wrong when it came to education? How is it that the DfE resorted to multiple versions of its guidance, leaving leaders desperately trying to decipher what had changed between one version and the next? As if they did not have enough to do as it is. 

Conference, we get wearily resigned to the incompetence of our government.  But international comparisons tell us something new. It doesn’t need to be like this. And in other high performing nations, it is not like this. It doesn’t have to be this way.

Kevin Courtney:

So we, the NEU, are going to try do something about it. We are going to use our new strength, our new technology to fight for teacher professionalism and control. We are going to take the motion on workload, passed at this conference, and give our reps the tools to bargain for good work in schools and colleges, MATs and local authorities. Work that empowers teachers, educates their pupils, and raises standards of education.

We are going to make Motion 20, building the union in each education workplace, a reality so that the NEU is able to make a difference, as the motion directs us, to members’ daily working lives. And we will do this by supporting our reps nationally so that, in school after school, we negotiate on the professional issues which are at the centre of our members’ working lives – pedagogy, the curriculum, assessment, in-school accountability and CPD.

We will, school by school, college by college, MAT by MAT, give our reps and members the confidence to assert their rights as professionals. Their right to good work. Their right to having their valuable time valued. Their right to be listened to. Their right to have their knowledge and experience respected. We will encourage them to share their experiences of winning steps no matter how small so that we turn the conversation. Yes, we can do something – we can make some ground.

And we will make this case nationally to Government and to employers – and we will make it to parents and the public.

We will engage with every section and sector of our union to ensure this work is strengthened through the perspectives of leaders, support staff, college staff, supply members and across all our diverse equality strands. When we work together, we can achieve so much.

Now we aren’t looking for changes on teacher workload which transfer it to existing support staff who are already overworked and underpaid. Nor are we looking for changes which move workload up to school leaders. Instead, we want more funding for schools. And we want to arrange teacher workload the way other countries do – where teachers don’t have to spend so much time producing documents which evidences what they have done. 

And we will do this, not just for our members – although that is a very good thing to do – but for the children and young people they teach. Because they deserve teachers who are not exhausted. They deserve teachers who are able to stay in the profession, not leave in droves within five years. They deserve an education system which is not fatally undermined by teacher shortages and by experienced teachers leaving in despair, leaving a job they love, because they just cannot stand the stress anymore.

We will continue to campaign, as Motion 26 demands, on child poverty. And we will build on our hugely successful Help A Child to Learn campaign with the Daily Mirror, providing over £1m of stationery and learning aids to children who, when asked in their homes to get a pen and paper to write with, had neither in their house. We will launch a pledge for every politician to hold them to account for the action they take on child poverty.

We will continue to work towards a better, more inclusive education system: for disabled children through our work on SEND and mental health support, as motion 34 asks us to, and for an education system that take on the challenge of race as motion 24 suggests.

We won’t be fazed by reports which say racism doesn’t exist or doesn’t matter in our education system.

We say to Boris Johnson and the Government: it is true that black children often face two obstacles – one racism, the other poverty.

But far from using this to say racism doesn't matter, this truth should be a clarion call for you, Prime Minister, to act on both.

But currently you are failing on each.

We will challenge sexism and gender stereotypes in schools, building on the ground-breaking work we have done with our Sexism in Schools – It’s Just Everywhere report and our CPD materials.

Dr Mary Bousted:

But Conference, we also believe that you do not intend that girls who have been raped, girls who have been sexually harassed in schools and colleges, would be required to remain in a classroom or walk down a corridor with the perpetrator of that rape or that harassment. The NEU’s own report It’s Just Everywhere showed how routine is the sexual abuse and harassment of girls in schools and colleges. The Everyone’s Invited website, with thousands of testimonies from girls and young women, shows the shocking extent of sexual harassment and sexual violence perpetrated against girls in schools and colleges. The testimonies are heart-breaking and shaming.

And in those cases and in cases where teachers and support staff are physically attacked whilst doing their job, we believe that the sanction of exclusion must still be available if that is the correct sanction to keep the victims safe. And to keep boys who are viciously bullied or attacked safe.

What is important, surely, is that no child or young person is ever excluded from education. If a school or a college ceases to be the best place for that young person, then the alternative provision provided for them must be excellent, enables them to progress in their education and in their personal and social development and be reintegrated into mainstream education as soon as possible. That is the interpretation that we will use.

