Why I’m on Strike

I’m not at school today. School’s closed. If you’re in the North West, where I teach, you’ve probably seen it on the news or you’ve been directly affected it. You may have had to find childcare or been forced to take a day off work or work from home. If you’ve been put out, I’m sorry. I really am sorry. However, I don’t think I’ve got a choice.

I’m going to give you my reasons for striking. Once you’ve read it, you can call me the names I’ve been called previously: “lazy’, “workshy” and “parasite” are just a few. I would ask you, please, to read to the end before you comment, though. If you feel any of those labels are right for me, or if you think I’m doing the wrong thing, please do tell me… but do give this a read first.

Teachers are going to be called a lot of things today, but we’re used to that. Recently, we’ve been told we’re Marxist “enemies of promise”, lazy, fail poor kids and are responsible for the rise of fascism. Today’s different, though, as we’ll have politicians suggesting we’re greedy, self-centred and aren’t thinking about the rest of the country – and you – as we take industrial action. I can understand why the government has to say this and I can also understand why you might agree with them. After all, you’re feeling the effects of my actions and, to be frank, my union (it doesn’t matter which one) hasn’t done a good job of telling you why I’m striking. The unions are very good at getting teachers out on strike, but they haven’t sold our cause to you. Had they told you why our actions are in your and your child’s interests, I think we’d have far more support from you and everyone else in our communities.

Why am I on strike?

There are a number of reasons, and I’ll list them. They’re not in the same order or the same explanations given by my union: these are my personal reasons why I’m not in school.

Firstly, class sizes are bigger. There are fewer teachers teaching more students. Teachers and others in education are losing their jobs. The number of teachers is dropping (Teacher numbers fall by 10,000 in a year) and this comes at a time when the number of students in schools in rising, with some describing the shortage a ‘crisis’. This has led to the government removing the requirement that your child must be taught in classes of no more than 30 pupils – the government is increasing class sizes.

There’s a simple reason for this: cost. Your child’s education isn’t worth paying for, say the government. More students per teacher means a lower cost per child. Indeed, Sir Michael Wilshaw, appointed head of OfSted by the current government, says that schools will soon be required to choose between high-quality staff and smaller class sizes – your child can either have a highly skilled, experienced and qualified teacher in a very large class, or can be in a smaller class with a less experienced (possibly unqualified) teacher.

Secondly, teachers don’t have to be ‘teachers’. The government is removing the requirement for the person in charge of your child’s education to be a trained teacher. The government has removed the need for staff in academies and free schools to be fully qualified teachers, and they are expanding this to state schools. Most people agree that this is simply a cost-cutting measure. The government says that there are some fantastic people teaching who don’t have a teaching qualification and this isn’t about cutting costs, but is about raising standards. If that’s true, why are unqualified teachers paid so much less if they’re at least as good as qualified teachers? If these unqualified staff have the skills of qualified teachers, and can become qualified in school using their existing skills and experience in the classroom, and would get a pay rise when they did, why don’t they? Finally, I wouldn’t put a child on a school bus knowing the driver didn’t have a driving licence, so why is it OK for the person in charge of the class (or even the school in one case) to have no formal training or teaching qualification?

Currently our education system is seen the sixth best in the world. I want to make it the best, not the cheapest.

Thirdly, teachers’ pay and conditions are being hacked away. This one’s really hard for me to talk to you about. Why? If you’re like most of us, your pay’s gone down, your conditions are worse and your outlook is bleaker, too. You’re probably thinking “I’m having to pay for the mess the bankers got us into; why shouldn’t teachers pay too? We’re all in this together, right?” Well, I hope you don’t think me too self-centred or selfish when I disagree, especially as I don’t think you’ve been treated fairly either.

I’m being asked to pay more into my pension in order to get it later and receive less. In a hugely problematic time economically, the government has said categorically that our pensions aren’t financially viable – that our pensions are bankrupting the country. Wow! If this is true, it’s no wonder I should and must take a reduction in my pension. The problem is a report from the House of Lords, by a lord appointed by the current government, said that our pensions were already affordable, were far from the ‘gold-plated’ pots of money the government tells you they are, and measures such as the change from RPI (Retail Price Index) to CPI (Consumer Price Index) had already drastically reduced the value of teachers’ pensions and the cost to the tax payer for public servants’ pensions has already been slashed by 25%. But, if the government says they’re unaffordable, fine – show us your calculations, just like Lord Hutton did, so we can check your figures. The problem is, the government won’t. They would like us to ignore the figures given by their own appointee and trust their other secret figures which they won’t release.

