United we stand

Trade unions
The two biggest teaching unions have united to fight government attacks on pay and conditions. Kevin Courtney explains.

The NASUWT and NUT joint agreement to work together to protect teachers and defend education is a significant step forward. Together we represent 85 per cent of the teaching profession in England and Wales – and united our defence of our education system will be far more effective.

At the heart of our agreement is our joint position that the fight for our pensions is far from over. Making teachers work to 68 for a full pension is in nobody’s interests, least of all that of their pupils.

We worry that asking teachers to pay 50 per cent more for their pension while their pay is frozen will lead to many younger teachers opting out of the scheme, eventually leaving taxpayers to bear the cost of state benefits.

The NUT’s ballot for strike action on pensions is still valid – and unless the government starts to move on this issue, we expect to be taking strike action with the NASUWT in the autumn. Most schools would close if that happened but this would be the government’s fault. It is still refusing even to carry out a valuation of our pension scheme.

As part of our agreement, we are balloting members this term for both strike action and action short of strike on issues of pay, professional practice and workload. Hours of work and levels of stress for teachers are continually rising and are reaching unsustainable levels. Moreover, these extra hours and stress are not about writing exciting lesson plans, but are form-filling accountability tasks where every teacher is treated as though they are failing.

Despite the government’s supposed commitment to ensure that the pressure on teachers to work excessive hours is reduced, there is no evidence to show that this is happening. Many classroom teachers, heads and deputies work in excess of 50 hours a week, which inevitably takes its toll not only on home life but also on teachers’ mental health.

In too many schools, planning and assessment requirements have become formulaic burdens that are the bane of teachers’ lives. A recent YouGov survey for the NUT showed that workload is the issue that most influences teachers’ decisions to leave the profession, with 71 per cent identifying it as a critical issue. 

Too many hours are spent on tasks generated by unnecessary bureaucratic procedures, not on the actual job of teaching young people. This is bad for children and bad for the education service. 

This looks increasingly unlikely to improve with the current head of Ofsted. Sir Michael Wilshaw’s proposals appear to be more concerned with facilitating government policies on academies or promoting phonics as a method of teaching literacy than genuinely aiding school improvement.

His aggressive rhetoric mirrors that of education secretary Michael Gove and undermines his credibility with teachers. Last year Sir Michael said: “If anyone says to you (as a headteacher) that staff morale is at an all-time low then you know you are doing something right.”

This is truly astonishing and insulting. School leaders feel entirely ground down by Ofsted. Many teachers and school leaders are now looking to early retirement, or just resigning, rather than face further inspections. Effective school inspection needs an approach which trusts and supports the profession, not one which denigrates it.

We need a Plan B for education. The best education systems in the world, such as Finland’s, are based on high-quality training of teachers, then on trusting them – not on introducing the free market.

We believe that we have to make a stand and that together we can make a real difference – for teachers and thereby for children – and to give something to teachers to stay and fight for rather than leaving the profession.

I hope everyone has a good summer break and that we come back in the autumn term refreshed and determined to ensure that we keep an education system that benefits pupils and teachers, not private companies.

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