Conference, schools and colleges need to be better places to learn for all our pupils. The NEU’s independent commission on assessment – looking at alternatives to the secondary-school route march through exams – will report later this year. We will publicise the findings of this commission and be a leading player in the debate, which is raging now, about GCSE and A levels and their future. COVID has revealed to parents just how inappropriate is the national curriculum, which is not ‘powerful knowledge’ but a route march through rote learning.

It is notable that fundamental questions are now being asked, by so many, including Kenneth Baker, and Tory MPs, about the curriculum and assessment. For example – what is the purpose of GCSEs when students remain in education and training until they are 18? Why do we put our young people through so many exams? What does this pressure do to their attitude to learning? Why don’t we plan and prepare for skills development? The NEU commission on assessment is looking at all these key questions, and so are many other groups.

Conference, the NEU showed, in a crisis, just how powerful we are when we work together. If the NEU was not a household name before the pandemic, it is now.  Just look at our reach. We increased our Facebook page from 50,000 to 150,000 followers this year and we now have the biggest social media presence of any union in the UK.

We can use that reach to make the case for education in so many other areas – building our campaign on school funding, for the much-needed reform of primary school assessment, and an end to SATs and baseline tests.

If there is one lie that has been nailed, it is this one – that schools and colleges are solely academic institutions with one purpose. Of course, that is the key, central purpose of education institutions  – teaching and learning – but they  are so much more. And how much more, they have shown this year.

We will use this media reach to inform and educate. We will use it to give confidence to our members and to our reps. Confidence in the strength of the NEU. Confidence in our evidence-informed policies and campaign. Confidence in their ability to exercise their professional judgement.  Confidence that they have the right to make choices about the work that they do, which should be empowering and fulfilling and energising – it should be good work. Confidence that they have the right to have reasonable working hours which give them time for their family and friends, for resting and relaxation. Confidence that they have the right to be paid properly for the work that they do.

And in supporting our members developing this confidence, our union will be built anew in each school and each college.

We, you, conference are the NEU. And there is power in the union.

NEU Annual Conference 2021 Outcomes

Abolish Ofsted and League Tables 

Commenting on the passing of Motion 5 at the National Education Union’s Annual Conference, which is being held virtually, Dr Mary Bousted, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said: 

“Our latest survey of over 10,000 members casts Ofsted in a very poor light. As we emerge from a time of great challenge for the education system and all who work in it, there is no taste for the return of full inspections. 77% of respondents told us that if Government are to truly support us during the recovery, they need to put both Ofsted and performance tables on the backburner throughout this academic year and the next. (1)

“Recovery is not a one-term effort. At this time, we must focus on the needs of pupils and what schools and their staff judge to be the best approaches to rebuilding on-site learning.

“Even to set aside Covid, we already knew that Ofsted was not fit for purpose. Inspections are by definition judgemental but these are judgements without solutions. They are crude snapshot assessments of the work of a school or college, conducted without much regard for local context and certainly without a full sense of a school or college’s year-round work. And even by its own admission, Ofsted cannot guarantee consistency or fairness in the work that they do. For many years they have sent inspectors unqualified in the phases or subjects they are required to inspect.

“Plans to return to full inspections from September indicate that the Education Inspection Framework will be foisted upon workplaces where it is utterly inappropriate. Primary schools cannot jump through those hoops as they do not organise on a subject basis in the way secondaries do.

“We need to see a new, fair and reliable system of inspection which works with schools, gives them confidence to make changes, and generates meaningful, accurate and reliable information about the school their child attends. Our current inspections system offers none of this.

“Ofsted is not an agent of change. It is a blunt instrument – a wholly negative presence in schools, never offering constructive advice. Its determination to get back into schools at the earliest opportunity has been unseemly. Ofsted is a symbol of the dead hand of Government, of its lack of trust in the profession, and must be abolished.”

Stop Toxic Testing

Commenting on the passing of motion 6 at the National Education Union’s Annual Conference, which is being held virtually, Dr Mary Bousted, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said:

"The pandemic has taught us bitter lessons about the consequences of inequality for health, life chances and wellbeing. 

"Today, the Union has set out the measures government should take to learn from the failures of the past and to open up our narrow, test-driven and restrictive education system so that it benefits all learners, from the early years to adulthood.

"The government’s dogmatic belief in testing all primary pupils in order to monitor school performance is destroying children’s enjoyment in learning and lowering the quality of education. The union will be campaigning to ensure that the government drops its plans to test all four-year-olds when they enter reception class and gives up the idea of restoring SATs in 2022.