We’re in the same boat as all public sector workers, with job cuts, pay cuts, and pension cuts – we all have to suffer a little for the greater good, right? No. You see, our MPs who are saying the public purse can’t afford to pay so much to people who serve the state, aren’t taking a pay cut themselves. In fact, they are pushing for an increase to their their pay whilst everyone else suffers. In May, John Bercow, the Conservative Speaker of the House, began pushing for an increase to MPs’ salaries of between £10,000 and £20,000 and, in private, MPs have said (on average) their salaries should rise from £66,000 to £86,000, with Conservative MPs suggesting a figure of nearly £100,000 a year is fair and reasonable. My salary has increased by 1% (so, with inflation, I can buy a lot less than last year) and yours has increased by 0.6% on average (so you’re even worse off than me) but MPs want at least 32% increase in pay. MPs argue that £85-100k a year is necessary to attract the best people into Parliament. Unfortunately, this is where my argument might fail – because I agree with them. I think changes to teachers’ pay and conditions should be resisted because we need the best people to teach our kids. If we are going to attract the best people to teach our children, we can’t pay the least. I don’t want the MPs’ ludicrously high 32%, but I do believe a good wage will attract the best the people into the profession and mean they can stay there and thrive. Something in line with inflation, so I can buy the same as I could last year, will do me this year.

I mentioned I’m already a bit better off than you: I got 1% and you got 0.6% so I’m doing better than you – sorry about that. Honestly, I am. I think we both deserve more, but in this time of austerity, we’re all in this together. Except, we’re not. Whilst our wages have increased slightly, and by much less than inflation, there are some who are doing much better – £10,000s better. The government gave millionaires a huge tax cut this year, and said it would trickle down to the rest of us, making us all richer. What’s actually happened over the last decade is that the bottom 90% of us (including me and, probably, you) have had virtually no increase in average income; the top 10% have seen an increase of £5k; the top 5% have seen an increase of £7k; whilst the top 1% have seen their average incomes double, an increase of £150k per year. All this at a time when tax for the top is dropping and every week the richest amongst us are being outed for using divisive and elaborate tax avoidance techniques – tax which would pay for the services your council is having to cut, pay for the cuts the government are making, and pay for the cuts to your child’s education, including new buildings, new equipment, new qualified teachers and, yes, my pay.

The truth is, though, that we are in a time of austerity, we have to be careful with money, and we have to make sure every penny is spent wisely – except if you’re in charge of the Department for Education. Michael Gove has said that your child’s education is too expensive, that your child isn’t worth the money we spend on him or her, that the future, the next generation, isn’t worth the money we spend on it – except if it’s one of his pet projects. In a time of austerity, his department has over spent by £1bn on academies and free schools. That’s £ 1,000,000,000 or 43,668 new teachers.

Furthermore, the government’s plans for the curriculum are wrong. I disagree with the government’s plans for what our children should be taught, how they should be taught it and how it’s being brought in. We’re the sixth best education system in the world – and that’s not good enough. I want us to be the best, and I want us to keep improving when we get there. I want our system to be amazing and wonderful; I want people to talk and talk about how good education is in this country until all superlatives have been exhausted… and then I want it to get even better. Michael Gove’s plans won’t do that; Michael Gove’s plans will send us backwards. Just about every one of his edicts has been shot down in flames because they have been ill conceived, ill thought through, or poorly implemented. Even when huge bodies of evidence have been put before him, he’s ignored them, and just last week, even his own advisors, experts he’d appointed and employs as consultants, told him, in no uncertain terms, that his changes would damage education, damage employment and damage children… and he’s ignored them and done what he thinks is best. I want to teach children the right things in the right way; Mr Gove wants to teach children the wrong things in the wrong way – just ask his experts.

Finally, I don’t have a choice but to strike. My union has asked Mr Gove to talk about these issues and a whole raft more. He agreed – and offered them one hour. One hour to talk about all my issues listed above and the dozens more teachers have with the direction the government’s taking education. One hour to discuss pay & pensions; one hour to discuss class sizes & teacher shortages; one hour to discuss teacher training & the use of unqualified staff in classrooms. One hour, in total, to discuss all that. If you had a problem at work, wouldn’t you expect more than hour of your boss’ time? If your child had a problem at school, would you expect me or one of my colleagues to limit you to an hour?

