Teachers will have to develop their school-based organisations into fortresses if they are to win...
These are unusual, strange times for school teaching unions, particularly for the leading one, the National Union of Teachers (NUT). As the certainty of the old terrain of industry-wide, national determining of pay and conditions disappears, teacher trade unionists are unsure how to handle the new situation and often resort to posturing, kidding themselves that the old ways are still operating.
London, 26 March: another huge turnout by predominantly young teachers.
Over a number of years there have been a number of national or regional one-day strikes in response to government efforts to worsen teachers’ pay, pensions and conditions.
Young teachers in the lead
Most of these strikes have been conducted by the NUT, occasionally with the NASUWT (National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers) and ATL (Association of Teachers and Lecturers) on board. Most strikes have been well supported, always involving huge numbers of young teachers disaffected at government plans, which is a healthy sign for the future. And at its Easter National Conference this year, the NUT called for another strike in June.
The government wants to dismantle the national pay system for teachers, ending prescribed pay scale points, extending performance-related pay (PRP) to all pay scales and implementing school-based pay determination. Now Ofsted is talking of including how schools are implementing PRP as part of its inspections.
The image projected is that government is withdrawing. But behind the smokescreen the government is out to demolish national arrangements and is bludgeoning school governing bodies into accepting their plans and becoming no more than their rubber stamps.
Teacher trade unionism has to box clever, adapt and advance to much higher levels of organisation than just strike deliverers. Perhaps there is a case for further one-day strikes to marshal opinion and keep solidarity, but only in the context of a wider conflict where there is a fight school-by-school to stop PRP, maintain pay rates and defend pension provision.
Where government declares matters are being devolved to schools, we must develop our school-based organisation into fortresses and use our local strength to get governing bodies to reject PRP and worsened conditions.
We will need to create negotiating structures inside every school and win the argument on pay, PRP and conditions, setting agreeable policies at school level. It will mean winning over governors and parents, involving members in a much more active way at each place of work. To achieve strong school-based actions, teacher unions must harness the enthusiasm of their young members.
We should decide what we will do and not do as part of our teaching, enact it as an action programme and then make school governing bodies authorise it with policies on conditions of service. It will be an extremely popular strategy and draw more teachers into being a part of the union.
If Ofsted does interfere in pay and conditions, it will be the nail in the coffin for that institution. Teacher unions will then necessarily have to consider non-cooperation with its inspections if the agency is seen as partial and simply an arm of government. ■