Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Why are teachers striking?

Tomorrow teachers in the North East, Cumbria, London, South East and South West will go on strike. This is the third in a series of rolling strike action by two teaching unions, the NUT and the NASUWT, who between them represent over 90% of serving teachers.

That they are striking together is significant. Historically the two unions have been rivals and relationships between them have often been fractious.

What has caused them to put their decades of differences aside and work together?

It can be summed up in one word: Gove.

This can’t be said often enough. Striking is a last resort. No one wants to go on strike. Teachers lose a day’s pay, and know that they will be accused of wanting the day off, of being lazy, of not caring about kids, or deliberately inconveniencing parents.  Striking is something you only do when you have explored all other avenues and found them blocked off.

But Gove has united teachers in a feeling that a stand has to be made and, since he won’t sit down and negotiate with the unions we are taking strike action.

So what’s it all about.

Well, where do we start?

First of all Gove has announced that he wants teachers to work longer, pay more and get less for their pension than they agreed when they started the job.

So what, I hear you say. People are living longer, it’s a time of austerity and the country can’t afford to pay out for your “gold-plated” pensions. Them’s the breaks, right?

No. For a start our pension scheme has had £43 billion more paid into it than has ever been taken out. Let me repeat that. FORTY. THREE. BILLION. POUNDS. more has gone into our pension pot, paid for by serving teachers, than has ever been taken out by retired teachers. Our pension doesn’t need any input from the taxpayer to make it affordable; it’s fine as it is.

The increased pension contributions that Gove has demanded we pay combined with the pay freeze over the past few years means that by April next year teachers will have had a 15% pay cut in real terms since 2010. That’s a FIFTEEN PERCENT paycut. We simply can’t sustain such an attack on our wages.

And teaching is a physical job. Carrying heavy boxes of books around a school, standing all day, crouching down next to desks to offer help, standing on desks to pin up displays, intervening in physical altercations – these are all a daily part of teachers lives. Keeping 30 children focused and on task for the best part of six hours a day takes enthusiasm and energy. It’s mentally and physically demanding and while most teachers say they will struggle to make it to 65, Gove is now insisting they go on until 68.  The cynical might say that, of course, he knows that’s simply impossible and means that many teachers will be forced to take early retirement, thereby losing many thousands of pounds from a pension that they have worked hard for for years, often decades. (It's worth noting that already 43% of teachers don't make it to retirement age before leaving the profession.) 

Workload is another issue.  While Gove would like to maintain that teachers waltz in at 9, leave at 3, and sun themselves on beaches for six weeks in the summer the reality is very different.

Any teacher will tell you that a typical day starts nearer to seven, doesn’t finish until well after 6, that breaks during the day are non-existent and that weekends and holidays are taken up with marking and planning. And that’s for more experienced teachers. These days tales of newly qualified teachers being at school until nine or ten at night and then going in again on the weekend are not uncommon. Which is why there is such a high burnout rate in teaching (nearly one in three trainees doesn't stay in teaching beyond a year and 50% don't stay beyond five years).

And Gove wants us to do more. While most teachers need the holidays to keep on top of their workload, see their own children, remind their family and friends what they look like, and physically and mentally recuperate, Gove says we should have shorter holidays and stay in school for longer so that we can have additional meetings and supervise after-school sessions.

But all of this, the pay cut, the stolen pension, the increased workload, he might have got away with all of this were it not for his devastating onslaught on education.

Amongst other things he has:
  • Removed the Educational Maintenance Allowance that allowed poorer students to stay on into further education
  • Done nothing to reduce the tripling of tuition fees
  • Narrowed the curriculum into something one academic has called neo-Victorian
  • Removed the need for schools to employ qualifies teachers
  • Stopped the schools modernisation programme and diverted the money into free schools often in places where there is no need
  • Destroyed university based initial teacher training so that we are now facing a significant shortage of teachers in key subjects
  • Created a school places crisis
  • Proposed phasing out all 230,00 teaching assistants
  • Refused to listen to the advice of the profession
  • Refused to implement policies based on evidence and research
  • Constantly denigrated teachers

Teachers have had enough. They’ve had enough of the attacks on their pay, on their pensions and their working conditions. But most of all they’ve had enough of the attacks on education.

It’s time to stand up for education. It’s time to stand up for teachers.

Please support the strikes.


  1. Well said. The impact of Gove on pay and conditions is disastrous.

  2. Back this all the way. My profession (private health care) will be striking soon as we're having up to half our wages chopped by our employer. We do varied shifts, nightshifts, weekends, etc and are having our basic working rights eroded. More people need to stand up and soon.

