A WITNEY teacher elected as president of a national union says he has to give breakfast to pupils in his school.

Geoff Branner, 59, of Early Road, Witney, took over the role in the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT) on Friday.

He teaches pupils with special educational needs at Banbury Academy but said many of children arrive at school without being fed.

Mr Branner, who is taking a sabbatical for the year he is president, said: “Poverty is growing in schools.

“The number of children we give free breakfasts to in Banbury has risen considerably in the last four years.

“They are coming to school too tired to concentrate because they could not sleep as their bedroom is so cold and they haven’t been fed.”

It was a topic he spoke on for his maiden speech at the union’s conference in Brighton on Friday.

Mr Branner, who became a teacher in 1977, has worked in special needs education all his career and has also worked at Carterton Community College and Lord Williams’s School in Thame since moving to Witney in 1989.

He served on Witney Town Council from 2000 to 2004 and is a former chairman of Witney Allotment Association.

Mr Branner said his proudest moment was helping to turn around the fortunes of a boy who suffered from neglect at one Oxfordshire school.

He said: “He spent most of his primary school days under a table kicking out at anyone who came near him.

“But in the years he was with me and a fantastic teaching assistant, we provided him the means to keep himself clean, with a complete change of clothes, and taught him to read and write.

“We turned him from someone who was completely unemployable to a young man who was able to hold down a job and is still in a job more than 10 years later.

“He didn’t get five A* to C GCSEs but he got skills that made him a contributing member to society with the dignity of having a job.”

Mr Branner now wants to see state school teachers recognised for their hard work in closing the gap with private schools.

He said: “Oxfordshire schools get £3,000 to £4,000 per year for each child they teach, whereas if you go into a private school they probably get that much per term.

“So what teachers achieve on a shoestring budget is an astonishing achievement. You really can’t compare what’s possible to achieve between those incomes.”

Mr Branner believes he was elected to the role because his “passion for education” is clear.

He added: “I want to ensure that what schools provide for kids helps them to become the authors of their own life story.

“It’s really important that children are given the right tools to equip them for adulthood.

“Where I differ from Michael Gove is that where he thinks everyone needs the same set of tools, I think each child needs their own set of tools for their own purposes.”

Geoff Branner on...

“We didn’t join the National Union of Teachers because we felt the Government had begun to engage in talks and we thought it would be incorrect to take industrial action. There are no plans for strike action but that doesn’t mean we won’t if the Government makes a move we feel would be damaging to future education.”
Free schools
“By and large they are a vanity project for Michael Gove. It seems to me the primary and secondary schools in Oxfordshire tend to fill the requirements of educating kids. The pre-school system has already thrown up some pretty appalling practices in different parts of the country and I don’t think we want to introduce them in Oxfordshire.”
“I think they can do a good job but I’m not convinced they are needed. You can make improvements in the provision of education in any school – it doesn’t require it to be an academy. Having a management structure with directors on large wages removes some of the cash that should be going to working with children in the classroom.”
Primary school places
“If you don’t allow local authorities to build schools and wait for the private sector to step in then they are going to step in when they have a steady source of income guaranteed. There needs to be more planning at Government level. We know when a child is born that four years later they are going to go to school, so we know when primary school places are needed.”
Teachers’ salaries
“We’ve had two rises of one per cent in the past four years. While we recognise costs are going up and it’s harder for us to manage, we know many parents are in an even greater difficulty so we bear those problems. But teachers will start looking for better-paid jobs elsewhere if we’re not careful.”