On 26th March, for the third time in three years, I will be taking strike action against the current Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove. I genuinely don’t want my pupils to miss a day of their education of which they are entitled, nor do I want to disrupt the lives of countless families up and down the country. I don’t want to inconvenience colleagues who are so close to retirement that it could affect their pension and I can barely afford to lose a day’s pay myself. Why then, am I choosing to go on strike?
Three years ago I entered the teaching profession with a naive enthusiasm. This vivacity has since been crushed out of me by a system that cares more about statistics than students. The almost daily attacks on the profession in the media and the climate of fear that most teachers work in is enough to break the hardest of Newly Qualified Teachers. The negative structure of lesson observations and accountability sucks the life out of the vast majority of educators, and so it comes as no surprise to anybody in schools that 40-50% of teachers walk away from the profession within five years. And yet, those that remain are a steely bunch. We take the flack, disrespect and disregard that a small portion of this society would see fit to throw at us, and we focus on what we do best. We plan to engage and develop your children; we seek to help them overcome whatever barriers to learning they may encounter; we prepare them for life. In return, we don’t ask for a great deal. The vast majority of us aren’t motivated by power or money. All we want is a little respect, trust and for attacks on us to stop.
The main concern to me is the change in relation to pensions. I entered the profession as the economy began to die on its feet. Austerity measures were introduced and teacher’s pay was frozen so that it didn’t rise with the annual rate of inflation. Pension contributions were then increased (as a result, teachers have actually seen a pay cut over the last few years). Now the government want me to work until I am 68… sixty-eight. I am currently in my mid twenties and I am exhausted. In reality the vast majority of teachers are not going to be fit to work to 68 and so, after a lifetime of service and devotion to children, they will not receive their full pension. Overall, teachers will pay more into their pension only to receive less at the finishing line, even if they manage to stay in the profession until 68. This, to me, is disgusting.
After completing a four-year degree so that I would enter a profession, safe in the knowledge that to progress I would need to continually attend CPD events and take diplomas/university courses outside of school hours, I was happy to accept the relatively low starting figure (in relation to other professional entry points) for teachers. This was because I knew that I would progress up the pay scale within the first few years of entering the profession, as I gained experience and became more competent as a teacher. This has now been removed, so that this progression is not automatic, being replaced by a target driven system. Many business minded people agree with such a process, but what they fail to realise is that teaching is not a business (as much as the Education Secretary would love it to be). Research suggests that performance related pay does not work in education. OECD research on the impact of performance related pay in teaching has concluded that “the overall picture reveals no relationship between average student performance in a country and the use of performance-based pay schemes.” Performance related pay undermines and disrupts effective school improvement. It encourages teachers to work for themselves rather than pooling their expertise. Schools are learning communities – good teachers build their students’ achievement on foundations laid by other teachers and support staff. Teachers work best when they work collaboratively and are trusted to do their job; not when they are constantly held to account over statistics on a sheet of paper.
Workload, Inconsistency and Buffoonery
When I entered the profession, I thought I did so with my eyes wide open to the workload that was coming my way. I was wrong. Although I anticipated hard work, I thought I might have a work-life balance. For at least the first year I didn’t. I was in work early, stayed late and took work home with me. If I had an hour to eat tea and sit down each day, it was a good day. Slowly I have clawed my life back but this is not due to the fact that the workload has subdued; quite the opposite is, in fact, true: Displays, working walls, an inordinate amount of planning and bureaucracy, creating resources, adapting lessons, two stars and a wish, play time duties, assemblies, after-school clubs, pupil progress meetings, staff development meetings, parent-teacher meetings, school plays, recitals, sporting events, performances, faires… the list is endless and can literally take over your life. As a teacher, this is just something we accept; but the camel’s back is weakening and there are only so many more straws it can take.
The inconsistency within the education system is also deeply worrying. Government comes up with fad after fad, and before it has soaked down through the system and been moulded into anything that resembles something that may be of any use to teachers and pupils, it has been replaced by a new fad or buzzword. The truth, though it may seem obvious if you look at it logically, is that politicians are not the best qualified to be making decisions about education, particularly when they advocate testing so much. Testing is the approach that those who know least about education advocate most. And Gove, who knows nothing of education, loves testing.
He moved the goalposts for English students in the middle of their GCSE course; he introduced tests which assess pupils spelling, punctuation and grammar, despite opposition from headteachers and other educational experts; he tests six year olds on their ability to read words that literally have been made up, although research has shown it has no additional educational benefit and now he want to test four year old’s literacy and numeracy within weeks of starting school. He even allows your children to be taught by people without qualified teacher status. In fact, some schools only request that their teachers have four GCSEs. His buffoonery knows no bounds.
I don’t take strike action lightly, but the fact is that there are too many grievances to allow myself to be flatly ignored. Action short of strike action was taken for months, went largely unnoticed and didn’t work. The unions have tried to engage in talks with Michael Gove, to no avail. There is little else to do, but strike. He may ignore this action, but never underestimate the power of the individual. MP’s are elected to parliament to represent the people, and if they fail to do so then they must be held to account.
On Wednesday, 26th March, I will be joining the strike action being taken by the National Association of Teachers. I hope you will support me.