At the time of writing, the NUT and NASUWT are involved in industrial action short of strike action. The aim of this action is “Protecting Teachers”. Michael Gove has issued guidance to schools intimating that this action constitutes a breach of contract and that any teachers taking action should have their pay docked.
I believe that the unions are right to try to protect teachers from the myriad threats that currently face us. The EBacc, changes to pay, changes to pensions, free schools, forced academisation, phonics and grammar tests, the GCSE fiasco…we are an embattled profession, and we need defending, as the YouGov survey commissioned by the NUT demonstrated to good effect.
However, I have grave concerns over the action currently being taken.
Firstly, I am not sure what it is trying to achieve. There is no “we will stop this action when…” statement attached to it, no concrete objective. I’m not sure exactly what it’s for.
Secondly, it has no impact on the Secretary of State. The action makes schools more difficult to run and thus, potentially, creates conflicts and divisions between school leaders and staff at exactly the time when we should be most united against common threats.
Thirdly, it is not a union action. The point of a union is to act together. Yet staff nationwide appear to be choosing individually whether or not to abide by the action, which elements of the action they are following and which not. Far from demonstrating the sharp unity of the teaching profession against the overwhelming challenges we are facing, this action is showing the profession to be divided and blunted. Michael Gove is not blind to this – at the start of the guidance to schools he says: “in the great majority of schools, the industrial action is not having an impact because teachers are instead focusing entirely on providing the best possible education for their pupils.”
I agree with Michael Gove. There, I’ve said it. Professionals are being forced to choose between their professionalism and acting as a union – and the majority of the best, most principled, and most professional teachers are choosing to do their job well and provide the best standard of education for the students in their care. Unfortunately, this means not abiding by elements of the union action, thus shattering the concept of acting as a union.
I know that what Gove has said is political spin. But the unions are not exactly making it difficult for him to spin them as “enemies of promise”. They seem like lumbering dinosaurs wandering clumsily into a trap set by the agile politicians – easy prey for a Secretary of State as nimble and astute as Gove is. My fear is that when the unions eventually call for more meaningful action, they will find their members so used to not taking action that it will fall flat on its face…
Little wonder that the profession is turning to new groups like The Heads Roundtable to campaign over EBacc, to Geoff Barton and the legal coalition to campaign over the GCSE fiasco, and to ASCL to provide a voice of reason in negotiation with the Government. For as a profession we should be united, but it is not the teaching unions which unite us.