The debate in schools and in the media will be centred on strike action today (Thursday, June 27) as thousands of teachers take to the picket lines.
The two largest teaching unions are stepping up their campaign against government cuts and education policy. The NASUWT and National Union of Teachers (NUT) were set to go ahead with their first regional walkout as SecEd went to press (see our report, Strike goes ahead after talks deadlock).
It means the gloves will be off as the Westminster PR machine rolls into action against us. Education secretary Michael Gove is quite happy to see teachers walking out, as it gives him the excuse he needs to go on the attack – and he will no doubt accuse the unions of adding to the hardships of families and disrupting the education of our children.
The merits of strike action are often debated at times like these, with some commentators arguing that it has little effect and comes at too high a cost – especially when Mr Gove is likely not to listen. However, SecEd is behind our teachers as they take their stand against the barrage of cuts to education, the damaging curriculum and examination reforms (among others), and the ongoing aggressive stance of this government when it comes to our nation’s educators.
Despite hugely unfair cuts to their pensions, despite taking their fair share of pain during the national public sector pay freeze, and despite facing the prospect of having to work until they are 68, our teachers continue to do their best by our nation’s students – helping them to achieve world class results year-on-year. Teachers continue to work the most hours of almost any profession – and this has increased this year with teachers putting in more than 11 hours’ overtime on average every week (up by 90 minutes from 2012 according to the Labour Force Survey).
Let’s be clear. Teachers’ pensions were quite affordable, having already been reformed by the previous government. But the increases in contributions (to 9.6 per cent by 2015) are hitting hard. Research last year involving 17,500 teachers found that eight in 10 cannot afford to lose this extra money, which is currently more than £100 a month for some.
Furthermore, the research found that eight in 10 teachers feel disempowered as professionals and are struggling with their workload. Countless other reports have published similar findings, but Mr Gove still refuses to recognise the stress and pressure the profession is under and the crisis of morale that he himself and the aggressive Ofsted regime has contributed to.
Mr Gove ignores all of this and instead he relies on the fact that teachers’ passion for their work and fear of letting down their students mean they continue to push themselves to their limits. He just doesn’t seem to care about our genuine workload issues. Only this week he submitted evidence to the School Teachers’ Review Body calling for limits on working hours and the list of admin tasks that teachers should not do (the Workload Agreement) to both be scrapped (see SecEd's report, Is this the end of the Workload Agreement?).
Teachers’ working conditions continue to suffer, and with teacher numbers down and a teacher shortage crisis looming next year because of unfilled places in School Direct (see http://bit.ly/13Syvdq), the pressure on staff will only increase. This at a time when the Treasury wants to sack all teaching assistants. At the same time, we await the introduction of performance-related pay, which has been introduced on spurious evidence and seems nothing more than a tool to further cut teachers’ remuneration.
And let’s not forget that the unions are also striking in protest at the impact of cuts on their students. Cuts to things such as Educational Maintenance Allowance, school sports and careers guidance are coming home to roost with devastating effect, not to mention the tuition fees hike. Meanwhile, the curriculum and examination reforms are designed to suit the academic elite and no-one else.
So we can debate whether the strikes will have an impact and whether Mr Gove will listen, but I believe it is important that the teachers of this country stand up for their rights and for the education of their students.