Strike!April 3, 2008
Well I’ll be on strike on April 24th.
There’s nothing much to say about why I’ll be on strike. If you are in a union and it takes industrial action then you really have to support it or there isn’t any point being in a union in the first place. In a situation like this where there are a lot of alternative unions to join it seems pointless being part of a union if you are not willing to cooperate when it take action on your behalf and a poor turn-out for the strike will simply weaken the NUT’s negotiating position in the future.
I will, however, say why I voted “yes” to the strike option. I wasn’t convinced that our pay rise was unreasonably low. I’m not convinced that teachers are badly paid. I would much rather have had the opportunity to take action on a whole host of other issues. However, the teaching unions in this country are fragmented and incoherent. They all seek to represent bosses as well as teachers, primary as well as secondary, private as well as public sector. They will never be able to represent all these groups’ interests in a coherent way. The most any union can do is raise issues such as pay that cut across the boundaries and if the issue is close enough to what concerns you in your sector and your type of school then you should support your union raising that that issue.
I do have a problem with teachers’ pay. As I said it’s not the percentage raise nor is it the general level of teachers’ wages. I object to the way it is allocated. There are no across the board, long term financial rewards for:
- Having extensive academic knowledge (even if you are the only person in a school able to teach a subject)
- Having good qualifications (even ones that would make it easy to work elsewhere or ones that are directly related to teaching)
- Working in challenging schools or with children who need the most help
- Teaching a shortage subject
After the first few years of teaching the only ways to increase your pay are:
- Promotion (which can mean spending less time teaching)
- Various forms of performance related pay such as passing threshold or acquiring Advanced Skills Teacher status
Unfortunately, the downside to these is that they ultimately require either support or approval from Senior Management. This means that in teaching the money is handed over not for what you know but because of who you know. This situation makes it difficult for teachers to be either academic role models or autonomous professionals. Or to put it another way, the things I do to make myself a better teacher or to contribute more to society are far less financially rewarding than the things I do to please SMT.
I do realise that it is optimistic to hope that a strike over the pay deal will make government look at teachers’ pay in a constructive way, but the unfairness of the system couldn’t be any worse. I also realise that I am calling out for someone to respond with a cry of “Won’t somebody think of the children?” However, more than anyone teachers do think of the children. Who do you think loses out most when schools in poor areas can’t, on current levels of pay, find enough qualified maths or science specialists? Who do you think loses out most when teachers are recruited extensively from among low achieving graduates? A change to the rewards of teachers could far more to benefit students than lofty disdain for strike action on the part of the teaching unions.
One more thing: although the turn-out was not much to boast about the vote was 75% in favour of striking. I don’t think I’m the only teacher feeling gravely discontented at the moment.