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Christine Blower

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Christine Blower

Christine Blower (born 1951) is the eleventh General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers, a trade union representing qualified teachers across England and Wales.

Early life

Her father was a miner in his younger days in the north east of England, and then a GPO engineer, as well as a Labour supporter.[1]

She grew up in Kingston upon Thames and attended Tolworth Girls School,[2] a bi-lateral school where she was educated in the grammar stream.[3] Having contemplated a career in law or probation work, she instead trained as a teacher.

Teaching career

In 1973 she took her first teaching post at Holland Park School, a comprehensive in Kensington & Chelsea which was then part of the Inner London Education Authority. There she taught French.[4] At the time of her arrival the school had changed from streamed teaching to mixed-ability teaching, a style of teaching she prefers as it does not “create the sheep and goats situation that comprehensives were set up to avoid.”[5] Her daughter Sophie later attended the school.

In 1980 she became Head of Modern Languages at St Edmund’s Secondary School in Fulham, then Head of Department at Quintin Kynaston School in the borough of Westminster in 1983.

With the threatened break up of the ILEA, Christine Blower moved back to Hammersmith & Fulham in 1990 and concentrated on working with young teenagers at risk of care or custody, by means of a job at Farm Lane Adolescent Resource Centre.[6] After its closure she was redeployed as a member of the local authority's Behaviour Support Team. As she explained in 1997, "The brief of the team is to try and deal with the behaviour in order to calm the children down, get them focussed in on tasks so they can stay in the mainstream."[7]

National Union of Teachers

Christine Blower joined the NUT at the start of her teaching career. Between 1986 and 2004 she held various posts in the West London association, including Secretary.

She was elected to the National Executive of the NUT between 1992 and 2000.

Other positions include National Vice-President in 1996 and then the 125th National President of the NUT from 28 March 1997 to 10 April 1998, succeeding Carole Regan. Blower used this platform to argue for a greater role for teachers in the running of Pupil Referral Units and for "properly resourced nursery provision".[8] She was a critic of grammar schools, SATs and the schools regulator. Of the latter, she argued that "much of what people have to do for Ofsted is an utter waste of time."[9]

Blower failed in her election as General Secretary in 1999, with incumbent Doug McAvoy re-elected by a 17,000 majority.[10] She was later elected Deputy General Secretary on 28 January 2005 under his successor Steve Sinnott.[11]

After the sudden death of Sinnott while in post[12] she became Acting General Secretary on 5 April 2008,[13] and led the union’s first national strike in two decades – over teachers’ pay – a fortnight later.[14]

On 5 May 2009 she was elected unopposed as the first woman General Secretary of the NUT.[15]

In February 2013, inline with the NUT, Blower was among those who gave their support to the People's Assembly in a letter published by The Guardian newspaper.[16] She also gave a speech at the People's Assembly Conference held at Westminster Central Hall on 22 June 2013.

SATs

Christine Blower has aligned herself to long-standing NUT criticisms of the standard assessment tests (or SATs) in schools, including the national boycotts led by the union in 1993[17] and 2010.[18]

Her opposition has centred on the tests' use in the compilation of national league tables, which the NUT would also like to see abolished. Blower has referred to the tests as "high stakes", with teachers under pressure to narrow the curriculum, “skewing everything to enable their pupils to jump through a series of unnecessary hoops.”[19] Addressing the Government’s position in the magazine Tribune, she wrote “Tests do not drive up standards. They just cause additional stress for pupils, teachers and parents. Teachers are continually rushing to deliver a huge curriculum that ends up unbalanced because of the pressure to reach Government-imposed targets. Many feel that they cannot depart from the restrictions of the national curriculum.”[20]

Under Christine Blower's leadership, the NUT has published its proposals for alternative approaches to assessment, most recently in conjunction with the NAHT in 2009[21] and with ATL in 2010.[22] A further document co-authored by the three unions was published in December 2010.[23]

During her Presidential Address to NUT Conference on 29 March 1997, Christine Blower reported that in the previous year her daughter Sophie had been withdrawn from the Key Stage 2 tests.[24]

She told delegates, "As a parent and a teacher, I will continue to support campaigns to rid education of blanket testing of our children." There was much criticism of this 'direct action' [25] in the press, but defending herself, Blower argued that "[Sophie] did something considerably more useful with her time than if she’d been at school during the tests." [26]

This element of her speech was portrayed by some as an example of hard left militancy. Speaking prior to the May 1997 general election, she had chosen to distance herself from New Labour. Two years later, she told a journalist that she was 'to the left of old Labour' and confirmed that she had no affiliation to any political party or group.[27] However, in 2000 she was a member of the London Socialist Alliance, ahead of the Greater London Assembly Elections. She said at the time that it "was formed to prevent disillusionment with Labour giving a new birth to the far right as it did in the 1970s."[28]

Academies and Free Schools

The NUT under Christine Blower’s leadership has been a vocal critic of the Academies programme,[29] both in its original New Labour model through to the expansions brought about by the Academies Act 2010 which favours schools rated 'outstanding' by Ofsted.[30]

Policy introduced by Michael Gove also allows for Free Schools, newly founded and directly funded schools intended to fulfil a local need and with freedoms very similar to Academies. The NUT opposes Free Schools[31] and Blower has voiced concerns that they are able to employ teaching staff without Qualified Teacher Status.[32]

Both of these types of school are outside LEA control and have the potential to make Collective bargaining more difficult.

Christine Blower has disputed the success of the Swedish system as well as American charter schools,[33] both regularly cited by Michael Gove as exemplars of narrowing the social divide.[34][35]

In a cover story for The Spectator magazine in August 2010, it was claimed that NUT activists were "bullying" head teachers known to be considering academy conversion and, with it, a break from local authority control.[36]

Family

Her partner of thirty years, Dennis Charman, a teacher, is Secretary of Hammersmith & Fulham NUT.[37]

Her two daughters have taken the double-barrelled surname Charman-Blower. Sophie attended the University of Edinburgh,[38] where she acted as Edinburgh spokesperson for the Stop the War coalition.

Salary

Her basic pay was reported as being £103,000 in 2011. [39] Her basic pay was reported to have risen to £142,000 in 2012. [40] In 2013, Blower's pay rose again to £154,000[41]

References

External links

  • National Union of Teachers

Press: Interviews, Profiles and Columns

  • , 26 April 2000 (High Beam)
  • , 22 April 2008
  • , 13 May 2008
  • guest column about Primary Curriculum reform, 3 March 2009
  • guest column on SATs, 19 April 2009
  • guest column on Free Schools, 12 February 2010
  • guest column on SATs boycott, 11 March 2010
  • supplement, 9 July 2010
  • interview, 7 October 2010

Media

  • , 12 April 2008
  • , September 2008
  • speaking at Compass Conference, 14 October 2008
  • interview, 24 October 2008
  • , 9 December 2008
  • , 28 September 2009
  • , BBC Radio 4, 12 January 2010
  • , May 2010
  • , BBC Radio 4, 26 October 2010
  • , 2 November 2010
Political offices
Preceded by
Steve Sinnott
General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers
2009-
Succeeded by
Incumbent
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