Sunday 5 January 2014

2014 – High time to turn anger into action

I hope most teachers have been taking a rest rather than looking at blogs over the holidays. If you ARE reading this, I hope you had a chance to recharge your batteries – because we’ve plenty to do in 2014.

For a start, if Gove thinks he can get away with his proposed attacks on working conditions, teachers risk losing any chance to take a proper break from the stress and long hours imposed upon us. The Review Body is due to report shortly with its proposals and, in preparation, the Daily Mail was cheering on Gove over Christmas with a headline saying that “Schools could open until 6pm for up to 51 weeks a year as Gove pushes for flexitime”

(The Mail was also cheering on Gove’s jingoistic views on the First World War and his criticisms of supposed “myths which have grown up about the conflict”. We’ll regrettably have to read a lot more of this right-wing nonsense in this centenary year).

Most teachers are already struggling to cope with existing workload, let alone any increased burden. The harsh reality of teaching was evident in the results of the latest YouGov survey of teachers carried out for the NUT. The results released over the New Year show that

  • 74% of teachers said their morale has declined since the last general election - just 3% said it had improved.

  • 79% of teachers felt that the Government had had a negative impact on education – just 4% thought that the Government had made a positive difference to the education system. 

  • In each case, a lack of cultural experiences like outings/holidays, child or adolescent mental health issues and a lack of specialist services for SEN and behaviour intervention were identified by over half of the surveyed teachers as having a negative impact on the children they teach.  

  • 81% of teachers disagreed that performance related pay would improve outcomes for children’s education - only 6% answering ‘yes’, that it would. 

  • 52% of teachers thought that Gove’s changes to pay and pensions would make it less likely that they would stay in teaching – and 57% when it came to the proposed changes to conditions. In each case, only 2% said they made it ‘more likely’. 

  • Just 7% of teachers said they would be able to continue teaching to 68. 69% said they could not.
    Tellingly, in addition to the last statistic above, a further 18% of teachers said they didn’t want to work on to 68 but that they also knew that they couldn’t afford to retire earlier. That response sums up the dilemma facing so many teachers. We can’t afford to work even longer hours, for even more days, weeks and years, without even knowing if we will be deemed worthy of an annual pay rise. However, what alternative will we have if these attacks are imposed on us? 


    The statistics in the survey are matched by a deep discontent in schools across England and Wales at what Gove and the Government are imposing on teachers and education. It’s high time we turned that anger into action.

    The survey also showed two-thirds of teachers giving support to NUT/NASUWT taking strike action to defend pay, pensions and conditions. Now, as a new term begins, teachers need to be emboldened with news that their unions are ready to call a serious calendar of action to oppose these attacks. Teachers and Gove alike need to know that we’re not going to accept teachers’ lives being made a misery, nor children’s education being thrown backwards. If we are serious in doing that, then we need to be calling national strike action as a matter of urgency and follow it up quickly with further action, such as a two-day national strike. We should also co-ordinate that action with other unions fighting Government cuts and privatisation too.

    The regional strikes in June and October were strongly supported – but the promised national action in November never took place. The excuse that it was worth delaying while we awaited the outcome of talks with Michael Gove was soon exposed by Gove himself as he made all too clear that no serious talks had ever been on offer.

    Now there is no more room for excuses. Each time we hesitate, we give Gove confidence while shedding doubts amongst teachers that we can reverse his attacks. The NUT and NASUWT both announced that, barring significant progress in talks by the end of 2013 – which has, predictably, not occurred, then national strike action would be called by mid-February.

    An emergency meeting of the NUT National Executive has been called on 16 January to consider strike plans. However, an article in the Independent on Boxing Day, still gave mixed messages about whether joint national action will be called. Chris Keates the NASUWT General Secretary is quoted as saying that “We are playing a long ball game over this”. Does this mean that she wants to get her strikers into action as quickly as possible! – or that she thinks we can string things out even longer – perhaps in the hope that a Labour Government will rescue us?

    Regrettably, given New Labour’s backing for the agenda of cuts and privatisation, waiting for the next Government is a forlorn hope. Significantly, 25% of teachers in the YouGov poll were unable to say which party they would vote for at the next General Election, showing the doubts that are held about whether any of the main political parties can be relied upon to defend education.

    Unless we act speedily and decisively, by the next General Election even more damage will have been inflicted on education and even more teachers will have been driven out by stress and overwork. If we want to stand up for teachers and education, then there is nothing else to rely on but our own strength – and the support of local communities who will also want to defend education. Let’s not delay, let’s start 2014 with determined national strike action.

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