Michael Gove will not take my union’s request for a meeting seriously – so what choice do I have?

Thank you for reading this far. With all the rhetoric from the government, it’s hard to get our message across so I really do appreciate it. Today, I’ll be called lazy and workshy, greedy and a parasite, so it’s good to know at least you’ve listened. I hate being off school and I hate hurting you and your children today – and I’m sorry that I have to. I don’t take strike action lightly – I think my union’s only ever been on strike once before and this is the first time I’ve voted for and taken strike action – but I believe it’s the only way that the government will listen to my deep concerns about our children’s futures.

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About jatkinson1977

I'm in my 30s and married to Sharon, the beautiful woman who keeps me in check. We live in Shipley, just outside Bradford, with our black lab, Nipper. I'm an English teacher in secondary school and, after working as a Teaching & Learning Consultant with the local authority, have returned to the classroom to become a Lead Professional in English at a large comp in Bradford. I'm also trying to become a little more cultured, especially by seeing what culture's right here on my doorstep in Bradford and West Yorkshire (please see my blog, 'Am I Kulchad Yet?'). I've got a third and final blog which is filled with things that, essentially, don't fit into the other two but are interesting enough to share (please see my blog, 'Things That Occur To Me').
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20 Responses to Why I’m on Strike

  1. Right behind you, J! This Government are systematically killing off education in this country on an ideological crusade to divide the country into ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ and this is fundamentally WRONG!
    All power to you and your colleagues.
    Regards
    D

    Like

  2. emmaannhardy says:

    Reblogged this on emmaannhardy and commented:
    A great blog from a teacher who is on strike in the north west.

    Like

  3. suecowley says:

    Absolutely. Argued with passion and conviction.
    If I was a parent of a child at your school I’d be absolutely delighted to have a teacher who clearly has so much conviction about what education should be like.

    Like

  4. The pen is mightier than the sword. 100% behind you. The damage the government are doing to the very fabric of our lives is frightening.

    Like

  5. Amanda Lane says:

    Very well put, as a nurse not a teacher our profession echoes much of what you have written. Sadly the Daily Fail would have people believe that our retirements are going to feature villa’s etc when the reality is we will barely live off it, assuming we live long enough to get it!

    Like

  6. sadiestairwell says:

    Thank you for your clarity, compassion and commitment to education and all our children. Protest to protect.

    Like

  7. Marelle Rice says:

    Well said, I wholeheartedly support the strike action but am saddened that it had to happen. State education is being replaced with warehousing our young people and I find it utterly depressing and sinister. It gives me some peace of mind that there is resistance to this – collectively we are very powerful.

    Like

  8. Jacqui says:

    I sympathise with your cause, in fact I also understand your emotions as I had them too when my pension contributions increased and the benefit decreased. I too am now on performance related pay, and yes it’s hard to not know if you’ll even get a pay rise.

    But I didn’t have the power to use innocent children as pawns in my objections! And for this reason you have dwindling support from myself and many like me.

    Please find a way to protest without using the children in this dispicable manner!

    Like

    • Thanks for your honest reply. I don’t just sympathise: I agree. I’ve never been on strike before and I see it as the only way to get heard. We have tried every other avenue and this is our last resort. Children (an parents) are suffering today – I admit that – but I am striking to stop them suffering more in the future. If there was another way, I do it.

      Thanks for commenting.

      Like

  9. Lotte says:

    Thank you for writing this. My mum’s boyfriend is a high school teacher (history and politics) and he hates Michael Gove so, so much. I laugh when I hear about how much free time teachers have – whenever I see him, he nearly always has a ton of marking to do. This is not to mention that he gives kids extra tuition out of school hours and has lesson planning, meetings etc. as well. It is not an easy job and the uninformed idiots who write into the Metro every week to complain about teachers need to stfu. I don’t blame you guys for striking, to be honest. Gove hasn’t got a clue.

    Like

  10. frispy says:

    I’m a TA, I had to work today. My pay hasn’t increased, ever. My pension contributions have, my retirement age has been extended too. Do I moan and cause thousands of families additional cost of childcare? No, I go to work continue with my role. Strike action is not the way to be heard for the reasons you state. All private sector employment is in a similar position, are they on strike? Is there work load increasing? Are they being replaced by un-qualified people? Do they also feel infuriated at the double standards of MPs? Answer no to any of my questions and I will support this industrial action.

