EDUCATION SECRETARY Gove, mired in the GCSE re-marking scandal, will be dismayed to see that the two biggest unions, the NUT and the NASUWT, have announced joint action on pensions, pay and working conditions. In taking action, which began on 26 September, the unions have refrained from falling into the trap set for them by those who call for strike action alone. Teachers have no appetite for stunts which reveal weakness and play into the hands of the government. But they have reserved the option of further strikes should these prove necessary.
“Action short of strike action” is the call to teachers this term and will keep the pressure on the government while allowing teachers to address aspects of their working life where their professionalism is challenged. School staff can remain united when they are effectively reasserting control over their workplace.
Teacher unity is again being asserted in this action, with the two unions involved together representing nine out of 10 teachers. The action agreed means that teachers will refuse to hand in lesson planning, refuse to cover for absent colleagues, impose a strict limit on the number and type of meetings they will attend, and refuse to cooperate with any appraisal process which does not conform to the joint unions’ protocol.
Included in the unions’ demands on conditions is a negotiated system of appraisal and lesson observations which provides sufficient protection for teachers. At present, many teachers are subject to frequent, often unannounced, classroom observations which put them under intense pressure. The unions are also demanding a reduction in the number of Ofsted inspections, which cause extra (unproductive) work and stress to professionals, act as the enforcer of government policies and views in schools, and are being used to push schools towards becoming academies. School inspection, once a means of improving, has become both punitive of professionals and a narrowing influence over the curriculum.
Gove’s oft-repeated homily “leave teaching to the teachers” belies blatant interference over the curriculum and in how schools function. The distorting landscape of education is as baffling to parents as it is infuriating to teachers. By their action, teachers are taking the responsibility to fight back. ■