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:

  1.  Promotion (which can mean spending less time teaching)
  2. 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.



  1. Just to lend some weight to your argument, I’m what might be considered a ‘high achieving’ graduate with a good degree from a Russell group university. I have a degree in a shortage subject which is considered ‘hard’ by pretty much everyone. I almost didn’t choose teaching as a career because the money is so low, the working hours so high and the respect from society as a whole so negligible. I feel that teaching is simply right for me, and I wouldn’t be happy doing anything else, but this is despite many, many obstacles. A lot of my friends from university would never consider teaching because of the pay, working condition and working hours and they would have made excellent teachers. They’re mostly now earning good salaries in industry.

    I’m sensing a shift in the mood of public service workers in general. As a society we don’t respect or reward our educators, our policemen or our NHS staff (nurses and doctors, not managers) as we should, and that will come back and bite the government on the backside.

  2. Good blog.

    As an NASUWT member, I can’t really comment on the rights or wrongs of the NUT’s decision to strike but there I agree that there’s a huge amount if disquiet amongst teachers over the direction teaching is going.

    Like many of my colleagues, my classroom is becoming some weird battlefield where the forces of Government decree do battle with the human rights of the lumpen underclass, with me in the middle and both hands tied behind my back, trying to knock off a bit of teaching when the opportunity arises.

    I didn’t become a teacher in order to end up as a beaurocrat, or the educational equivalent of a social worker, but between the Government and the Jeremy Kyle generation, most days I find it extremely difficult to do my job, which is Being A School Teacher.

    What do others think?

  3. I’m currently doing my NQT year, and already have seen enough of the system to note that what’s best for the kids, and what is actually done by an ineffective management are two very different things.
    I’m sick of seeing good kids having their education ruined and me not being able to do my job because of petty politics.
    Which is why I’m giving up my right to a £5000 golden hello and hitting the international circuit.
    Even more telling is that so far a third of my ex-PGCE coursemates have already quit the “profession”, in a shortage subject…

  4. As much as I disagree with the strike on pay, (and i do), I am an NUT member and will go out on the day.

    If nothing else teachers need to stick together.

    Strike on other issues, ridiculous targets, SMT who see you following the school discipline policy as being a ‘weakness’ on your part and prefer to be left alone in their office, OFSTED and SAT’s, league tables distorting education, but pay … the government’s not going to back down ont his one. People have less money all round and debt, national and indivadual is already at record levels.

  5. No union is ever going to strike about those issues. Plenty of secondary teachers actually like targets and SATs, as is it gives them a chance to prove they can teach when nobody would otherwise notice. Plenty of primary teachers actually like their SMT colleagues. Nobody will strike on OFSTED or league tables because it amounts to saying “parents should not be allowed to know whether our school is any good or not” which, even if it wasn’t embarrassing enough just to say, is something teachers in successful schools have no reason to argue.

    It’s pay or nothing when it comes to teachers expressing their discontent. As long as the teaching unions are united they will remain only able to push broad brush issues effectively for fear of being seen as the “primary” union, or the “supply teacher union” or whatever.

    The hope is that the government will look at the (rather generous) pay rise and say “why the hell are teachers so pissed off?” and actually notice some real issues.

  6. “Nobody will strike on OFSTED or league tables because it amounts to saying “parents should not be allowed to know whether our school is any good or not” which, even if it wasn’t embarrassing enough just to say, is something teachers in successful schools have no reason to argue”

    Humm, got to disagree here oldandrew. OFSTED is more about ensuring compliance with whatever the current government diktat is for ‘good teaching’ than any other purpose. Wales has completely abolished league tables and no one is complaining there about a sudden drop in standards, and voters / parents aren’t demanding their return.

    Targets skew education into narrow funnels prioritising the few, (‘boosters’) at the expense of the many.

    Behaviour is, of course, an issue. But there are others.

  7. Looks like the nurses have got 2.75%.

  8. Anony,

    My argument is not about the greatness of OFSTED or league tables (although I do think some form of accountability is inevitable) my point is that no serious political party in England is going to be able to sell the idea that there should be less information about schools available to parents, no matter how much teachers call for a black out. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland might well be different but I certainly have strong memories of the (pre-Blair) Labour Party being ripped apart on this issue.

    I agree that targets often leave schools focusing on just one or two things,. However, an absence of targets is unlikely to result in a sudden improvement in focus.

  9. Do you reckon you can go on strike if you’re not in the NUT? I really want to support this, but would I have to be a lone wolf…?!

  10. No you can’t. It would be illegal.

    If your school isn’t closing you could, however, call in sick … but of course I wouldn’t recommend anything as unprofessional as that.

  11. You could always sign up to the NUT between now and then.

  12. I did think of signing up to the NUT – but it was over £140! That did put me off I must admit…! Especially as I’ve already paid out Union subs.

  13. Well, an education policy. From a UK party. But obviously not a serious one :) Bonus points if you can find out who.

    The government attitude to state education is like its
    attitude in other areas of public provision. It prefers
    centralised bureaucratic control rather than trusting the
    professionals who do the work. The result is interference
    in what should be taught, how it should be taught and
    assessed, an obsession with paperwork and vain attempts
    to raise standards by means of league tables and
    performance targets.

    While many state schools have managed to maintain
    standards despite this regime, many more have not. There
    is poor discipline because there is no apparent penalty for
    bad behaviour, teachers are demoralised because there is
    too much prescription about how to do the job, too much
    paperwork and too much time spent child-minding instead
    of teaching. Examinations have been degraded to maintain
    the pretence that education is working well, and too many
    young people leave school without even basic standards
    of literacy and numeracy.

    Give more autonomy to our state schools, to allow
    teachers freedom over how to teach and what they
    want to cover outside the curriculum. Leave schools
    to organise their own intermediate testing: Standard
    Aptitude Tests must go.

    Leave the decision to exclude unruly pupils to the
    headteacher without allowing governors, parents or
    bureaucrats to compromise this authority. Provide
    sufficient specialised facilities for excluded pupils.
    Encourage schools to specialise in technical or
    academic disciplines and allow limited selection of pupils.

  14. UKIP. You can tell by its incoherence. You can’t have more selection AND less testing. You can’t maintain standards AND have schools specialise in something non-academic. You can’t have schools deciding what to teach AND less paperwork.

  15. Reading what the Ministers are saying is making me grumpy, but not as much as the Lib Dem who thinks teachers should have a “no strike agreement”, argh.

    The reason that we’ve had these below inflation pay agreements is because we’ve shown no inclination to strike. The right to strike should mean that no one should ever need to strike, however when an employer is negotiating in a manner where by the right to strike is being ignored( in this case as they did not believe that teachers would ever have the inclination to strike) a strike is necessary to ensure that all future negotiations proceed in such a way as to mean we won’t need to strike for another 20 years or so. The thing that confuses me is how the Prime Minister doesn’t understand this, as he used Game Theory to devise the bidding for the 3G mobile contracts, and the strike theory is also an off shoot of Game theory…. oh well.

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