  3. Thanks Darren. The government try to pit public sector worker against private sector worker. Glad to see it's not working! We all need a better deal and, if we stand together, we can get one. Very much appreciate the support.

  4. I also wrote a blog about the strike tomorrow, and linked your post within it. I hope you do not mind. :

    Thanks for your words.


  5. Its important to realise that this 'government' are nothing more than a front for the corporations and vested interests that do not care about normal people, the attacks on education are just part of a bigger plan to wreck any semblance of civilisation that we have and pit us against each other in a dog eat dog fashion. The Tories in particular hate with a vengeance anything that smacks of a fair and just society, of anything that is 'free' to the hoi poloi or 'socialist' in origin. The same plan is being carried out by right wing governments globally, its time for us all to stand up and say NO and to create the world that we want our children to grow up in.

  6. I have been a teacher in Further Education and currently still work in that sector as a tutor, dealing with students pastoral needs. From this perspective I can say first hand that the elimination of the EMA hasn't stopped students from low income households continuing their education. There are many bursaries, grants and huge travel discounts available to ensure these students are able to attend college, but a good lunch and also pay for supplies and class trips. I speak to these students on a one to one basis every day to ensure they are getting the financial support they need to complete their desired qualification. So the EMA argument is nothing more than a myth used as propaganda by unions.
    I'd also like to add my opinion about the pension debate. If some teachers are unhappy with the increase of their pension contributions, why not opt out and pay into a private pension with the amount that is acceptable to yourself? At the moment, I'm happy to keep paying the contributions that are set out for FE staff, but should I decide they're getting too big, I will take it upon myself to arrange an alternative. I can do this because I'm an educated person with the ability to think an act for myself, rather than being told what to think and how to act by someone else.
    Finally, I'd like to add my thoughts on the narrowing of the curriculum. It has recently been revealed that this country is way down the list of countries with good levels of literacy and numeracy in post 16 adults. This is severely impacting the ability of many people to find employment and raising the need for employers to hire more qualified applicants from outside of this country. Students in Further Education now have to work to achieve at least a C grade in English and Maths, alongside their primary course of study. This will help bridge the gap left by their too varied education at school, where not enough foucs was put on these subjects and not enough time was available to help the children who needed extra support due to learning differences. It's difficult to understand why you would be against the improvement of building the core skills of our country, so that we can be more self sufficient in the future.

  7. I really wish everyone would read this - it explains a lot about teaching and related problems from Gove and governments but there is also so much more that happens to make teaching such a hard job. It is the students who make the job worth doing.

  8. Every time I read the teachers view of this it always just smacks of the interests of the individual and not only that an individual that has had it too good for too long and knows nothing of the outside world.

    Why on earth do you think that your situation is so different to hundreds of other industries that it gives you the right to shut a publicly funded body for a day? Your pensions are worth less and you're working more, so what, so are thousands of other workers across many, many industries.

    You should be grateful that you have any pension at all, private sector pensions have been utterly decimated over the last 10 years and many workers have come to retirement to be left with £0. The fact is that the surplus in your pensions pot is there by law as now all pension funds must have enough money to cover the full cost of all planned retirements (whether they are taken or not) hence why final salary pensions have all but disappeared from the private sector.

    Furthermore at the height of the British Empire the government employed some 4,000 civil servants, this has expanded now to over half a million people employed by the Government and yet whilst life expectancy has grown by around 45% the pensionable age has not. If you really want to talk about fair your pensionable age should be somewhere closer to 100! When pensions were initially created only 500,000 men qualified for the Government pension meaning there were 10 workers for every one pensioner, now that number has swelled massively but the number of workers paying tax has not grown respectively.

    Also, really, talking about the physicality of your job?! Tell me why your job is so hard compared to a brickie for example who works from 7-7 lugging bricks around every day of his life and will most likely not have a pension at all, pointless argument that just points at "me, me, me".

    As one other posted has said, if you don't like your pension opt out and join the rest of us with a private one!

    The simple fact is this, the Government has had to borrow and borrow more money to pay for public sector pensions and pay because they were never adjusted to reflect the changing times. 1 guess as to why no Government has ever successfully managed to reform public sector pay and's because when it tries you hold the country to ransom with strikes.

    Someone's generation has to bear the pain of the pay and pensions being bought in-line with where they need to be so tell me with reasons that are bigger than the individual why it shouldn't be this generation?

  9. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  10. Tech Walker: it's true that other industries have problems too. Workers in those industries should feel free to strike too in defence of their own rights. I'd fully support them if they chose to do so.

    And I don't know how you can claim this is about "the interests of the individual". Don't you mean thousands of individuals? I'm going to assume you haven't actually bothered to read the reasons for the strike and just come out with the usual unthinking anti-union nonsense.