"Moving with the grain of educational opinion, the union is calling for fundamental reform of 16+ and 18+ examinations. On the government’s watch, we are stuck more deeply than ever in a divided and debt-ridden system of further and higher education which offers opportunities to some, while leaving others with no clear pathway to study and qualifications. In a society aiming at economic progress and general wellbeing, these arrangements are archaic and intolerable."

GCSE and A-Levels

Commenting on the passing of motion 7 at the National Education Union’s Annual Conference, which is being held virtually, Dr Mary Bousted, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said:

“The pandemic has exposed the flaws that exist when awarding GCSE and A-Level grades even in a normal year. Relying on assessment which takes place entirely at the end of the course and via just one method – examinations – is exceptionally high-risk and does not enable all students to demonstrate what they know and can do. Neither does awarding grades based on how a student has performed in comparison to others. This must change. Students surely deserve to be rewarded on the basis of their own merits.

“Having called on government to review this system, to no avail, the NEU is supporting an independent commission on assessment and qualifications, chaired by Professor Louise Hayward of the University of Glasgow, and looking to meet the future needs of students, teachers, our economy and our society.

“The government would do well to learn from its mistakes of the past two years, in which contingency planning was frankly non-existent, and start preparing now for a fair method of grading students in summer 2022. These students will also have missed significant proportions of their course and therefore many will not have had a chance to cover the full curriculum by the time their exams are due. The earlier that preparations are made, the fairer they will be for all.”

A Diverse and Inclusive Curriculum 

Commenting on the passing of motion 8 at the National Education Union’s Annual Conference, which is being held virtually, Dr Mary Bousted, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said:

"We need the government to leave the classroom. Its efforts to control in detail what is taught and how it is taught are harmful to students and frustrating for those who work in schools. Educators have learned much during the pandemic about the ways in which they can understand and support the needs of learners – and they have also seen that centralised attempts to regulate the work of schools have hindered their efforts.

"In place of micro-management, teachers need space to make a curriculum that is broad and balanced, offering opportunities for creativity, exploration and for meaningful, collaborative learning.

"That is why, from today, the union will be championing and supporting change that is the fruit of collaboration of staff at school level. We will take careful note of the experience of remote learning, and work to ensure that it is not used as a cheaper substitute for quality teaching and learning.”

Maternity Rights

Commenting on the passing of motion 9 at the National Education Union’s Annual Conference, which is being held virtually, Dr Mary Bousted, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said:

“The majority of education workers are women, but government data shows that men are quicker to progress in terms of their career and salary (1). Sexism and sexist biases including pregnancy and maternity discrimination mean that women in the education sector are losing out in status and pay. 

“This situation has worsened for all women in the education sector with the fragmentation of the education system. Whereas women and their line managers and employers once had access to a clear, fair maternity policies, academisation has excluded many women from the workplace benefits negotiated by their trade unions.

“Discrimination against women who are pregnant and on or returning from maternity leave was increasing in the education sector, but it has been relentless throughout the pandemic. Risk assessments have not included the risks to pregnant women and their unborn babies, women have been punished for taking time off related to their pregnancy, employers have tried to force women to start their maternity leave early, women returning from maternity leave have been denied flexible working, and breast-feeding women have been subjected to the most degrading treatment.

“These insidious trends need to change, to ensure women’s needs are properly met in the provision of services at work and to make work safe and discrimination free for women who are pregnant on maternity leave or returning to work after having given birth.”  

Pay Freeze 

Commenting on the passing of motion 10 at the National Education Union’s Annual Conference, which is being held virtually, Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said:

“The Government's ideologically-driven pay freeze is both unjustified and unfair. Education staff are key workers who have contributed hugely to the country's pandemic response, but this year they face another significant cut to the real value of their pay against inflation following a decade of previous attacks on their pay.

“As the economy recovers from the pandemic, inflation and earnings in the wider economy will pick up. Education staff face a double-whammy of cuts to the real value of their pay and a growing gap between their pay levels and those in comparable professions. This is not only unfair but will also intensify the existing recruitment and retention problems in schools and colleges. The pandemic has not solved those underlying problems but pay freezes and pay cuts will make them worse.

