Thousands of teachers across England and Wales took strike action on March 26 against excessive workload and bureaucracy, the introduction of performance-related pay and dismantling of the national pay framework and unfair changes to teachers’ pensions.
Despite being the only teachers’ union to that took the action, members still felt it was essential they made a stand. It was a clear demonstration that teachers are thoroughly tired of the intolerable pressures they are being put under by the government.
Strike action is a last resort for teachers but for many they have reached the end of their tether. The issues we took action over are not only detrimental to teachers, they risk affecting standards of education for all children and young people in schools and colleges.
Teachers are voting with their feet and leaving the profession in droves and there is the real danger of a teacher shortage crisis. Yet the government continues to bury its head in the sand and continues to refuse to listen to the concerns of the profession. Meetings have started at the Department for Education but these are only discussing the implementation of policies rather than the policies themselves. There has been no progress that would materially alter the lives of hard-pressed teachers.
Recent history shows why taking action is necessary and effective. The action taken in 2011 led to the government making some improvements to its offer on pensions. It was strike action which prevented Michael Gove from making teachers’ conditions of service worse. That’s why he accepted the recommendations of the School Teachers’ Review Body. We may have stopped conditions worsening further but we can’t be satisfied with that. Our campaign continues until we see an improvement in conditions.
Two in five teachers leave the profession within five years of starting to teach. That is a shocking statistic yet hardly surprising when you look at issues such as workload which has become intolerable with far too much time spent on bureaucratic box-ticking that stops teachers focusing on teaching. The government’s own survey shows that primary teachers work nearly 60 hours per week and secondary teachers nearly 56 hours a week. Every week, both primary and secondary classroom teachers work the equivalent of a day every weekend and a day outside the hours of 8am and 6pm.
The government is pushing ahead with performance-related pay despite all the international evidence which shows that it doesn’t work, creates unnecessary bureaucracy and is divisive. Dismantling the national pay framework and getting each school to develop its own pay system would mean that scarce resources are diverted away from teaching and learning.
Teachers don’t believe that they can work to 68 or even later for a full pension – and they don’t believe it is educationally desirable either. The fact that other workers are having their pensions squeezed is no justification for attacking teachers’ pensions. A race to the bottom is in the interests of no-one. Everyone should be entitled to a decent standard of living in retirement. Fair pensions for all.
As a matter of urgency the government needs to address the real concerns of teachers by engaging seriously in the talks with the NUT and other teacher unions. The talks should not be about implementation of coalition policies. Issues of excessive workload, performance-related pay and unfair pension changes need to be discussed and we need to move forward constructively.
Teachers cannot and will not take any more of the diktats from government that are ruining teaching and education. We will be continuing with our campaign of engaging parents and the public and applying pressure to politicians. Teachers love teaching but are crushed by the long hours and stifling accountability regime. If there isn’t movement in the talks there could well be further strike action this summer.
Christine Blower is general secretary of the National Union of Teachers. Visit www.teachers.org.uk