The teachers’ strike: my take

Why I don’t support today’s strike action

I don’t like strike action. Inevitably it’s a sign that communication has broken down, and differences have been unresolved. But, more than that, I don’t like that it’s considered a viable course of action at all. Why? Because, a) it rarely ever makes a significant difference, and b) it only typically affects those who have nothing to do with the situation.

I accept that, historically, strike action has led to some significant breakthroughs, but the strikes against the current government have changed practically nothing while inconveniencing many. I’m just not convinced striking is meaningful course of action any more—especially if the goal is to bring about real change. It doesn’t seem to work.

As to today’s strike by teachers, I find myself confused. I’ve read several news pieces as well as various blogs by different teachers, and I’m still trying to figure out what the the official reason is for striking. Is it over pensions? Is it changes to the education system? Is it to do with the amount of work they have to do? Is it about performance-related pay? Is it an anti-Michael Gove strike? All the above? Some of the above? None of the above? Who knows!

Everyone and every report is saying something slightly different—there’s no coherent message about why this strike is happening. And this perhaps explains why there’s so little coverage of the strike—and why its impact will be so much less than teachers are hoping.

(One genuine question: what percentage of teachers supported the strike action? I haven’t seen the figure anywhere. I’m a strong believer that a minimum of 50% of the union’s membership should agree to the action before a strike can be allowed. I know that none of the other strikes that have happened since 2010 have come close to this mark, and it’d be interesting to know what the figure is in this instance.)

None of this is to suggest I don’t have sympathy with teachers. Far from it. Many of my good friends are teachers, and as a parent who’s first child has just started school, I’m already acutely aware of how much teachers are—and will be—investing in my children.

I also believe that the life of a teacher is far from the cushy job some people think it is. The teachers I know work longer hours than most other people I know—often for less money. They don’t have jobs they can easily switch off from, and spend many of their evenings and weekends doing school work and preparation. It’s a tough, tough job and teachers have my utmost respect and admiration.

So, while I don’t know all the details about changes to teaching conditions (it’s close to impossible to find any facts), I would support non-strike based resistance to anything that was going to expect them to do more than they’re already doing—especially if that extra work doesn’t come with additional financial reward for doing more (and impacts on the quality of time they can commit to their pupils).

With regard to pensions, sympathy starts to wane, mostly for selfish reasons. Every variation of a teacher’s pension I’ve examined is so, so, so much better than my own, private sector pension. I accept that changing terms and conditions half-way along the route is unpalatable, but when the change still leaves teachers in a much better situation than the average people in the private sector, it does not feel like something appropriate to strike over, keeping my child from being able attend school.

As to changes towards a performance-related pay system, this also does not generate sympathy from me. I’m a fan of this idea. Teachers who perform well should be able to be rewarded—and vice versa. Welcome to the real world.

If there is one common thread I’m picking up through all the news items and blog posts I’m reading though, it is an anti-Michael Gove attitude. If I was to summarise everything I’ve read, the reason for the strike seems to be: we hate Michael Gove (and the Tories).

The problem with this is that the Unions seem to have whipped up many teachers into thinking everything Gove does is terrible; persuading people he’s a real enemy with no good motivations at all. In truth—and in my opinion—Gove’s reforms are a real mixed bag. There’s some really good stuff in there, but it’s coupled with some really poor, ill-thought-out, backwards looking reforms too.

But the notion that it’s all bad is only true from the perspective of self-interested Unions. And any teacher who cannot see anything good in any of Gove’s reforms has, sadly, allowed themselves to be brainwashed by the Unions. (If you think Gove is “attacking” the education system, it’s probably a good sign you’ve been brainwashed. We may not agree with all his decisions—and I definitely don’t—but I don’t doubt his sincerity in implementing the changes he is.)

In summary, even though it would be a very rare instance in which I’d ever support strike action, today’s strike is garnering close to no support from me in large part because I can’t figure out why the strike is happening—and several of the reasons I do pick up on, I don’t agree with. But, to emphasise once again, this doesn’t mean I don’t support teachers; it simply means the vague, incoherent plethora of reasons aren’t, in my mind, worthy of strike action—especially as so few facts are readily available to justify the given reasons.

Teachers do an amazing job and play a hugely important role in society. They should be rewarded, celebrated, honoured, and appreciated. I just don’t believe that strike action is the way to go about ensuring that. And nothing that I’ve seen or heard has come close to making me think, “This is worth striking about.”

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