The Teachers' Strike won't compromise our children's education or incovenience our lives - but Gove's policies certainly will

Allan Beavis's picture
Michael Gove set himself on a direct collision course with teachers this morning when he appeared on the Andrew Marr show to denounce this week’s strike action, claiming that such militancy would inconvenience thousands of working families, especially single mothers, and that teachers risked a loss to their reputations if they went ahead with it.

This is the latest of a series of confrontations resulting from the public’s dissatisfaction with a Coalition government made up on the one hand by the Conservatives, who still haven’t won an election since Thatcher’s day, and on the other, the LibDems, who are in their final death throes having been fatally knifed by their own Coalition partner.

The first serious confrontation, of course, was against university fees and that laid bare not just a level of anger not seen in young people since probably the 1970s but the hypocrisy of the LibDems and the unsettling, unconvincing and hastily arranged political marriage of Cameron and Clegg.

The public and bloody battle with the NHS has gone into temporary ceasefire but that garnered huge public support, as did the March protests, when public protest with the government’s bloody amputation of public services first made itself collectively heard. And opposition remains worryingly high for the government, especially on the back of more unwelcome news of pay rises for senior figures in the banking industry whose reckless gambling and negligence triggered the global crisis in the first place.

So, I am not at all certain that a teachers’ strike is going to be seen as militant or as self protective as Gove likes to makes us believe. Everyone is feeling the pinch, so my guess is that a lot of people will feel a great deal of sympathy and solidarity as they did when students took to the streets to protest not just about tuition fees but the destruction of public services and institutions.

Anticipating this, I wonder whether Gove didn’t go on the show with the express purpose of sowing discontent against the teaching profession, just in case no one was much bothered? No doubt some will be inconvenienced over childcare issues on just one single day, but people are more than just inconvenienced by the Coalition’s bleak economic policies. Bleak not just because they are so austere but because they offer little hope of growth and recovery. This means stagnating or folding businesses, more unemployment, more state dependence and a generation of young people leaving school or higher education with no professional future to enrich and give some meaning to their post-study lives.

Single mothers? This, from a party that has offered little support to single mothers or their attempts to find employment, but has gone out of its way to stigmatise and demonise them. Yet he now asks for schools to stay open so that an army of mums and perhaps some dads (women, especially, have been hit hardest by the financial cuts) can take over lessons, subject of course to CPR checks. This is so unrealistic that it’s objective can only be yet another insidious way of trying to turn public opinion against the teaching profession, who he will also blame and punish for underperformance in schools, no matter what mitigating circumstances there may be.

I think the teaching unions could have avoided falling into this obvious trap had they made much more of their unhappiness with the way Gove has continually ignored their concerns about key education policies and their concern over how they will compromise or even damage the education of the children of the very people he is appealing to now in order to discredit teachers. It was all over the broadsheets and internet but how many people got to see or hear of it?

The truth is teachers, like so many of us who are frustrated and angry with an increasingly dictatorial, arrogant yet incompetent Education Secretary, are at the end of their tether and left with no more options to be heard, taken seriously and respected. Pension cuts are the final straw and Gove knows it, so he is disingenuous now to claim that strike action is “premature”.

As Peter Hain, who appeared on the show just before Gove, said “Teachers and others are not strike-happy. What this government should do is withdraw their unilateral, reckless attacks on these workers and get round the negotiating table like everyone wants them to do."

It is impossible to see how such a confrontational and dismissive attitude towards teachers is going to encourage them to stay in the profession and for people to consider it as a career option. Gove has done everything to demotivate them. He pays some lip service to the value of teachers, saying he respects their knowledge and expertise, but he will then contradict himself by trying to review the way teachers are trained, encouraging his new schools not to hire trained teachers at all and have one of his stooges write to schools, insinuating that if they pay the agreed union rates to teachers, they might not get their Academy conversions approved.

Gove and the rest of the government need to wake up to the growing discontent that their schools policies is arousing, because it is not going to quieten down nor is it going to go away and it is certainly going to get more and more emotive, well-organised and powerful. The ugly and cynical battle with the NHS exposed the government’s plunder-weaken-then-privatise-agenda and that same agenda is being stealthily applied to education.

No doubt he will try again to put it down to left wing militancy but the truth is opposition to school reforms, like the opposition to the cuts, spreads across all classes, political persuasions and within cities, towns and villages up and down the country. I very much hope that the strike will give some much needed media profile to, and greater political and public debate about, the destruction of state school education, since it is evident that more and more people are examining the issues, rejecting the government spin and realising that the damage the “reforms” are doing to education, communities and the country as a whole, will have a profound effect on the future cohesion of the country.

