Industrial action in schools in England starts this month as teachers fight for pay, pensions, working conditions and jobs...
HUNDREDS OF teacher trade unionists joined Rallies for Education across England in September in the lead up to industrial action this month. The teachers, members of the NUT and NASUWT, came together to protest about the unprecedented attacks waged by the government against the profession, schools and students.
In London on 14 September, speakers from the platform included a representative from each union, plus a classroom teacher, some students, a governor and a parent. Patrick Roach, NASUWT deputy general secretary, spoke about the decline in teacher numbers, dilapidated buildings, widespread closure of children’s centres, increasing class sizes, and the attempt to set teacher against teacher with performance-related pay. He pointed out that PRP will reduce teachers’ pay, as no extra money is available to fund the scheme.
A geography teacher from a Tower Hamlets school, with 15 years’ experience, pointed out that the massive endless changes introduced by successive governments were exhausting teachers, who are now called “the enemies of promise” by Secretary of State Gove. Schools are collaborative organisations or they are nothing, she said. Teachers work together to raise standards of education, not against each other in competitive salary systems that emphasise the work of individuals rather than teams.
Teacher workload is relentless, she explained, and now Gove talks about lengthening the school day and shortening school holidays. At her school, teachers recently hosted a meeting between teachers and parents from three local schools – parents were shocked to hear about what was happening.
All this together with the trebling of tuition fees was a great concern to Soraya, a sixth form student from the same school, who spoke next. She wants to be a doctor, but will face debt of around £54,000 by the end of her medical training. Is university now to be only for the rich?
A parent from Hounslow pointed out that education needs to be a planned, organised system, not a free-for-all. Next, a governor from Hove in Sussex explained how local people including governors had fought off a government proposal to build a free school on a community playing field. A playing field banner now proclaims “Hove 1, Gove 0”.
Councillors from Barking and Dagenham spoke of the crisis in school places, felt acutely in that borough. Nationally 118,000 extra primary places are needed, with 42 per cent of the shortage in London alone. Barking and Dagenham has seen a 60 per cent increase in the birth rate in 10 years, as well as families moving out of central London unable to afford the rents. Under-18s now make up 31 per cent of the population. In their borough, they have families with children in schools in three different boroughs.
Running out of classrooms
Having expanded 70 per cent of existing schools – local authorities are no longer allowed to build new schools – the borough is running out of space. The council is now looking at empty shops and pubs as possible classrooms, as well as split shift schools, with 8am–2pm and 2pm–8pm sessions, and/or 8am–6pm on Saturdays plus three weekday shifts. In two years’ time, they said, the crisis will also swamp the secondary schools.
Michael Gove talks about millions of pounds being spent on new Free Schools but those new places are nowhere near enough to deal with the crisis, and many of them are in religious schools or in the wrong areas. He has no plan to deal with the crisis.
Gove’s departmental spending is out of control, explained Christine Blower of the NUT, as he creates an extra layer of central bureaucracy to replace local authorities. The Local Government Association has called for a halt to the Free School programme, to fund the extra school places needed now.
With loudly applauded excellent speeches from the platform, the mood in the London hall was animated. Now teachers have to go out and build the unions in their schools, to be ready for the fights ahead. ■