    1. I've read them, don't make assumptions in arguments it lessens your counter argument greatly.

      My point is that while thousands of individuals may be affected the reasons are based on something that affects the individual, e.g. it's "your pension" and "your pay" without taking into account the economics of "the whole", you don't care as long as your pay and your pensions are being serviced.

      And yes I am absolutely anti-union because it is an utterly abused position, either all should have the right to strike or no-one at all. Your comment of "Workers in those industries should feel free to strike too in defence of their own rights. I'd fully support them if they chose to do so" shows you don't actually understand what's so special about a Strike. Other industries CAN'T strike! Our employers could simply sack us, only select Government bodies have an actual RIGHT to strike without fear of retribution and yet it's used simply to try to force the Government to do something that is unsustainable. As I mentioned this isn't isolated to Teachers, all unions and Government bodies are as incapable of accepting change, hence why our National debt is 3 times that of Greece. If Interest rates were to rise simply by 1% this Government would default on it's debts and the financial system would crumble, but hey, as long as you get your pension right! But tell me what good is your pension if a loaf of bread suddenly costs £10? Hence why this is a strike for the Individual, there is no thought to the wider consequences of pay and pension not being reformed.

      If this was truly about education and teachers and unions understood the rationale behind pension and pay changes, you'd accept them so the arguments could focus on what's really important in the issues and that's the quality of the education but simply throwing toys out the pram because you're pension is changing only masks the important issues, one's that I would get behind and respect action over.

      Also, why strike? The issues are constantly in the news and get plenty of coverage, they are discussed constantly so why strike?

      And finally, you failed to counter any of the points in my argument, or provide a sound economic argument as to why your pension and pay shouldn't change?

    2. This isn't about not accepting change, it's about policy detached from the realities of the teaching profession. You are the one focussing on pensions - this is ONE point that has bought teachers to the point they feel there is no option other than to strike.

      Clearly you have NO IDEA about life as a teacher, and the huge pressure all teachers are under to meet their incredibly high professional standards. Teachers who do their job well work 70+hours a week. Human beings are not capable of working any harder - or would you advocate pushing teachers to the point of breakdown then replacing them with unqualified people?

      It's about policy makers perception of the teaching profession, and society undervaluing a role which is crucial in the formative years of future workforces. If you provide no financial motivation, in the form of a reasonably comfortable retirement, and conditions worsen, the profession will attract the wrong type of people. Great teachers have great outcomes, and great teachers, rightly so, cost money.

      It is not politicians that will save our country, its fantastic teachers who may just be able to cultivate the attitudes and skills in younger generations. This will only happen with united support and respect from morons like you, focussed on the minutiae of now, with no thought to the REAL contributing factors to sustainable growth.

      And no I am not a teacher.

    3. Firstly, calling someone a moron in what is a debate - poor

      Let me clarify something, I have massive respect for teachers, I fully understand the importance of their role and how they are absolutely critical to the sustainable growth and improvement of society. I know they work amazingly hard and yes I agree they deserve adequate financial compensation for that, never once above have I said anything to the contrary! Nor have I ever said Politicians will save the country or that teachers should be pushed to breaking point, I am simply dealing in facts.

      I am absolutely behind action to remedy Government policy surrounding curriculum and workloads etc. but your pensions are not affordable and no-one here has given an adequate counter argument to that point? Again rather than answer my points you chose name calling, I'm trying to have an open and honest debate about why Teachers think they're pensions are affordable in the bigger picture? And yes I've focused on pensions and yes there are many other issues and yet Pensions is the first point in this blog......

      I can assure you I'm absolutely not focused on the minutia of now, nor do my arguments indicate that. The debt crisis is something that has grown over decades and if something isn't done about it will decimate this country for the coming decades and public sector pensions is a massive part of that. Yes Teachers will provide sustainable growth and improvement in the quality of life, but they are one contributing factor among hundreds.

      Also again, plenty of industries work hard and have high professional standard so I'm not really sure of the relevance, this isn't an argument about who works the hardest it's simple economics! I've not once seen a teacher on the news say "You know what, pensions are unaffordable and 60 years out of date and if we don't tackle that debt it'll blight all these wonderful children we're trying so hard to enlighten, now let's talk about the more important changes that are going to affect their educational experience"

      So, again, I ask a) What gives you the right to hold the country to ransom with a service paid for by the people? and b) What is the economic justification for the continuation of your pensions in their current form?

    4. To help you think about the situation in a different light, perhaps this will give you some food for thought.

      There's a teacher I know who is qualified and experienced enough to get a job that would give her approx. 1.5-2x her current salary. She teaches because she likes helping people and is really good at her job.. she isn't in it for the money.