“In addition to pay cuts which were themselves unjustified, performance-related pay (PRP) has been imposed on teachers due to Government ideology and with no regard for the damage it causes. PRP and the dismantling of the national pay structure have contributed to the lack of transparency and fairness in pay. There are major concerns about the equality impact of the imposition of PRP, as shown by NEU member surveys. Instead of responding to the evidence that PRP in education is fundamentally unfair, inappropriate and damaging, the Government prefers to plough on with its ideological obsession.

“The contribution of education staff to the pandemic response has been immense, but their contribution to the recovery from the pandemic will also be crucial. The Government should be investing in education and valuing education staff properly, but instead it is choosing to repeat the failed austerity approach of cutting public sector pay. Other countries are not making this mistake. Public sector wages are spent in the private sector, so public sector pay cuts will create problems for the private sector too.

“We need fair pay for all education staff. Education staff don't need pay cuts and PRP, they need to be valued as the key workers they are. NEU members in schools and colleges continue to campaign for fair pay in education. The success of our campaign is essential if we are to reward education staff properly and rebuild the country's skills base in the wake of the pandemic.”

Covid-19 and Workload 

Commenting on the passing of motion 11 at the National Education Union’s Annual Conference, which is being held virtually, Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said:

“What has been clear over the past 12 months is that the workload facing staff in schools and colleges remains stubbornly high. Even in normal circumstances, teachers work some of the longest hours of any profession, and certainly in excess of the recommended maximum of 48 hours per week set out in the working time regulations. The Department for Education’s own research bears this out.

“Our members tell us that keeping workloads at an acceptable level is absolutely essential to rebuild from the past year. 85% of the 10,000+ members responding to our latest survey put it at the very top of the agenda. (1) They are crying out for the space to concentrate on their essential role, not the endless demands of a data-obsessed government. In many workplaces members have come together in order to challenge the causes of high workload – but not all of it can be resolved at school or college level.

“The problem of high workload predates the pandemic and will, unfortunately, survive it.

“A starting point on the road to solving workload would be for Government to make a serious commitment on funding. Real-term cuts over many years have caused much damage, forcing class sizes to increase, subject options to narrow, buildings to fall apart and staffing levels to drop. Clearly if there was a truly restorative investment in schools and colleges, one that would allow large class sizes to become a thing of the past, then the benefits would be immense and lasting for all.

“This is, however, only part of the way in which we should tackle workload. If young people’s learning is indeed the same priority of Government as it is for school and college staff, then the culture of ‘data, data, data’ must end. Ofsted and performance tables are crude and unhelpful and distract from the essential work of a school. 82% of members want flexibility in the curriculum right now so they can respond individually to the needs of their students, which is surely the most important thing we can do as professionals as schools and colleges emerge from Covid.”

Addressing the Crisis of Disability Equality in Our Schools

Commenting on the passing of motion 23 at the National Education Union’s Annual Conference, which is being held virtually, Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said: 

“The disabled staff working in education who have been at greater risk from Covid have experienced a really anxious year trying to do their job, obtain a risk assessment and obtain the right adjustments. 

“Many schools did prioritise risk assessments and made the right decisions about which staff should be allowed to work from home but many staff with underlying health conditions that placed them at additional risk were pressured to come into school sites. It's clear that not enough was done by the government to guide employers and to give timely advice about supporting staff with health conditions through Covid. 

“Across the country, NEU members worked together to negotiate for safe arrangements for staff members at greater risk and the vital role of unions in supporting safety at work became apparent. 

“There remains a job of work to do within the education sector about making sure employers make reasonable adjustments to retain and value their staff who are disabled. This year in many workplaces, the Government shielding advice has been ignored and this caused extreme anxiety for thousands of education staff. 

“Families with children with SEND have lived through a highly pressured and isolating year. 

“After Conference, the NEU will campaign for increased SEND funding a broader curriculum and greater support for SEND learners, better professional development on inclusive pedagogy, and a strategy for fully accessible schools going beyond just ramps.” 

The NEU has published a resource about disability equality, aimed at primary schools, called The Full Story

Harassment, Abuse and Violence Against Women 

Commenting on the passing of an emergency motion at the National Education Union’s Annual Conference, which is being held virtually, Dr Mary Bousted, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said: 

“It is overwhelmingly clear that sexual harassment and sexual violence is still normalised and widespread in our society and that it's therefore commonplace in schools. We've got to find better ways to listen to girls' voices and to talk actively in schools about sexism because boys don't 'grow out of' the sexist stereotypes pushed onto them. 

“Sexism has real negative consequences for girls and for female staff, who disproportionately experience sexual violence and harassment. If we want different outcomes for girls, we need to start doing things differently. 

