This will be yet another challenging year for teachers and education. The NUT-commissioned YouGov survey of teachers published in January showed that morale is at an all-time low and has declined dramatically; 74 per cent said their morale has dropped since the last General Election and only four per cent thinks the government has made a positive difference to the education system. Despite this, the government ploughs on with unacceptable policies.
Teachers have enormous enthusiasm to do the very best they can for every child and young person that comes into their classroom. This, however, is both tempered and dented by the anger and frustration that teachers feel for all kinds of reasons.
Changes are being rushed through on examination and curriculum reform that pay no heed to the profession’s views or concerns. They are not being made in the interest of all children, nor will they result in providing the vibrant environment relevant to the 21st century that schools and colleges should be.
Bringing in a curriculum in which “academic rigour” is all, and where creative and vocational education has very little place, has been roundly condemned. As have the proposals to reduce assessment in GCSE to a three-hour end-of-course examination.
Music and sport provision in schools has been cut and the budget for local authority-provided SEN support in schools has been slashed. Voices from all sides have raised concerns about schools becoming “exam factories”.
School place planning is little short of chaos. It is a scandal that local authorities can no longer build schools. The lack of coherent planning and the democratic deficit to which this leads will not be remedied by a notional middle tier.
The government has the responsibility to ensure that all children in England have a school place. Instead of pursuing projects such as free schools and forced academies, the NUT is calling for a redemocratised local authority with the power and responsibility to provide schools and the support services on which they rely.
For a government that talks about localism, it beggars belief that the coalition has centralised so much education policy in the hands of the secretary of state in Westminster. We need to return to a system of coherently planned and democratically accountable schools for all children, not the few.
The continual undermining of teachers’ pay, pensions and working conditions has not only angered teachers but is also making the profession far less attractive to either enter or to stay in.
The government has continually refused to enter into meaningful talks about resolving our ongoing dispute. It really is a disgrace that the education secretary has let things get to this stage. We continue to seek talks, but if none are forthcoming we will have no option but to take further action to protect education and defend teachers.
On a final note, the coalition parties and others would be wise to reflect on the voting intentions of teachers. When asked in our YouGov survey who they would vote for if there was a general election tomorrow, only 16 per cent of teachers say they will vote Conservative. Seven per cent say Liberal Democrat and 57 per cent Labour.
When an NUT/YouGov survey of teachers just prior to the 2010 General Election asked the same question, 33 per cent said Conservative, 32 per cent Labour and 27 per cent Liberal Democrat.
The recent survey is a shocking indictment of the present education policies and could cost political parties dearly at the General Election. This government demonstrably neither understands education nor cares for teachers or pupils. Further provocation, for example if the education secretary deregulates teachers’ conditions of service, will only serve to fuel teachers’ anger. Michael Gove and his superiors need to rethink their policies.
Christine Blower is general secretary of the National Union of Teachers. Visit www.teachers.org.uk