“You’re going on strike again? Weren’t you lot out last year too? It’s about time you stopped feeling sorry for yourselves and got on with it like the rest of us!”
This was the reaction of a good friend of mine from the private sector when informed of the escalated action teachers plan to take in a number of weeks. He bore no sympathy to my plight as a teacher. He saw no valid grounds on which I could stand. And who could blame him? He reads the news. He is up to date with the media. He has no basis on which to understand why teachers are going on strike.
Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, is not a man whom I have fondness for. He is smug, sneaky, arrogant, narrow-minded and patronising. But it cannot be said that he is an unintelligent man. He understands that the dispute with teaching unions will be won in the public domain, and therefore the perception of the dispute in the media is vital. Worryingly, Michael Gove is doing very well.
On a weekly basis there are negative reports about teaching and teachers, on the news and in papers, around the UK. The reputation teachers once had as respectable, hardworking professionals is slowly being chipped away. It is being replaced by a perception that teachers are lazy and undedicated; that we care little for children and provide them with inadequate opportunities to flourish. Indeed, the teaching profession has been continually berated and ridiculed since Mr Gove took office.
However, if my experience in primary schools is anything to go by, the picture Mr Gove paints could not be further from the truth. I have seldom met more dedicated, hardworking respectable people in my life. Unfortunately their story is seldom heard. It is precisely for that reason that I believe it is imperative that people understand why teachers are going on strike. I have outlined my reasons below.
1) Firstly, going on a strike is not something I do lightly. I have considered it in great detail. Pupils are entitled to an education and forcing a school to close deprives them of this for one day. It also greatly inconveniences their parents and guardians who have to organise other arrangements for their children.
So why is there not another way that we, as teachers, can protest? There was. Teachers have been on industrial action short of strike for months in an effort to show opposition to the Education Minister without disrupting our pupils’ education. This has gone largely unnoticed and many people are unaware of this. Unfortunately Mr Gove has ignored the calls to enter into genuine dialogue with teaching unions and forced teachers to take more drastic actions.
2) Teachers pensions and work conditions are being attacked. The government want teachers to pay more into their pensions and work for longer. Indeed recently Mr Gove suggested that teachers work longer hours and have shorter breaks. Has he ever seen a class just before half term? Both teachers and pupils need that break. Also with the pay freeze already imposed on teachers and rising pension contributions, this actually amounts to a pay cut. More worryingly though is that teachers will be expected to work until they are 68. Teaching can be a challenging and exhausting profession. Do you want your kids to be taught by somebody who is spent, simply counting the days until their retirement?
3) The current pay scheme in England and Wales is being abolished. At present, teachers work their way through a pay scale which guarantees stability. It is something that serves to attract the best graduates. This is due to be scrapped and replaced with performance related pay. I can understand why some may agree with this. On the surface it seems logical to most, particularly those in the private sector who work within such a system. However, I simply can never support such an arrangement within education.
Despite Mr Goves best efforts, education is not a business. There is no research anywhere in the world that suggests linking pay to performance improves education. In fact, quite the opposite is true. Teachers pay will be dictated by the budget a head teacher has to play with. Therefore the richer schools will attract the best teachers leaving poor teachers in deprived areas, where good teachers are needed most. Social elitism will flourish once again. Teachers unmotivated by greed may find that moving to a new school may mean taking a significant pay cut. Their pay may also be dictated by the ability level of a certain cohort, or the support they have within a school. I also believe that under severe pressure, teachers will ’teach to the test’ and thus narrow the curriculum and educational opportunities for pupils. All creativity and diversity will be lost. Teachers will be encouraged to work in a very single minded way and opportunities to share best practice will be lost. Teachers will suffer; pupils will suffer.
There are other reasons to oppose the current Education Secretary. The implementation of a new, narrow curriculum that encourages acquiring facts through rote learning, removing the requirement for pupils to be taught by qualified teachers and the GCSE English fiasco serve as reminders that Mr Gove is taking very high risk gambles with the education system in this country. There is no shortage of reasons why this government is bad for young people in this country. A whole generation are under threat.
On 27th June 2013 thousands of teachers across the North West of England, angry with government reforms, will go on strike. I will be one of these teachers. I hope you will support me.