Today, 300,000 teachers are on strike. They’re fighting not only against low pay, but to end the crisis in education.
Teachers stand on a picket line to demand a pay rise. (NEU / Twitter)
Our schools are in crisis.
The government has missed targets for teacher recruitment in secondary schools once again, and, unlike previous years, it has also missed the target for primary teachers. In figures that headteachers’ organisations have described as “nothing short of catastrophic”, only 59 percent of the secondary teachers needed were recruited.
This has a direct impact on children’s education, meaning that they are increasingly being taught by non-subject specialists in subjects like maths and physics. More and more schools have whole classes where they have been unable to recruit a teacher at all. These children are taught by a succession of substitute teachers or unqualified staff. It is not acceptable that our children’s education suffers because the government are unwilling to pay teachers properly.
It is not just on teachers’ pay that the government has been cutting corners. In addition to cuts to teacher and support staff salaries, 90 percent of English schools face budget cuts in 2023, meaning fewer resources in the classroom, teaching assistant job cuts and a reduction in the availability of services like breakfast clubs and homework support.
All of this is happening at a time when we are seeing a huge rise in child poverty, with more and more families struggling to make ends meet. Over a third of children in the UK live in poverty, with a dramatic rise since 2015 in particular. Research by Loughborough University into child poverty in the North East, where I teach, showed that families were pushed into hardship by low wages and frozen benefits.
This has gotten significantly worse since the cost of living crisis hit, with wages and benefits falling way behind inflation, leading to real-terms income cuts for the vast majority of people.
Schools are being expected to cope with an educational crisis and increasing levels of childhood deprivation without the resources to do so.
This must change, and so our members are standing up today to be counted. They are standing up against pay cuts, standing up against funding cuts and standing up for the education our children deserve.
With 300,000 teacher members, and support staff in Wales, voting overwhelmingly to take strike action, we intend to make the government listen. We stand together with university workers, civil servants, rail workers, postal workers, nurses and others. We demand that government acts to end the scourge of low pay. We demand investment in health, education, and public services. We demand an economy that works in the interests of the people, not the markets.
Our dispute is over pay because the race to the bottom on terms and conditions, which does so much damage to our children’s education, cannot be allowed to continue. However, it is also part of a wider campaign for the kind of education system we want to see. Our schools and colleges need to be better funded, and our staff paid properly – including support and supply staff – but they also need to be given greater professional control over what happens in the classroom.
For too long, we have faced diktats from government on curriculum, on pedagogy. Rather than being trusted and supported, professional educators are pressured into teaching in ways that go against their professional judgement by politicians with no educational expertise at all. Education has become a political football, with the latest trends enforced by ministerial decree, however flimsy the research evidence.
All of this is backed up by a punitive inspection system. The majority of teachers and senior leaders agree that OFSTED plays no positive educational role. Rather, it is used as a stick to threaten schools, and teachers, who think for themselves. It is also deeply flawed in how its judgements simply reflect, rather than taking into account, the relative affluence of a school’s intake.
Put simply, schools with higher rates of deprivation are far less likely to be rated ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’, with more affluent schools three times as likely to receive an ‘outstanding’ judgement. This is an inspection system which is clearly broken and does nothing to support our most disadvantaged children. It needs to be abolished, and there needs to be a complete rethink about the culture of inspection and accountability. Schools’ primary accountability should be to their local community and the parents of the children they teach, not some faceless government entity.
It is time for a bold vision for the kind of education system our young people deserve, where the needs of the child come before the demands of the market – where educational success, not dodgy data and rogue algorithms, is valued. It is time to take back control of our schools and our education system. When teachers take to the streets today, they will be striking for better pay and increased funding. They will also be campaigning for the future of our education system.