Wednesday 2 April 2014

Collective Action to Beat the Bullies

"I have to admit that I spent the weekend after that learning walk sobbing. I was so upset by the feedback I considered leaving the profession. I also work with an NQT who was talking about leaving teaching"   Email from a Primary Teacher

Once again, last week's strike showed the enormous anger of teachers at the stressful conditions they face in their working lives - conditions which, in turn, make it even harder to support the children we teach.

That anger was shown by the big turnout on most of the demonstrations and by the increased numbers of picket-lines as teachers recognise that our dispute will only be won by taking a serious and determined course of action.

The bald facts about hours worked, pension ages and pay policies all give good reasons for teachers to be angry. However, these form the background to a bullying regime, imposed from Gove downwards, which are making individual teachers' lives unbearable - and driving them out of the profession.

Let me relate just a few examples of this regime that teachers that I am supporting have been experiencing in just the last few days. I won't give the names of schools, but some teachers reading this blog will know who I am referring to.

First, the use of the threat of 'capability' to bully teachers into resignation. These are not teachers who are 'incapable' of teaching. Even if, as new appraisal policies put it, they are genuinely 'experiencing difficulties', many problems usually stem from the complete lack of genuine support and training and the impossible workload we are all facing. 

In many cases, however, the evidence for 'incapability' is sparse, based on debatable classroom observation reports. Yet school managers know that, if they threaten putting a teacher on 'formal capability procedures', despite the lack of real justification, they can bully that teacher into resigning rather than take the risk of having 'incapability' on their employment record.

Then there's the use of 'learning walks', 'audits' and 'mini-Ofsteds' to come in to classrooms to criticise, bully and demoralise. Once again, these are based on debatable classroom observations which even Ofsted are now confirming should not be used as reliable indicators of an  individual's performance.

The email that I received this morning - quoted above - shows the demoralising effect of this regime. The anger is added to by the fact that conclusions often appear contradictory, with goalposts constantly shifting for classroom teachers.

The conclusion that teachers are rightly reaching is that this regime has to be fought collectively - through national action such as March 26, but also through local struggles. So, in another school where a 'mini-Ofsted' was threatened this week, teachers met and made clear that they would not accept it, putting in place Action Short Of Strike Action guidelines. Their threat to all refuse to co-operate but switch to shared reading if an inspector appeared, won the changes staff were seeking!

Tomorrow, the National Executive meets to discuss a priority Motion for NUT Conference to set out the next steps for the national dispute. I will be arguing for an escalation of action next term. We can't allow things to carry on like this.

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