Striking is a last resort; something a body of people do when all other ways of negotiation have been exhausted or somehow blocked to them.
Teachers are by their very nature, against strikes, despite what the tub-thumping press (not to mention our esteemed leader, Gove) would have you believe.
Though my reasons for striking are manifold, I've sort-of split them into two broad trains of thought. And I've
tried to keep it brief
Firstly, my personal reasons; me, myself. I cannot speak for anyone else.
The Teachers' Pension. As a profession we’re now expected to work longer, pay more and get less than we agreed to when we started the job. Why yes, we ARE living in times of austerity. Indeed, we're all being expected to 'tighten our belts' (not that this seems to apply to the ministers telling us that's what we must do). But let me just point out that £43 BILLION pounds has gone into the teachers’ pension pot (paid for by serving, contributing teachers) than has ever come out. How then, can it be said that this needs input from the taxpayer? How is it not viable on its own? The enforced increased contributions, combined with the current pay freeze, equals a 15% real-terms cut since 2010. In the private sector, you’d go and find another job. Teachers can move schools, but not employers (the government).
The new pay structure (which, incidentally doesn't apply to leaders in schools) means that I have a very real chance of being stuck on the same pay point for the rest of my career. Again, something that is common –place in the private sector. But… school is not the private sector (yet)! Let me place it in its context; we’re being told that now is the time to ‘pay good teachers more’. Without blowing my own trumpet, I think I’m pretty good. I know I work in a school that’s more than pretty good – in fact I think my school’s amazing. Last year out of my GCSE class of C/D borderline kids, 88% achieved a C or above. The national average hovers around 62%. That’s over 20% above average. However, the way that students’ grades are predicted is extrapolated from their SATs exams. So if students achieve a Level 5 at primary school, by hook or by crook (revision, endless prep, primary schools flogging themselves to the bone) then the data says they’ll achieve a grade A at GCSE. Excellent, I’ll do my best to get them there. What price, however, the primary schools who support their students ‘too much’? The ones who find funding for 1:1 support, who award extra time, readers or other helpers? Not that I blame them; they’re only looking to boost their own results. But they create a legacy of students who truly struggle – and are now damned with a GCSE target they cannot achieve. (I’m convinced I have a whole separate post brewing on the gradual eradication of TA support in secondary education). What I’m essentially saying here is that in the event of my students failing to make three levels of progress from their entry-point at GCSE - regardless of the intervention and excellent teaching I put in –that can stop me moving up the pay scale. How is that paying good teachers more?
I stand up all day. Most days, I get to work at around about 7.15. I often leave at around 5 or even 6 pm. There is rarely a weekday evening in which I don’t have something to catch up on be it marking, planning or correspondence. I am TIRED. Granted, I get great holidays, (though I also run holiday schools, revision session and plan the years’ schemes of work in my holidays). But we’re now being told we must work until we’re 68. Do you want a 68 year old teaching your kids PE? Is this what’s best for children?
Those are the personal reasons I will be striking.
On top of that, I am striking for the kids I teach. In recent years Gove has removed the Educational Maintenance allowance. I received this as a sixth-former. Without it it’s doubtful I would have remained in full-time education. The knock-on effect of this for many of the students I teach is becoming obvious. Last week I comforted a student who was in tears over the fact that their parents think that in July they should be starting work. This student longs to be a nurse, and would be the first in the family to go to university. Will they make it? EMA would have helped in ‘narrowing the gap’ in this specific circumstance.
University fees have trebled in recent years, whilst funding has been cut by up to 80%. This means that many young people, on leaving school at 18 are not even considering university. The Conservatives last week announced that ‘’We know that profit, wealth creation, tax cuts, enterprise, (…) really are the solution because it's not government that creates jobs, it's businesses.’’ How are young people going to get into these jobs if they’re prevented from doing so because they’ve not been able to get to university? Why is it that big business is getting a break from paying tax at the expense of children currently studying at school and college?
The double-speak of what we’re being told to teach is baffling. On one hand, we have Old Etonians like Nick Hurd telling us that young people ‘lack grit and character’. I took that to mean a lack of inter-personal skills - the handshakes, the confidence; in short the ’soft skills’ which seem to come so naturally to those who were privately-educated. As an English teacher I teach communication; that sort of thing is down to me to teach! And yet, just four days before term started in September, Speaking and Listening was removed from the final grade scores in GCSE English. This means that the carefully-embedded tasks I had planned to include in my teaching throughout the year, now no longer ‘count’. Oh, wait, we still have to DO it, and record it, it just won’t COUNT…. If you were 15, how would that leave you feeling?
Since the dismantling of the Building Schools for the Future program, schools have been left in limbo, in crumbling buildings in need of a total overhaul. Many classes, even in my own school are taught in huts; freezing in the winter, baking in the summer, and totally uninspiring learning spaces. My own Dad came to pick me up from my school a few months ago and commented on the state of repair. Let me make it plain that my school is a bright, welcoming and inspiring place. It just happens to be housed in the exact same building it’s been in for generations. Our children deserve better!
In the last month, we have effectively been told that our GCSE students who re-take a GCSE at school are cheating, whilst at the same time created a new rule in which if they haven’t passed English and Maths they need to re-sit at college. The same college many of them won’t be attending, as they’ll need some sort of income, due to the lack of EMA.
I could go on about the looming school-places crisis, the continued denigration of the role of teachers in society and the slashing of teacher-training budgets. But frankly, if you’ve read this far I hope you’ll understand why I and many of my fellow teachers will be striking this Thursday.
Just to spell it out.
TWO personal reasons pertaining to pay and conditions. At least SIX grave concerns I have about the state, and future of education.