“Schools must be empowered to do more. Schools must be given curriculum flexibility and shown national leadership that says that wellbeing and social development really is the key business of schools. The NEU wants all schools to be able to develop a whole-school approach to prevent the attitudes and sexist ideas about girls that fuel sexual harassment. This must be about supporting schools to use the whole curriculum to promote equality between girls and boys, to talk actively about sexism and women's history. We need to share ideas from schools where they actively challenge harmful gender stereotypes, consistently and regularly. There must be clear school policies on sexual harassment which are talked about, and referenced, regularly. Women and girls must be supported to speak out about what sorts of language, jokes and incidents constitute harassment and we need more training for schools and school staff. 

“But schools cannot stop sexism and misogyny on their own. The Government must show long-term leadership and create a strategy to use the potential of education to address sexism and sexual harassment. Bringing in Ofsted to review safeguarding policies is not the answer – because high stakes tick-box pressure on schools is precisely what teachers say is squeezing out all the time and space for curriculum work on sexism, pastoral work and social skills. 

“Education policy must help schools to create the capacity and opportunity for the social and emotional aspects of education and subjects like Relationships and Sex Education (RSE). Using the curriculum to challenge sexism and sexual harassment must be a central part of the Government’s re-imagining of education as we recover from Covid-19 and reflect on its lessons.”

Protecting Black Lives in Education 

Commenting on the passing of motion 21 at the National Education Union’s Annual Conference, which is being held virtually, Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said: 

“Throughout 2020 and 2021, racism and the value of Black lives has been the subject of persistent and painful news stories, and the Covid pandemic has laid bare the extent of racial inequalities in all areas of social policy.

 “The NEU will work to support members to raise issues of discrimination in their workplaces without recrimination. 

“Race disparities in education are ongoing and can be seen in the issues around the retention and progression of Black staff, the increasing incidents of racial harassment and bullying and the disproportionality in the exclusion of Black students. The NEU developed an anti-racism charter to address the demand for change to the unrepresentative and narrow curriculum from parents and from the profession. (1) The algorithm used in last year's assessment fiasco, which advantaged children in private schools and therefore penalised Black and disadvantaged children, highlighted the NEU’s longstanding concerns about the unfairness built into current national policy in education. Racism and racial inequality is often in addition to the social exclusion, stress and stigma created for Black families from being trapped in poverty and low paid jobs.  

“The racial disparity in student exclusions is a warning the country can't ignore. The NEU wants to see the number of student exclusions reduced by giving schools the tools they need – smaller classes, a flexible and engaging curriculum, and much more investment for pastoral systems. We must prevent exclusion by working with the young people at risk of exclusion, in multi-agency teams across schools, youth groups, and other services. This multi-agency co-operation and planning has been much harder because of local authority cuts. 

“In June 2020, the NEU wrote to the Government with five demands to enable all children and young people to benefit from equitable education systems and a curriculum which teaches British and global history in representative and inclusive ways. (2) These proposals remain relevant and urgent.  The Department for Education needs a strategy on making the teaching profession more representative and on progression and promotion for Black staff. Previous administrations have made more headway on ethnicity and progression in the profession, but robust strategies were dismantled. 

"It is a symptom of poverty and racism that the majority of students in our Pupil Referral Units are working-class and Black students. We need to look at the causes of racism and poverty and educate very proactively against the attitudes and economics that create racial prejudice and racial profiling – especially at a time when far-right groups are very actively targeting teenagers online. Young people want to talk about racism, and their experiences in and out of school, but these opportunities are not being provided. Anti-racist work is made harder because of the packed curriculum, which is over-focused on knowledge at the expenses of skills, social development and developing self-worth. 

“This is not the time for patience but for robust action against racism, including changes to the curriculum in England and building a more diverse profession. Racism will not be addressed without positive action and we need to talk openly and candidly about racism and the social division and harmful stereotyping it creates for Black workers and for young Black people.”

Combat Climate Breakdown in School and Beyond 

Commenting on the passing of motion 25 at the National Education Union’s Annual Conference, which is being held virtually, Dr Mary Bousted, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said: 

“The impact of climate change is already upon us. Across the globe we see the devastation taking hold of people's lives and the environment: from melting ice caps to droughts and increased risk of fires, hurricanes and flooding.  

“The Government should recognise the power of education in the fight against climate change and ensure that the school curriculum addresses the climate emergency, the effects of climate change and what we can do to mitigate it. For many educators, this will be a challenge, and they will need training in how to teach about these topics. 

