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On the 17th October, teachers in my area will be striking. Here are the reasons why I support this strike with every fibre of my being and why I will be with my fellow striking teachers on a march in Portsmouth.

What I do find annoying is that the unions have not done enough good work in disseminating the reasons why teachers neat to strike. Instead, the general public are getting their opinions and information on the strike from places like the Daily Mail which is poisoning their minds against the motivations and actions of teachers.

For those who do not know the politics of the UK, we have a Conservative (right-wing) government who are becoming progressively (though they are not progressing anywhere) more libertarian in their policies and politics. This means that the present Secretary for Education, a certain Michael Gove, is deregulating education. Now, teachers always hate the Secretary for Education. But Michael Gove takes that hatred to another level. I have never known one so utterly despised. In fact, he appears to be one of the most hated politicians in memory.

Remember, governments and teachers (or any public sector workers) are like a stall holder at a market and a tourist. The stall holder will set out a ridiculous price, the tourist will come in with a counter-offer and the two meet somewhere in the middle.

Without the unions, there is no middle, no compromise. We would simply pay whatever exorbitant price the stall holders (Gove) would try to charge.

That said, he has many supporters too. However, the problem is that these supporters are those in the general public and politics who have no expertise in education and who will happily suck up the soundbites that they hear coming from Gove. Anyway, here is a list of reasons why I fully support the strike and I will be at the march in Portsmouth:

  • The new curriculum. I have personally spoken to several subject experts who were on the consultation/advisory panels for the new curriculum. They are disgusted at the way that Gove put it out to consultation in all the different subjects and then ignored almost everything the experts said. I can’t remember the exact quote, but Gove said something like “Advisers are for advising, ministers are for deciding” which equates to “ignore everything the experts say and decide to do what you always wanted to do!”
  • Gove has simply not sat at the negotiation table. The strike will demonstrate the strength of feeling among teachers to Michael Gove and his colleagues and strengthen the hand of our negotiators. It will build on the successful North West strike on 27 June when the vast majority of schools in the region were closed.
  • Strike action has an effect – pension strikes in 2011 gained an 8% increase in the funding for pensions. That pension increase (even though it isn’t enough) will – every single year – be worth much more than the day’s pay lost through striking.
  • The teacher’s pension pot is ostensibly ok, though it’s hard to say since the government mysteriously refuse to value it even though a valuation is long overdue. If I walked into a bank and said, “You know that mortgage I signed up to 15 years ago. Well, I’m a bit short on cash, so I am now going to pay you less, and only for the next few years instead of 20!” the bank would laugh in my face. This is what they are doing with teacher’s pensions. Reneging on agreements declaring that they are short of cash. Except they aren’t, since the Teacher’s Pension is separate from other public sector pensions and they refuse to value it!
  • Gove is essentially trying to deregulate the entire education sector, treating it like a free market corporate sector. It doesn’t work like that. With this, he is even touting removing basic rights like minimum working temperatures and suchlike.
  • The 2013 YouGov poll also showed that only 8% of parents think this Government has made a positive impact on the education system.
  • Solid support will also help persuade the School Teachers’ Review Body to reject Gove’s plans for longer working hours and cuts to protections on cover and PPA time. Successful action will help secure an acceptable pay and conditions framework.
  • Gove has thrown in the idea of dropping Teaching Assistants. The problem here is he thinks their job role is solely to teach groups of children. They are to assist teachers with their mundane and daily jobs which would get in the way of their ability to teach effectively. That Gove doesn’t properly understand the role and use of TAs (they can differ in role immensely) means that his analysis of their effect is misguided at best.
  • We have a three tier education system now, with Local Education Authority schools, Academies (schools who take their money directly from the government and can do what they like) and Free Schools (schools which can do what they like and can be started by anyone, regardless of their ideological backgrounds). This means that, since they can teach what they want to a larger degree, we will have a post code lottery when it comes to education. And I much stronger chance of indoctrination. Whilst academies supposedly mean more autonomy for schools, what can happen is confederations of academies cause schools to lose their autonomy to larger governor groups of many schools meaning compromise within the ‘corporation’. Essentially, we have people running schools where it is not the case that their first and really only concern is education.
  • These schools can dictate what they pay teachers and how. Universities for some years have been advising newly qualified teachers to not go for jobs in Academies.
  • The performance related pay scheme move needs much more refining than its hastily thought out conception indicates.
  • Morale of teachers is plummeting. I know this from first hand experience.
  • Gove’s move to change the holiday structure. In fact he is trying to make children work longer hours for more days. In fact, it is bad enough keeping children in education until 18 as is the current push. We need more apprenticeships and opportunities to get children out there into the workplace, rather than keeping them cooped up in education for longer, in places about which they have become disenfranchised.

Etc etc –I could have listed many many more things.

Additionally, it is really important to remember that many of the things we are lucky enough to have now are of a direct result of union and strike action such as:

Planning Preparation and Assessment time (PPA), not having to be on duty every break/lunch time, directed hours, pensions, working conditions etc etc – we would be in a far worse place now had it not been for previous union work.

Did we achieve anything in the last strike? A resounding yes! Strike action has an effect – pension strikes in 2011 gained an 8% increase in the funding for pensions. That pension increase (even though it isn’t enough) will – every single year – be worth much more than the day’s pay lost through striking. And all of us will benefit from this.

Gove is trying to deregulate teaching to the point that we all become academies/free schools and can be made to work Saturdays, longer hours etc etc. Just see Gove’s submission to the STRB and what this entails. Here is a good commentary, and I really urge you to read it to get a sense of what Gove is trying to do:

What annoys me is that the public didn’t bat an eyelid when the firemen went on strike because they didn’t want to work till 50! And yet I know a fireman who said the biggest fire he has put out in 2 years was in a wheelie bin (obviously this isn’t universally the case). It pisses me off that the public only get annoyed with teachers striking because they see us as glorified childminders. As soon as their lives become remotely inconvenienced, they are up in arms. But that’s the bloody point! Apparently, their right not to be inconvenienced for a day is greater than a teacher’s right to working conditions for the rest of their lives.

For more information, see here and here and here.

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Jonathan MS Pearce

A TIPPLING PHILOSOPHER Jonathan MS Pearce is a philosopher, author, columnist, and public speaker with an interest in writing about almost anything, from skepticism to science, politics, and morality,...