    Like

    • Thanks for your honest comment. I can’t answer ‘No’. However, I think education’s too important to be treated as a commodity and my action today – personally, and I know that’s not what is portrayed in the media – is against an erosion of standards in schools and for making our education system better for our children.
      I would argue that saying bad things are happening in the private sector so it should happen in teaching could be reversed – why not argue that teachers (and similar) have it a bit better than us, so let’s get everyone up to their standards rather than getting them down to ours? If we do that, everyone is better off and we halt the race to the bottom.

      Thanks for commenting.

      Like

  11. A.D. Gould says:

    Interesting, thought-provoking article. Though I have always been a Labour supporter I neither understand nor endorse strike action. I work in the private sector, in which many companies implemented pay freezes 2-3 years ago, that have yet to repealed. I have no pension entitlement. I have 25 days holiday per year. I have no guarantee of any pay rise whatsoever, in the short- or medium-term. In the event I were to go on strike, the chances are I would find my P45 waiting for me upon my return home. I don’t have the facility to be able to earn extraneous income in my spare time by marking exam papers. Why should teachers’ conditions, therefore, elicit any kind of sympathy from me?

    At the risk of sounding a touch provocative, do you not think ordinary, private-sector works get a bit tired of teachers always complaining about how bad their lot is? I find this perpetually sense of victim-hood hard to stomach. I agree with the facets of trade unionism. What I do not agree with is flagrant abuse of its tenets for the purposes of ‘If I don’t get what I want I’ll go on strike’ type of attitude. If you don’t agree with the direction in which your profession is heading, no-one is forcing you to teach, are they? Figureheads of the early trade union movement whose primary goal was the betterment of workers’ conditions, would be spinning in their graves if they could only see how the movement their inaugurated now being used for this type of blackmail. Sorry if this upsets anyone, but I find teachers striking a bit hard to swallow! Do you not thinking about the kiddies whose education is being disrupted by this kind of thing? Or the parents having to frantically make childcare arranged or use up their annual leave (in the cases of those of us who don’t get innumerable days’ holiday)? You say you do, but if you did, you wouldn’t resort to such measures, because first and foremost, your attitude is ‘me first’.

    Like

    • dillinja says:

      If you are typing the following in your comment, it would seem that you have not really read the article properly:
      ‘Do you not thinking about the kiddies whose education is being disrupted by this kind of thing? Or the parents having to frantically make childcare arranged or use up their annual leave (in the cases of those of us who don’t get innumerable days’ holiday)? You say you do, but if you did, you wouldn’t resort to such measures, because first and foremost, your attitude is ‘me first’.’
      Teachers aren’t simply pulling this decision out of thin air, or on a whim. The writer outlines clearly and cogently why such action is being taken.

      Like

  12. Anonymous says:

    I agree with most points apart from the third. I know many people in the private sector who struggle to get a job and to keep it. One that I know has a lower wage now in the same job now than he did in 2007, who also receives no pension contribution at all by the employer (not once) – and no action against this will take place as nobody is part of a union. And it is seen completely normal in their industry. I think it is hard on teachers, but seriously I think a lot of others are doing a lot worse off than them. However, I do completely agree about most of the other points made!

    Like

    • Thanks for your comments. I’m lucky to be in a unionised job – and I’ve never felt that before, I just took it for granted. I was talking to someone today who said that the 70s and 80s really changed our view of unions and the working / lower middle classes – and I don’t think it was for the better. It seems that employers have all the power and we’re accepting of that.

      Like

  13. chris gorton says:

    Whilst I share your concerns around class sizes and curriculum failings, as a private sector worker, I must say that you’re completely void of reality.

    As a private sector worker with a university degree, I started on a lower wage that didn’t increase automatically each year, I don’t have a union, I work long hours, face the prospect of redundancy, fund the vast majority of my pension and have 25 days holiday per year. The thing is though, I accept that this is working life. I work each day for my own benefit. No one owes me anything.

    Ultimately, the reason for most teachers striking is down to pay and pension changes. I doubt you would strike over class sizes or curriculum changes if the pay what how it was a few years back.