“The Government must also be pressed to take its climate commitments and targets seriously. The run up to November's UN Conference in Glasgow provides an opportunity to build pressure on the Government, and the NEU intends to do this in partnership with others. 

“The UK needs a workforce able to help achieve these targets and make us a world leader in sustainable technologies. Vocational courses should include the green skills needed to achieve this. Responding to the climate crisis by ‘greening the economy’ can open the gateway for hundreds of thousands of green jobs.”

Child Poverty

Commenting on the passing of motion 26 at the National Education Union’s Annual Conference, which is being held virtually, Dr Mary Bousted, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said:

“The last ten years has seen a dramatic rise in child poverty across the UK – and without drastic, immediate action from Government the numbers will increase. Coronavirus has shone a light on the reality of child poverty in 2021 – and a clear majority of the voting public support Government action to end child poverty. 

“Today at Conference we've heard how, throughout the pandemic, school staff stepped up, taking their nurturing and welfare role seriously. Schools worked tirelessly to provide healthy, nutritious food, and the technology and pastoral support many pupils rely on. Through the NEU partnership with the Daily Mirror, the Help a Child to Learn campaign shared out over £1.2 million worth of vital learning resources, like pens, pencils and paper. Learning materials went to 1,260 schools in the most deprived areas of the country showing that schools, parents and the public want to work together to tackle poverty.

“World-famous footballers cannot alone fix child poverty, but they have shown that the public wants to see poverty tackled. The latest research predicts that by the next General Election, 730,000 more children and young people will be caught in poverty’s grip. Nearly a fifth of school children are now eligible for Free School Meals (FSM), and many more from low-income families surviving on as little as £20.27-a-day miss out on this crucial support. 

“There is a new ambitious mood, created by Covid, where parents have witnessed the reality of different learning environments at home. There is broad public support for extending FSM provision across the school holidays. Tackling hunger and malnutrition would immediately alleviate a huge amount of anxiety for families.

“We've got to have high ambitions for every child, and ensure wellbeing, nurture and learning go hand in hand in school but poor students need less poverty, urgently, not more schooling. The Government is pretending to voters that great teaching alone can lift students out of poverty, and it's simply not true. Powerful learning for every student must be our goal but we have got to face the fact that hunger, housing, and the anxiety created by poverty means poor children will be left behind their affluent peers. Let's close the gaps in income, food, housing and tech in order to close the gaps in opportunity and ambition.”

PSHE, RSE and LGBT+ Inclusive Education

 Commenting on the passing of motion 27 at the National Education Union’s Annual Conference, which is being held virtually, Dr Mary Bousted, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said:

“The introduction of statutory Relationships, Sex and Health Education (RSHE) in England from September last year was a crucial milestone in how we help children and young people grow up to form happy, healthy relationships and feel able to be themselves.

“The NEU remains committed to supporting schools to understand the new requirements and we will work to increase confidence within primary and secondary schools about the curriculum change. Not all schools are confident about how to develop a curriculum that is LGBT+ inclusive, and this matters because each student needs to access information about diversity in society. We can't work towards equality in society or tackle discrimination in workplaces unless we talk positively about LGBT+ people across the curriculum.  

“The Department for Education must continue to provide teachers with access to inclusive RSHE training and it must ensure that all relevant guidance supports LGBT+ inclusion – providing clear and practical advice rather than alarming schools about what they can’t do. 

“The NEU has recently published Every Child, Every Family, a resource about reading which is one straightforward way to challenge stereotypes with primary children and to include diverse families in the curriculum.

“As we emerge from the pandemic it's clear that the subject of RSHE needs to be an important part of school life. Schools must be supported to make the most of this subject as it is one way that schools can respond to the inequality which affects students’ lives. 

“We also need consistent recognition from the Secretary of State of the vital role RSHE plays. It must no longer be pushed to the margins due to pressures on academic catch-up. Children’s social and emotional learning matters, in its own terms, and also because it underpins successful learning. Relationships, Sex and Health Education matters.  If we are to have successful recovery education, then the Government must enable schools to adapt teaching and learning to meet the needs of the students in their class or subject.”

Post-16 Sector

Commenting on the passing of motion 32 at the National Education Union’s Annual Conference, which is being held virtually, Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said:

“The post-16 sector was already facing huge challenges before Covid, especially in terms of funding and pay for teachers and lecturers.  The Government's White Paper misses the opportunity to address these problems.

