Hundreds of NUT teachers from England and Wales lobbied Parliament on June 10. We took our Stand Up For Education message to MPs because we are genuinely concerned about the direction the government is taking education. Many members have fed back successful outcomes from meetings with their MPs who have taken note of their opposition to government reforms to education and the profession.
Children, parents and teachers need an education system that is fair, transparent and most of all engaging. None of which is being provided at present by the coalition government.
We know we are not alone in our concerns. In the NUT-commissioned YouGov survey of parents this April half of respondents said that the government’s impact on education has been negative.
Education policy such as curriculum changes and examination reform are being decided by government with little input from teachers or education experts. The school place crisis goes unaddressed while free schools open often where they are not needed or welcome. Academies and free schools are being run with insufficient oversight in place and are allowed to employ unqualified teachers. This slapdash approach to the running of schools has already seen the closure of academy chains, with many others being investigated for serious mismanagement.
Filling our classrooms with “unqualified teachers” is simply wrong. Parents agree, as the YouGov survey shows – 82 per cent believe publicly funded schools should only employ qualified teachers and 80 per cent would not want their child to attend a school that did not require its teachers to have professional teaching qualifications.
Decisions such as spending £45 million of taxpayers’ money on setting up one free school 6th-form in central London are totally unacceptable at any time, but particularly when other school 6th forms and
6th form colleges have had their budgets cut by 20 per cent.
The consequences further down the line of this government’s education policies will be disastrous for a free and fair education system for all. Teacher morale is at a dangerously low ebb. Changes to pay, pensions and a working week for many teachers of 60 hours are driving many good and experienced teachers out of the classroom. This is unsustainable.
The NUT is proud of its 144 year history of defending teachers The motion we passed at our annual conference states very clearly that we will take strike action again should the government fail to continue to engage in meaningful talks to achieve improvements for teachers. It also instructs the NUT to engage in talks with other organisations, including the NASUWT, to look at taking both strike action and action short of strike action together.
This gives the union a clear direction in our fight for teachers and education. It involves engaging the general public through our Stand Up For Education Saturday stalls, pressuring MPs through arranging individual meetings between teachers and their local MPs. We have already had great successes. It has been truly inspirational to see the number of teachers who, on their day off, have set up stalls in shopping centres and town centres to distribute our Stand Up For Education leaflets and talk to parents and the public about why we are so very concerned about the direction this government is taking education policy.
Teaching is one of the best careers in the world and is certainly one of the most important. However this government is responsible for totally undermining it. The NUT will do all it can to ensure that the voice of teachers is heard. Strike action is an important part of that strategy as are the other elements to our campaign. As a result of pressure from the NUT, ministers have finally turned up to the joint union talks. David Laws was at the last meeting and Michael Gove will attend a future meeting.
However, progress is by no means certain and it is very important that we keep up our pressure on the government. Should there be insufficient progress in talks with government, the strike action on July 10 will be because of government intransigence. The secretary of state has the power to resolve our disputes and it is time he listened.
Christine Blower is general secretary of the National Union of Teachers. Visit www.teachers.org.uk