I’ve been thinking about writing this post since the NUT strike ballot was announced.
I had been putting it off because I didn’t want to inject politics into this blog, but I thought the topic was important, and my feelings about the ballot are pretty strong. So here are my thoughts. (They’re mine, not my employers etc.)
I am a pretty hard line union person. I turn up to meetings, I go on the marches, and I remain fundamentally opposed to the direction of travel in current educational policy. But this week I voted for us not to strike. I did so for several reasons.
The first reason is simply question. Why now? The cynic in me believes that the NUT are striking simply because the doctors did, and the NUT want to mimic their success. This thinking is silly, for several reasons. Firstly, whilst the public were generally supportive of the doctors strike, they have recently been against teacher-led ones. This makes sense. The doctors were striking about a change to their terms and conditions about to be introduced. Teachers struck in retaliation on changes imposed. Striking again several years later for the same reason makes no sense at all.
Secondly, I think the original strikes achieved little. Teachers pay is currently deregulated. I seem to pay more for my pension every year. The only thing that was achieved is that a message was sent to Whitehall. Unfortunately that message was that the unions were easy to outmanoeuvre and utterly incompetent from a PR standpoint. There’s no getting around this, those strikes were an absolute failure.
The third reason is another question. Why at all? The official reason that the NUT give is ‘workload, pay and other conditions’ (emphasis mine) but this is vague. You’re never going to win over the public if you can’t nail down why you’re striking in the first place, and you’re certainly not going to win them over with long, tedious arguments that go from pensions to workload* to academy policy. If you want to win the public, and parents over you need to be talking about the effect things have on students. You need to be talking about one or two issues. Not a huge list of vague grievances.
Finally, the NUT seem lost. The things that really effect teachers rarely seem to be talked about, and if they’re thought about, that thought is badly communicated. Where is the discussion with members about OFSTED, about the principle of evidence based approaches? In fact, where is the dialogue with members at all? Sending members a voting form with an instruction on how to vote might just annoy some people.
It annoys me when my union ask me to vote on something and then tell me which way I should vote.
— James Theobald (@JamesTheo) May 30, 2016
Not only am I voting no, but I believe that others should, too.
Then maybe we can start remodelling the union into something that works better on a national scale**.
*As an aside, the focus on workload is absurd. I get that it’s a lot of work, but that’s never going to go over well with a public who work long hours. It’s also different from person to person and school to school. In some schools the workload is unreasonable, at my current school it’s very reasonable. In many ways, it also comes down to how individuals handle it, and are able to stand up for themselves. Teaching is a job which takes up as much time as you allow it.
** The NUT is very good at helping members in school and dealing with school issues. This is why I am still a member.