“The cuts in funding since 2010 have decimated provision in the post 16 sector, with 50% of adult learning places gone, little demand for 16-18 apprenticeships, and inadequate funding per student even after the increases announced in the November 2020 spending review.

“Pay for FE college teachers has fallen behind pay for teachers in schools by around £7,000 per head.  Given the important and invaluable role that FE colleges play in the education of young people, this disparity in both funding and pay is a disgrace.

“The NEU's success in mobilising member support and securing pay parity with schools for sixth form college teachers has shown the value of trade union activism. However, long-term stability can only be secured by an increase in funding for the whole of the post-16 sector.

“The NEU will continue to support joint work on this issue, such as the #loveourcolleges campaign undertaken by the Association of Colleges and the trade unions, which seeks an increase in the funding rate to £5k per learner.  If the Government is to achieve its agenda of levelling up and the promise of better jobs, it must restore funding and pay in the sector.”

Union Recognition and Teachers' Pension Scheme (TPS)

The National Education Union’s 2021 Annual Conference has today debated calls from members working in the independent sector for a national campaign to protect teachers’ pensions in the sector and for collective trade union representation in independent schools.

Commenting on the passing of motion 33 at the National Education Union’s Annual Conference, which is being held virtually, Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said:

“The Teachers’ Pension Scheme is a fundamental part of a teacher’s remuneration. It is integral to the profession. We believe that all teachers should have the right to be in the scheme. The NEU will vigorously support our members’ defence of their right to the TPS.

“The NEU is alarmed that a watershed moment in employee relations within the independent sector has been reached. Employers are resorting to the draconian practice of ‘fire and rehire’ as a default position in an attempt to steam-roller contractual change. The NEU believes that ‘fire and rehire’ has no place in modern Britain.

“Sadly, on many occasions, NEU members have been left with little option than to strike to protect their contractual rights. Striking is absolutely the last resort. It is not something that our members want to do. However, faced with a such fundamental cut to their remuneration, and often the treat of ‘fire and rehire’, many are prepared to do so.

“In the last few weeks, NEU members had a successful outcome to their planned strike at the Mall School, London Borough of Richmond. The employer agreed to halt any discussion on leaving the TPS for the time being, but to review in two years’ time. And our strike at Wycliffe College and prep school in Gloucestershire, has been settled by way of compromise.

“The latest NEU members to join the fray are at Stonyhurst College, Lancashire, giving notice of six days of strike action in April.

“Members know that union recognition is the best way to influence the decisions that directly affect their daily working lives. We call upon all our members to look at strengthening their collective voice.

“Teachers in the independent sector worked tirelessly under extremely difficult circumstances during the covid lockdown. A swingeing cut to their pension is no way to repay them. We call on employers to pause and consider the big picture.”

SEND Funding and Mental Health

Commenting on the passing of motion 34 at the National Education Union’s Annual Conference, which is being held virtually, Dr Mary Bousted, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said:

“Current funding for special educational needs (SEND) in schools is grossly inadequate and the Covid crisis has made the future even bleaker for the existing 1.28 million SEND students.  The real-terms cuts to schools funding, aligned with the additional costs of Covid, has increased the pressure on SEND and mental health support both in schools and local authorities.  

“The Covid crisis has meant many SEND students have not had their usual access to the therapies and pastoral support that enables inclusion. Mental health services are stretched to breaking point as more young people face crises due to the effects of Covid restrictions, undiagnosed SEND and trauma. Child & Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) needs emergency funding to ensure all young people requiring support are able to access professional support in a timely manner, alongside proper long-term investment in mental health services in both schools and local authorities. 

“Government must properly fund all schools and to conduct an urgent review of high-needs funding. This must ensure that an Education, Health and Care (EHC) plan provides the actual funding needed to deliver the SEND child or young person’s entitlement. We must also remind government that EHC plans now apply for SEND young people up to the age of 25, as there is concern that so many families have difficulty accessing support beyond the age of 18. Recovery education must have the capacity to support children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing rather than focussing relentlessly on academic catch-up.”

Funding for Nursery Schools

Commenting on the passing of motion 35 at the National Education Union’s Annual Conference, which is being held virtually, Dr Mary Bousted, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said:

“In principle, our government accepts that high-quality early years education is essential in the fight against educational disadvantage. In practice, it is a different story. 

