Why Teachers Strike

michael_gove17:08 Wednesday 26th March 2014
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire


[C]HRIS MANN: There was another day of strike action by teachers nationwide today. Here in Cambridgeshire it led to 22 schools closing completely, and a further 68 being partially closed, out of 300. As you can hear, there was a big rally and march in the centre of Cambridge. Members of the NUT who are taking the action, as part of a long-running row over pay, pensions and conditions. .. Hilary Bucky is Regional Secretary of the NUT, and she joined me a little earlier to justify the action.
HILARY BUCKY: Well teachers are very angry. We’ve been in dispute with the Government over pay, pensions and workload for several years now. We’ve achieved some minor improvements to the pension scheme, but one of the things that’s making teachers particularly angry at the moment is the workload. The Government’s own survey, which they sat on for eleven months and we now know why, shows that since this Government has been in power, teachers’ workload has increased again, and it’s now up to 60 hours a week, almost 6o hours a week for primary, and 56 for a secondary school teacher, which shows that for every hour that they spend in the classroom with the children, they’re working up to a further two hours at home during the evenings and weekends. And that really is intolerable.
CHRIS MANN: But why does striking help your situation?

HILARY BUCKY: Well we last had a regional strike in October, and after that the Government promised to talk to us. And they’ve put us off and put us off. They’ve only now come to the table in March. There are no Ministers involved in the talks. It’s only civil servants. And they have been instructed not to talk about the policies themselves, but only about how they’re going to be implemented. So we think that’s a bit disingenuous.
CHRIS MANN: But doesn’t that show that striking doesn’t work? because you went on strike in October and nothing’s changed.
HILARY BUCKY: Well what has changed is that nothing has improved, but it hasn’t got worse. What Michael Gove had asked the Schoolteachers Review Body to look at was worsening teachers’ working conditions further by, for example, increasing the number of days of the year they had to work. And fortunately they didn’t agree to that, and he didn’t push them on it. So we think that at least it’s stopped things from getting worse.
CHRIS MANN: You’ve been in a march today, 300 of you in the centre of Cambridge. I know what that succeeded in doing, which was holding up the traffic, because I was stuck in it. You don’t get people on your side by doing that, do you?
HILARY BUCKY: Well we think that we do, because it’s getting us some publicity. It’s the only way we seem to be able to get our message across on the media. So to that extent it has achieved something. We’ve been running stalls in town centres around the region over the last four weekends, talking to parents, talking to the public, and we’ve found that they are actually very supportive, when they understand what the issues are.
CHRIS MANN: Well if the point of today was to show that you had teachers behind you, I don’t think you’ve shown that either. There’s 300 schools in Cambridgeshire. Only 22 closed completely today.
HILARY BUCKY: Well regrettably the teaching profession is very split as far as union membership is concerned. The NUT is the only union that’s out today, and the other unions are not joining us. But I still think it’s been worth doing.
CHRIS MANN: That’s fewer than 10% though.
HILARY BUCKY: Fewer than 10% … ?
HILARY BUCKY: There are a number of others that are partially closed as you know.
CHRIS MANN: 68 partially closed. That’s a total of 90 out of 300.
CHRIS MANN: That’s not even a third.
CHRIS MANN: Affected.
HILARY BUCKY: Yes. But none the less it’s still allowed us to get together to have a march, for teachers to feel solidarity, and it’s also allowing us to get our message across in the media. So it’s had a benefit.
CHRIS MANN: We’re in the run up to GCSEs. I know there are actually mocks taking place today, as I have a child involved in them. Is this really the time to be doing something. You’re harming kids’ education.
HILARY BUCKET: Well I think what teachers would say in response to that is that I’ve talked a bit about teachers’ workload, there are other issues as well, but all of these things are teachers’ working conditions, but they’re also students’ learning conditions. And we are very concerned, because we know that two out of five teachers are leaving the profession within the first five years. So before we know where we are we’re going to have teacher shortages, we’re going to have children being taught by supply teachers, by unqualified staff, and that’s where this is headed at the moment.
CHRIS MANN: Well other people that are suffering are parents, thousands of them apparently having to find extra childcare because of today’s strike. What would you say to them?
HILARY BUCKY: Well we apologise to parents, because this action clearly is not aimed at them. But we hope that they will direct their anger at the Secretary of State, because he is the person who is responsible for this. And if he were to talk to us seriously, and to engage with us, and to make some compromises, then we wouldn’t be doing this today.
CHRIS MANN: But they’re probably people, many of them, who haven’t got pay increases either, who equally are finding it tough, but that’s the way that the economy is right now.
HILARY BUCKY: Have I mentioned pay increases? This is not about .. I haven’t talked about pay yet, but this is nothing ..
CHRIS MANN: This is a walkout over pay, pensions and workload.
HILARY BUCKY: It’s not about pay increase. What we’re very concerned about is the pay structure, which Gove has completely dismantled, and he’s bringing in a form of performance related pay, which he’s saying allows good teachers to be paid more, but actually it’s a way of rationing teachers’ pay, so that it’s going to be very difficult to progress. Again that’s going to be something that affects teacher supply in the future.
CHRIS MANN: But you’re not alone. People right the way through in the economy, society, at the moment are finding it tough. Not everyone goes out on strike, and affects other people’s children, holds up the traffic and brings schools to a halt.
HILARY BUCKY: Well I’d be delighted if more people would do it. We know that there are other strikes going on, right across the public sector. I wish that more workplaces were unionised, and that more of the public would.
CHRIS MANN: So militancy is the answer, is it?
HILARY BUCKY: It’s difficult to know where else to go at the moment. The other thing that we’re hoping is that not only our members, other teachers and also parents will write to their MP and express their concern about what’s happening in education, put a bit of pressure on those in marginal constituencies, put a bit of pressure on Gove, and see if we can get things changed that way.
CHRIS MANN: So a strike today. Will there be more?
HILARY BUCKY: Well we hope very much that there won’t be. Teachers didn’t come into the profession to march around Cambridge. They came into it to teach children. That’s what they love doing, and that’s what they’re totally committed to. And this is a way of showing that commitment.
CHRIS MANN: Hilary Bucky there. Regional Secretary of the National Union of Teachers.