It is not a strike by the very people committed to teaching children that will impede children’s education and inconvenience our life for a few days. The badly conceived, poorly implemented and socially divisive policies enforced by Gove and Cameron will do that for decades to come if they are not stopped.
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Leila Galloway's picture
Sun, 26/06/2011 - 23:36

In fact Gove has done the teachers a service, his intolerance and top down dictatorship has helped rally more support form parents and the public.

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 27/06/2011 - 12:43

One of the most farcical elements of the Coalition's ruthless appetite for overturning policies and ramming through their own is that their approach is not even conservative (with a small 'c'). My Little Oxford Dictionary describes conservative as "of conserving tendency, opposed to change, moderate". This implies that someone who is conservative with a small-c is cautious, careful and disinclined to embark on a firestorm of ill-thought-out initiatives. Yet Mr Gove displays none of the qualities highlighted in the dictionary. Rather, he boasts about making the most radical changes in education since the forties, but he does so with little thought for the consequences and with no regard for evidence.

Melissa Benn's picture
Mon, 27/06/2011 - 12:53

I think Gove has overstepped his own inconsistent and unimpressive mark here, with his suggestion that parents help break the strike. He has tried to set teachers/civil servants against hard working parents; when, of course, many of the 6 million public sector workers are also hard working parents.

One other point: why is a national holiday held in order to mark the marriage of two wealthy individuals whose current and future privileges rely entirely on the hereditary principle - and taxpayers money - a cause for national celebration( despite the loss of millions of pounds to the economy) but the dignified withdrawal of labour t by several million hard pressed ordinary citizens, many of whom live on an annual sum no doubt equivalent to the amount allotted for minor accessories for our future king and queen , considered a national disgrace?

If ever the values of Tory England were laid bare, it is in that contrast of attitude.

Melissa Benn's picture
Mon, 27/06/2011 - 12:56

Looking back, perhaps we should have offered to keep the schools open during the day of the royal wedding? Every school in the land could have held impromptu lessons on the political, financial and theoretical issues thrown up by the existence of the monarchy... actually that could have been v interesting.

Allan Beavis's picture
Mon, 27/06/2011 - 13:17

I can't see many people offering their impromptu services as teachers. I think people recognise that teaching is a skilled and nuanced profession, requiring subject knowledge and training, as well as more than a passing interest in child psychology and education legislation. Not everybody can just go in and do it and it is precisely because of this lack of respect for teachers that they are reluctantly striking.

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 27/06/2011 - 17:05

Mr Gove has said the parent volunteers should be CRB checked - but would they be insured? What if a child was hurt while in the care of one of these volunteers?

Simon's picture
Thu, 30/06/2011 - 17:01

Well the debate on if teachers should strike or not in my opinion it's the correct and only way to address the problem alot of people are looking at it completely the wrong way and most people seem to be brainwashed by David Cameron's comments on the issue he says that it's going to affect our children's education which to be frank it won't what's more likely to affect out children's education more than the strike is the cuts to education that he proposes and also the extra charges for further/higher education. the comments he's has made over the past few days about a one day strike Is a last ditch attempt to turn parents against teachers and also is away to try and play god with children there's not really been any comments about the other parts of the public sector that will be striking too as there isn't really much leverage to pull on people's heart strings there. The question people should be asking him is how would he like to work another 8 years and pay a significant amount more towards his pension then when he's 68 have the return halved I'm sure if he was a working class person on a normal wage he would oppose it too and join the picket lines. If the so called Tory/lib dem government get their way with public pensions their next step will be to attack the private sector even more too thus not only affecting us now by making us all work longer for less but our children and grandchildren will be affected by working longer and paying even more in for even less than they propose we do so in the long run the only people who will be affecting the children of the future is our very own so called waste of space government. I would urge parents and trade unions to fight with the teachers and public sector and show that we all won't take anymore and that we won't be ripped off when most of us are living on the bread line already and maybe the whole country should stick together and unite and do what people in Europe do and all walk out

Allan Beavis's picture
Thu, 30/06/2011 - 17:31

The news has certainly been dominated by the pensions row and Serwotka certainly rumbled Maude on pension affordability on Radio 4 this morning. The government's response to education issues is always patronising and mildly threatening and the attempt to turn public opinion against teachers, rather than focus on finding a compromise, is sadly typical of a coalition which seems fixated on a divide and rule policy.

Some government supporters have even taken to their blogs to accuse unions of ruining children's education, which I can't help thinking is a subtext of the government's confrontational statements. The pensions issue is a serious one and one that teachers have every right to fight for but I think an opportunity for teachers to highlight the dangers of, and their opposition to, government policy on education reform has been lost.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 01/07/2011 - 07:11

The argument that children's education is ruined by one day off is slightly undermined when it is only a couple of months since schools were closed for a wedding. And every time there is an election, local or national, some schools are closed so they can be used as polling stations. I don't remember politicians taking to the air waves to complain about that.

