Time For Action?

By Andy McHugh

It’s hard to see the light shining in the darkness.

As I write this, my Twitter timeline is packed with teachers, school leaders and parents, debating the government’s recent pay offer. Today’s debate essentially comes down to the following arguments:

  1. Schools need their funding to be significantly increased, just to cover running costs. But teaching staff also need significantly increased salaries, as the profession is now deemed to be too poorly paid in comparison to other careers. The truth is, there aren’t enough teachers (even when you add in trainees) to fill the necessary vacancies and it’s getting worse, year after year. Soon you won’t be able to guarantee that your children will be taught by qualified teachers. It’s robbing children of their future, just to line the pockets of the already-rich, who are benefitting from taxpayers’ money being directed away from schools.
  2. Teachers should just be grateful for any increase. They basically had 18 months off during the pandemic. The rest of us are skint, so they should be too. 13 weeks’ holiday and a gold-plated pension? They’re having a laugh. What else would you cut to fund schools? Hospitals? Oh, and teachers shouldn’t be allowed to strike either. Who would look after and feed our children during the day?

As ever, the loudest voices online seem to belong to those who are to the left of the Dunning-Kruger graph. The trouble is though, that these are the same people who run the Department for Education, the Treasury and who occupy 10 Downing Street.

Strikes have undoubtedly had some impact on accelerating pay talks. At some point though, a stand has to be taken on a grander scale. While the leadership of the NEU, NASUWT, NAHT and other education unions try to work out how to respond in a variety of measured tones, their members put off paying their gas bills. They look for jobs outside of teaching.

Passionate, committed teachers, who love their jobs, desperately try to figure out how to not let their school communities down, while at the same time worrying about feeding their own children at home. It’s not fair to put the best of us in that position.

“But teaching isn’t a job, it’s a vocation!” cry those who don’t teach. They’re right, it is a vocation. But rising rent payments and supermarket prices don’t care about your vocation. They want cold, hard cash.

When it comes down to it, money talks. If you want enough teachers, you need to pay for them. If you want your teachers to be graduates, you have to pay competitive graduate-level salaries. If you want experienced staff to keep their expertise within the education system, then you need to pay the going rate. Otherwise, they will continue to leave for jobs with greater flexibility, lower workload and less stress.

When those factors are ignored, or as it seems, roundly dismissed as socialist nonsense, you make a dangerous trade-off: children are left without a good enough education system. They will end up lacking the knowledge they are entitled to, be unskilled for the industries awaiting them and will have missed out on opportunities afforded to previous generations, whose education was fully funded. In other words, they will have been deliberately deprived and that’s completely unacceptable.

So what’s next? More strikes? Can all unions agree on a coordinated industrial plan? Will the staff from the Department for Education and Ofsted join in? It’s looking more and more likely by the day.

Anything less than a fully-funded budget increase for schools, including backdated pay rises for teaching staff would not just be an insult, it would cause irreparable damage to an entire generation of children.

I don’t like strikes. They’re divisive, cause pain for all concerned and are the nuclear option, when all other efforts have been tried and failed. But it’s now time for everyone within education to take that stand to make the government listen so that they finally invest properly in our children’s future. We have a moral duty to do so.

Author

Editor of HWRK Magazine, Andy is a teacher, Head of RE and Senior Examiner who loves nothing more than a good debate.

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