HUNDREDS of teachers across Gloucestershire are expected to strike on Wednesday in defence of their pay, pensions and conditions of service.
The National Union of Teachers (NUT) has nearly 25,000 members across the Westcountry and almost all schools are expected to be affected in some way.
NUT Regional Secretary, Andy Woolley, explained that the Union has held off industrial action for some time hoping that Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, would engage in talks about the problems which see 40 per cent of new teachers leave the profession within five years of qualifying and many older teachers leave as well.
“In the first three years of this Government workload increased by an average of about nine hours a week, seeing primary school teachers work up to 60 hours a week and secondary teachers 56 hours a week, the union says.
“During this time the real value of their pay has fallen by about 15 per cent and their pension contributions have been increased by 50 per cent, whilst benefits have worsened and the retirement age has increased to 68 from 60 just a short while ago.
“The threat of our strike action did, eventually, persuade Michael Gove to agree to some talks but he has refused to discuss the concerns of teachers and just wishes to discuss the pace of implementation of his own proposals which are part of the problem. These talks have made no real progress and he himself has not engaged with them but relied heavily on his civil servants who, of course, do not have the power to overrule him.
“We have been prepared to call of the strike, even at this late stage, if there was serious discussion but that has not happened. We felt it would be letting teachers down to call off the action before any progress has been made and that not making this stand on Wednesday would be a serious mistake if we want to get Michael Gove to listen to what education professionals are saying.
“We are concerned about disruption to schools but feel that things will be much worse for pupils if these issues are not addressed. Teachers don’t take strike action lightly, the majority of them are parents too and they obviously lose a day’s pay so this is hard for them as well. However, recent research has shown that where a whole class or whole school are not taught on a particular day, whether it be closure for bad weather, for the Royal Wedding (which was on a scheduled school day when schools were closed) or because of strikes, the teachers work to make up the work missed and the pupils do not suffer in the long term.
“However, when an individual child is taken out they miss out on what the class have done. That is why it can’t be compared to the problems caused by parents taking their children on holiday in term time.
“This dispute is about employment issues but the Union is not just concerned about the impact of changes to teachers’ pay, pension and workload which are significant and impact on a large turnover rate amongst qualified teachers but also about the significant impact of Government policy on children’s education. This is evident in the South West with attempts to force schools to become academies and the possible establishment of unnecessary Free Schools at considerable expense and at a time when such schools are increasingly involved in scandals over financial improprieties and mismanagement as well as evidence showing that schools that remain under Local Authority control are now producing better results than those in the academy and Free School system so beloved of Michael Gove.
“We believe the Coalition Government’s policies threaten the standard of education in all our schools and colleges. For instance Academies and free schools are now allowed to employ unqualified teachers. This is a big threat to standards of education and we need to ensure that every classroom has a qualified teacher all the time.”
“We need to allow councils to open new schools where they are needed. There is a huge pupil place shortage but councils are not allowed to open new schools. Many councils are driven to putting portable cabins on school playgrounds to cope. The Government only allows new ‘free’ schools and these are often in the wrong place.
“The Government should make sure changes to the curriculum and exams are positive and planned. Rushed changes are stressful for children as well as their teachers and, indeed, their parents. The Government should start listening to what teachers and education experts say. It should work with them to develop an exciting and inspiring curriculum that equips children for the modern world.
“We need to ensure there are enough new teachers and stop picking fights with the ones we’ve got. Michael Gove keeps criticising teachers and, as a result, morale is plummeting. On top of that the current system of training teachers is under-recruiting. Instead of dealing with this, Michael Gove keeps attacking our teachers, who are forced to strike to defend themselves and education.
“Finally, we must get our schools working together and fund them properly. The evidence shows that schools working together is best for all children. Financial scandals at free schools show the dangers of privatisation. On top of this fragmentation, school 6th forms and 6th form colleges are facing 20% cuts while £1.7 billion has been allocated to wasteful and unnecessary free schools.”