    Join the club. Its called the real world

    Like

    • dillinja says:

      ‘Join the club. Its called the real world’

      Ha! That old chestnut. I’m writing this from Teacherland, a place where my £1m mansion is gated away from everyone around me, where I click my fingers and the marking, planning and preparation of materials for my seven classes (189 pupils) take place in the two and a half hours I get in school to complete it. It’s a place where my two boys and my wife never suffer from illness (neither do I!) and where I have the money to skip the queues associated with referrals for NHS care, where the pupils politely and dutifully engage with everything I’ve done for them and whom have no problems of their own that I have to deal with…

      Just in case you think that IS my reality, I’m being sarcastic. I accept that I chose to come into a profession that had its fair share of issues, too, but being systematically undermined by those in power wasn’t something I was expecting, somewhat naively perhaps.

      As for the pension issue, an analogy I’ve used elsewhere:
      If you agree a £100 a month repayment on a loan to buy a car so that at the end of a five year period you own the car outright, you’d be pretty upset if the garage told you out of the blue that they’d changed their mind and wanted you to pay £150 a month over eight years, wouldn’t you, and that you wouldn’t get the car at the end of those eight years? That’s basically what the Tories have decided to do with pensions which had actually been set up to be self-sustaining within five years of their introduction (as the writer here points out).

      Like

      • chris gorton says:

        Sarcasm aside, I still don’t really have all that much sympathy for you. The private sector is full of professions that require long working hours, weekends etc and doesn’t grant 12 weeks holiday per year (apologies if this figure isn’t correct) or provide an automatic pension at the end. I appreciate that moving the gate posts must have been upsetting, but if they were never feasible in the first place then it must have been inevitable. Blame the Torries all you want but the country was in a bad state based on wasteful spending over many years. I’m in no way saying that was exclusive to teachers pensions or any other teaching areas, but the books had to be balanced. This has led to changes that have impacted on all of us in some way. Joining the club means you’re now a part of that. You can’t pretend to be surprised when you read responses like mine from average private sector workers. Take refuge in the point that you at least have job security. That’s worth a lot in today’s working world.

        Like

      • paul says:

        Thanks for the reply, Chris, and for taking the time to read what I wrote. Given that I am the only teacher in my friendship group and family, I am well aware of how teachers’ ‘whinging’ is perceived (and teachers themselves)! However, focusing on education and the health service as targets for alterations in pay and conditions is completely ideological.

        It had been established prior to the Tories getting in that teachers’ pensions were affordable and self-sustaining. That the government will not offer their calculations up to scrutiny when the numbers had already been done via the HoL report has to make you at least suspicious. Privatisation by stealth is the plan, it seems, with rising costs for everyone affected (and I do, of course, realise that “we are all in this together”). As someone who has previously lived in the States for a while and seen the results of their policies regarding ‘healthcare’, I shudder to think what may lie in wait for us here.

        Job security is not guaranteed any more given the changes Gove has made to governors’ ability to terminate a teacher’s contract within a term. Given the way a couple of teachers behave at our school, this could be seen positively… but we have an effective management and governor structure; if less scrupulous members of those bodies found it efficacious to dispense with decent employees due to cost / performance / whatever (as has been the case in other countries using this model), abuses of power are more likely. There is already a pre-existing structure that allows headteachers to massively tighten up monitoring and assessment of any teaching staff failing their classes, this added punitive layer that will loom over perfectly decent practitioners seems unnecessary. Equally, the commonly held notion of automatic pay progression is bogus – if you do not meet the three performance targets agreed with senior management every year, then your rate of pay is fixed for another twelve months.

        I want everyone’s kids to grow up and develop within a society and education system that will allow them to thrive, regardless of whether they are academically able or not. However, I really do believe that the changes that are being proposed have little if anything to do with that. In fact, if the present government are re-elected, it is my intention to move abroad: I do not want my five and seven year old boys to be part of a system that is not going to prepare them for the challenges, technological or otherwise, that we are going to go through in the next decade or more. I don’t care about the holidays or the pensions really (though I see that the 13 weeks MPs ‘earn’ are kept very quiet); I want my life to have a purpose that I can believe in, where I can look back and think “That meant something to me, as well as to the children I’ve enjoyed spending so much of my time with.” I’m lucky to have stumbled into a job I truly love and it’s taken me 10 years to get to the level of teaching ability I have now; I’ve worked bloody hard to be as good as I am (that’s not bigheadedness or subjectivity – I’ve been rated as Outstanding for the last five years of classroom observations in an Outstanding department) and intend to carry on having a purpose as well as a passion. This government are making it extremely difficult, though!

        Like

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