“The number of maintained nursery schools is falling. Lacking any long-term funding guarantee and having been declared ineligible for government financial support for the costs of Covid-19, those nursery schools that remain open are under extreme financial pressure. Only 28% expect to balance their budget in the current financial year. 

“These schools are proven centres of excellence, often located in the most deprived areas of the country and providing skills and resources which support neighbouring early years settings. It is essential that these are not lost. Yet a steady and unforgivable process of amalgamations and closures is leading precisely in that direction. 

“Over the last year, the NEU has worked with the NAHT, Unison and Early Education in a campaign which has reached literally millions of people. We have supported the valuable work of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Nursery Schools, Nursery and Reception classes. With them, we call on the government to guarantee that maintained nursery schools will have viable long-term funding from September 2021.

“The NEU is determined that the early years sector will not be the poor relation of the education system. If the government thinks it can quietly preside over the dissolution of the precious resource that maintained nurseries represent, it is wrong. Today’s resolution commits the union to redouble our efforts. Working with a range of organisations, we will step up our effort to ensure increased funding. We will commit new resources to supporting and organising our members in maintained nurseries. We are determined to expose the government’s lackadaisical neglect of this vital sector.”

Supply Staff

Commenting on the passing of motion 13 at the National Education Union’s Annual Conference, which is being held virtually, Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said:

“The Covid crisis has demonstrated even more reasons to change the way that we organise the provision of supply staff in schools.

“Supply agencies have driven down pay and drained hundreds of millions of pounds from school funding. During the last lockdown, most agencies were hugely reluctant to furlough supply staff, despite the massive sums made from them in the past. Many staff were left without any income at all unless they qualified for State support.

“The money taken by agencies should be spent on children’s education – on books and resources, on better and warmer buildings and on more and better paid staff, not handed over to businessmen and shareholders who have done nothing to earn it.

“The NEU is pressing for better systems for supply provision to benefit staff and schools alike. Modern technology can put staff and schools directly in contact, cutting out the agencies and reducing costs. The system already in operation in Northern Ireland should be adopted more widely. The NEU’s Alternatives to Agencies initiative is exploring such solutions at local level with local authorities, multi academy trusts and regional government agencies. The Department for Education must become involved as well.

“Supply staff are essential when regular staff are absent, yet they are often poorly treated by agencies and schools. The NEU will be redoubling its efforts to secure their rights under the Agency Workers regulations, which agencies and schools too often seek to ignore or circumvent including by terminating engagements.

“The NEU will also continue to press for supply teachers to be offered the opportunity to employed as part of the Government’s summer catch-up programme and a longer-term education recovery plan.

“Supply staff in schools have been exploited for years. Supply teachers in particular are paid far less than teachers in permanent posts.  Their employment day to day has always been uncertain. It is morally wrong for the Government to let a system which is fundamentally rotten simply resume after lockdown.”

Pride in Our Union

Commenting on the passing of motion 22 at the National Education Union’s Annual Conference, which is being held virtually, Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said:

“In the last few years, it's become more widely understood how commonly trans workers face discrimination at work and harassment in public spaces.

“It is important that employers and unions work together to understand the barriers and discrimination faced by LGBT+ workers and to help make sure trans workers can do their jobs safely and stay and progress in their chosen careers. Discrimination causes a waste of talent and can contribute to mental health issues and resignations. We've got to assert that homophobic and transphobic discrimination doesn't go unnoticed or unchallenged.

“The NEU has a wide range of existing advice and tools about how schools can support young people who are LGBT+, and support LGBT+ staff, including trans students and staff. There are really good ideas from many schools about how they have included LGBT+ issues in their curriculum and had whole school conversations about positive representations of LGBT+ role models in history and across other subjects. This benefits every student as many will identify as non-binary or LGBT+ as they grow up and have LGBT+ family members and friends. 

“It is well past the time where silence about sexual orientation or trans people should be viewed as healthy or justifiable. Schools and colleges, rightly, have responsibilities under the public sector equality duty. Actively challenging gender stereotypes must lie at the heart of giving young people equal opportunities and aspirations. Schools need much more flexibility and space in the curriculum to be enabled to do this. Girls and boys are all harmed by fixed ideas about men and women and stereotypes about gender, and many more young people are now identifying as non-binary so the new RSHE curriculum will be really important. Gender stereotypes create sexism and transphobia.

“Following this motion, the NEU will evaluate its processes as necessary to ensure that rules for challenging inappropriate conduct are clear and accessible.”

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