And, of course, there's the large number of education days wasted when parents take their children out of school for holidays which generally last more than one day.

O. Spencer's picture
Mon, 04/07/2011 - 20:18


60% of NUT members didn't vote in the ballot, 65% of ATL members didn't vote.

Now, if this is such a key issue for all teachers -why didn't more teachers vote?

Where is the 'growing discontent' Allan? Or the 'direct collision course' ?

The strike didn't work, did it?

The NHS issue did garner widespread public support, yes, and I for one am glad the proposals are now much different. The March protests, on the other hand, certainly didn't. Outside of the core public sector employees and middle class guilt-ridden university students, it hasn't had much of an impact.

What angers me is when strikes ostensibly over single issues (which in themselves may garner public support) are turned into protests against the entire governmeny and call for the removal of the government. We saw banners such as 'They have to go' etc. I cannot convey in words how angry these sights make me.

If you don't like the government, fine, me neither, but what is really frustrating is when public sector workers turn their single-issue strikes into general protests.

The student protests became some kind of socialist/anarchist attack on parliamentary government, as did the March march.

Most people are pretty moderate, and I for one agree with a lot of what the teaching unions are saying, but they could have and should have behaved in a much better way.

That's not to say the government haven't also made blunders.

Allan Beavis's picture
Mon, 04/07/2011 - 21:46

Nonsense. I think you’ll find the strikes did work.

In fact, what the public sector strikes achieved was to expose in the most unflattering and humiliating way, the coalition’s untruths about “pensions going broke”. Both Francis Maude and Justine Greening flaunted their ignorance of the Hutton report, which showed that costs were already falling. The Office for Budget Responsibility and the National Audit Office say there will be no rise thanks to Labour's 2008 raising of civil servants' retirement age from 60 to 65, with many public pensions already switched from final salary to career average. Hutton even said there is no rush since all this can wait until growth is healthier.

Even worse than this, Cameron’s attempt at demonizing the unions by claiming that public pensions are unfair because they are better than private sector ones, where two thirds of employees have no pension plan at all, backfired because people the suddenly realised that many employers don’t contribute a penny. All this, while the struggling taxpayer (both private and public sector) gives generous relief to the richest.

The strikes worked because the Tories and their stooges tried to resurrect the memories of the paralyzing strikes of the 1970s when the unions had way more power. They overplayed their hand, over-reacted to the complaints and badly shot themselves in the foot by revealing both their panic and the snivelling way they attempted to hide the truth about pensions.

Statistics and polls don’t always prove anything. In this case, YouGov show that the people swung to support the public workers against Cameron by 50:40. But they didn't support the strike, with 50:40 against. But that isn’t the point. The day of strikes was enough to show Cameron and his government that his divide and rule policy is doomed to failure and that the truth will eventually out. If they listen to nobody and impose their strategies and ideologies on people and institutions in the most insidious and dishonest way imaginable, then the “comrades” will unite, as they are already doing.

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 05/07/2011 - 08:32

O Spencer - You're correct that last week's strike comprised only NUT, ATL and a small number of civil servants. But that's because the other unions haven't balloted yet. There may have been a low return of voting slips but it shouldn't be assumed that those who didn't return their slips were all against the strike. And it should also be remembered that the ATL is a moderate union who haven't struck in over 100 years. When moderate unions start striking, then I think the Government should start worrying. And don't forget that teachers from independent schools joined in, angry because the Government is suggesting that they be refused access to the Teachers' Pensions Scheme.

I joined March for the Alternative. This was the first march I have ever been on, and you'll see from my profile that I am a grandmother and a retired teacher. Yes, I did find myself marching alongside the Socialist Workers and the Communist Party, and yes, there were some rather unfortunate banners in which the word "cut" had an extra consonant inserted to make a rude word. But as well as public sector workers and union members, there was a contingent of dignified Ghurkas with their wives, members of an allotment society worried about cuts in council support, lawyers marching against cuts in legal aid, workers at SureStart centres worried about closure, the Fawcet society concerned about how the cuts will particularly affect women, and there were women dressed in Suffragette colours. I was one of them.

And there was wit: one young man dressed up as a waiter carried a tea-tray and a banner which said "Tea Pots Against Kettling". There was the elderly lady who sat down during a pause and started to stitch a tapestry. There were people singing, dancing, blowing whistles. I had a great time.

Yes, there was a small group who were intent on trouble, but when some over-excited man from UK-uncut approached us saying they were going to stage a sit-in in Oxford Street, we told him to go away on the grounds that his protest would be what appeared on the news instead of the peaceful demonstration by the vast majority, it would annoy the public and would upset workers in the shops. So I'm rather amused that you should describe me as "socialist/anarchist".

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