      If money becomes a problem (this is only one factor! - please take the time to re-read what Gove has done..) or if the job becomes too stressful, the sensible option would be to (reluctantly) pack in the teaching a move to a different job that pays better which would put a private pension in reach. If (or when) this happens, someone who isn't as well educated will step in to her place to educate the next generation. I strongly believe this is not a step forwards.

      To answer your question (I assume it was a question - you called the argument pointless, so I am guessing you didn't understand it..) about the physicality of the job: If the job is physical and most teachers don't manage to make it to the current retirement age then adding on an extra 3 years to their target retirement age makes it even more unreachable. To use your (apples to oranges) comparison of a 'brickie' - I don't recall ever seeing a 68 year old 'brickie' working a 12 hour day. Do you?

      In answer to your last two questions, I refer you to this comment: . Hopefully that will help educate you on the matter.

    5. In reply to techwalker - you state that teacher pensions are not affordable.

      What evidence do you have other than the assertions on David Laws and Michael Gove (neither of whom are that good with money - at least I believe that is the reason they fiddled their expenses).

      The unions state that the Teachers' Pensions scheme is massively in credit. The demand from the unions is simply for there to be a valuation of the TPS - something that is massively overdue. If it turns out that the TPS does need more contributions then the unions have stated that this would be ok - but the suspicion is that it is simply a tax on teachers pay. And there is a problem with stating that it is ok for teachers to remain at the chalkface until 68 - again the reality is that teachers will retire "early" but at the cost of a massively reduced pension. I'm sure you'll reply that teachers could choose to stay till they are 68 - but the problem is that the pressures of schools and Ofsted etc mean that many teachers will feel that they will be forced out with the threat of capability procedures hanging over them if they try to stay in the classroom. Already the vast majority of casework for unoins is dealing with teachers in their 50s who have been teaching 20-30 years who then find that the job is getting so much more difficult at the same time as they are physically finding it more difficult.

      However this was not the only reason we were out on strike. Pay - PRP is not an appropriate method to determine pay - how do you measuere teacher performance? If it's on exam results do you do it on actual grades? (obviously unfair if you're given a lower ability group), on value added? (target grades are notroriously unreliable and the FFT grades used by school managements are not fit for purpose) or on an appraisal syste (what we have ended up with ) that is subjective and wide open to abuse.

      I could go on ....Workload and the general direction of education, changing exams halfway through(what has happened to English GCSEs) as well as the proliferation of bullying by some school managers etc etc

  11. Well done Tech Walker - a voice of reason in a sea of greed. Our local shopping complex was unusually very busy today ( being a Thursday). When I enquired as to the reason with one of the shop assistants she answered with much joy, 'It's because of the Teachers Strike and it seems they're all here shopping!!!'

  12. Mr Walker, Teachers don't want to strike, any more than the firefighters did, and in their situation many people accused them of putting lives at risk. It is simply the only way of making the government sit up and take notice right now, there are many instances of recent union talks, MP lobbying and petitions that have resulted in nothing more than lip service from Westminster, the badger cull is a good example. The current administration does not respond to the views of the people, they are too involved with infighting and feathering their own nests, granted things are not improved by the deep divisons that are an inevitable result of a coalition
    Are you honestly saying that if you were employed in teaching you wouldn't be fighting for better retirement benefits if you had the chance?

  13. I agree entirely and thank god you have the union to back you up. Sadly, us private sector workers who do similar hours (about 60 hours a week) don't have that backing. My own personal experience is that my pay has been unchanged since 2008 and equates to I believe to be a 20% pay cut. The feeling among many of us is that to ask for a pay rise or any sort of benefit within the private sector is like filling out your own P45. Good luck all you teaching folk!!

  14. a)As the people who know most about pedagogy, learning, the curriculum and child development, teachers are 'holding the country to ransom' by striking for the long term benefits for our children and society. This is only partly about our pensions but mostly to do with the plethora of other issues highlights in the blog.
    b) The Teachers' Pension scheme has a surplus and does not have a shortfall. It should NOT be a crutch for the financial negligence of the government (past and previous) and the banks.

  15. Tech Walker - Congratulations, common sense shown, We have all had to work longer hours for no extra pay and tighten our belts while England has plummeted in the rankings amongst developed nations when it comes to reading and writing ability, I would feel better about the teachers strikes if you all also signed up to the fact that bad performance = the sack!! No more jobs for life for poor results, that's what the private sector faces every day, wake up and smell the coffee. I am not a fan of the Conservative party but this time they have got it right!

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  17. Let them strike for as long as they want. After 10 days of no pay they will go back to school.