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Why up to 35,000 North-East teachers could be on strike in five weeks time
UNLESS agreement is reached, teachers from the two main unions plan to strike for 24 hours. In North Yorkshire schools will be affected on October 1 and in the North-East the strike will take place on October 17. In this article, specially written for The Northern Echo, Vin Wynne, NUT organiser for the Northern region, gives his own view why striking is justified
Readers may be aware of the concerted campaign to defend education. Members of NUT and NASUWT, which represent nine out of 10 classroom teachers, are committed to taking strike action in schools across the North in autumn unless the Secretary of State for Education agrees to enter meaningful dialogue.
Although remaining courteous, Michael Gove steadfastly refuses to listen to the voice of those who best understand education. In the eyes of the profession, his arrogance is staggering. His intention seems only to drive through his ideological agenda. He is an old school Tory, with old school values, hell-bent on reintroducing an old school curriculum!
Never in my memory have teachers been so united in sending a message - 'we cannot go on like this'.
So, what are the issues? The assault on teaching has been relentless.
Pensions were first - teachers asked to work longer, pay more and get less. With a retirement age of at least 68, and set to rise, we face the realistic prospect of teachers being unable to access their full pension until well into their 70s.
Through massive increases in pension contributions, last year and this, teachers have seen reductions in take home pay. These changes brought about without undertaking any costing of the pension scheme.
So, with working longer and paying more, you might imagine teachers would at least be able to reap the benefit in their retirement? Not in Gove's 'Through the Looking Glass world', where when you drink from the staffroom coffee mug the only thing that gets bigger is your workload, while pay and pension shrink before your eyes.
The move from a 'final' to an 'average' salary scheme has further sliced tens of thousands from what teachers will receive in retirement.
Next, pay. The new model for teachers' pay removes any national pay scales - so every school can set its own pay levels, and methodology for progression. Gone too is the mechanism by which teachers' experience is recognised if they move schools - individual schools choosing whether to honour a teacher's existing rate of pay or to offer something else; something less.
This sets school against school, harming outcomes for children, the losers in the resultant climate of competition.
The negatives don't seem to matter; Gove appears indifferent to the detrimental effect on teaching and learning that will arise from his plans. Proposals that inevitably set teacher against teacher in a dog fight for any available pay increase looks like something conjured up by Alice's Red Queen - many headteachers will no doubt be offering unlucky losers in these unfair games the prospect of 'jam tomorrow'; a tomorrow that for too many hard worked teachers will never come.
Let's be clear, this is not, as Government claim, about 'rewarding the best teachers'.
Not content with pensions and pay, the latest assault is on conditions of service; not just tinkering at the edges, but wholesale changes to the working day and school breaks.
Gone are limits on the overall working year, the entitlement not to work weekends and the entitlement to guarantees on time given so teachers can focus on preparing engaging lessons and assessing the progress made by their pupils.
Instead, we have calls upon schools to demonstrate staffing 'flexibilities'; to open earlier, stay open later, to be there for children at weekends and in the holidays.
Teachers, already heavily overburdened, asked to work longer and longer - how does this benefit children? As the Red Queen said "My dear, here we must run as fast as we can, just to stay in place. And if you wish to go anywhere you must run twice as fast as that."
Now, set this against a backdrop of curriculum changes universally criticised by those with any understanding of education and constant changes to exam systems; creating exams designed to measure a type of learning reminiscent of a minor public school stuck in the 1950s.
"That's the reason they're called lessons," the Gryphon remarked: "because they lessen from day to day."
Michael Gove has been criticised, his competence questioned. He has though, already forced through rapid changes breaking frameworks for teachers' pay, pensions and conditions.
These frameworks are, he believes, barriers to the private sector feeling confident enough to steam in, reaping the harvest that education offers. The wholesale privatisation of education has long been a goal of the political right, and the current regime has in short order brought that several steps closer.
This, in truth, is the standard against which Gove would seek to be measured.
Teachers and school leaders feel cowed by pressure of work, the pace of change and an inspection framework that can appear to act like the military wing of a government of right wing ideologues.
The current joint union campaign is essential in the defence of an education system fit for all of our children, and not just the privileged few.
*We have asked the Department for Education to respond to the points made by Mr Wynne and we will publish it next week if the Government responds.
Meanwhile the Government says strike action by teachers will disrupt pupils learning, cause headaches for parents and damage the reputation of teachers.
Recently Education Secretary Michael Gove said teaching "has never been more attractive, more popular or more rewarding" and that the Government was "slashing the unnecessary bureaucracy" which sapped so much of teachers time and energy.
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