If I were a teacher would I strike?

I taught in schools and colleges for most of my professional life. At one stage I chaired our local union branch and joined in a couple of strikes. So you can guess where my sympathies lie with the current school strikes.

Now I don’t argue for pay parity between the public and private sectors of industry. In many areas of the economy the gap in pay between the top and the bottom of industry is eye-wateringly wide and contributes to inequality right across society. Simply copying what I see as immoral practices in the public sector would simply compound the problem. Instead the public sector, including education, should model a fair and equitable earnings distribution.

Teachers were put under huge strain during lockdown. Their teaching practices changed from day to day, many doing a combination of in-person and online teaching, they took on extra health risks, they had to keep adjusting their teaching plans to match the latest assessment/examination requirements – and doing all this while trying to home educate their own children.

As one teacher told The Guardian:

Teachers are on their knees. I absolutely love my job, I am still passionate after 25 years and have never considered leaving but every year a little more is asked and expected of us: we’re dealing with the creeping effects of growing class sizes, teaching assistants disappearing from the system, higher levels of poverty, inadequate school budgets. This week alone I have worked almost 11 hours’ overtime.

This is not just about pay, it’s about the workload and the impact this has on the students.

Ah yes, workload. Throughout my career I was generally treated as a professional, but not always. One boss would indulge in staff re-organisations every five years or so and that inevitably meant signing a new contract if you wanted a job in the new structure. And the new contracts always increased workload, whether measured in teaching hours or class size. I felt I was being treated as a functionary, hired to do a task. I loved my job, and loved teaching my students, and would normally put in 55 to 60 hours work per week, and far more than most people might think during the “holidays”.

During one restructuring I realised that the staff members that I line managed were being asked to increase their workload by 25%. I could see that most were at the limit of what they could achieve;  further pressure on most of them would result in high levels of stress which would actually reduce their performance, or would force them out of the profession. There was a good job with my name on it in the new organisation chart, but they were also trying to lose some staff because of the expected efficiency “savings” from the new contracts. Almost on a whim I applied for early retirement and to my surprise was offered it – in June when, as any teacher will know, it was too late to recruit someone for the post.  (It turned out to be a really good career move for me as I then went on to write or contribute to 20 educational books).

Today teachers feel exploited and undervalued, they feel the Government does not understand the pressures they are under and they still get the blame when anything goes wrong. A shortage of people entering the profession is adding further stress on schools.

The Government must open up meaningful negotiations with the teachers’ unions. Munira Wilson, our Education spokesperson, agrees.


* Mary Reid is a contributing editor on Lib Dem Voice. She was a councillor in Kingston upon Thames, where she is still very active with the local party, and is the Hon President of Kingston Lib Dems.

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  • There’s plenty for teachers to strike about at the moment – picking solely on pay is a massive mistake. To me, this dispute has been a long time in the making and boils down to a lack of understanding within central government of the point of education.

    Central government – both Labour and Tory – should take much of the blame. By adopting such a wide-ranging national curriculum, central government has shown that it mistrusts teachers to design and teach appropriate courses. By focusing on bald statistics (e.g., SATs) and adopting a tickbox inspection regime, central government has similarly demonstrated that it doesn’t understand the purpose of education, let alone the role of teachers.

    The unions should have been able to explain to central government why it is important for teachers to have time within the school day for preparation (rather than require teachers to do all this at home in the evenings and at weekends) and structured opportunities for continuing professional development.

    By making the dispute just about pay, the NEU weakens the profession’s case and makes it easier for central government to ignore the root causes of the problem – a lack of time within the teaching day, week, or term for teachers to properly fulfil their responsibilities to our young people. Central government will continue to think it knows best, resulting in teachers spending too much time on things that make no difference to the people they trained to educate.

  • Steve Trevethan 2nd Feb '23 - 9:32am

    How is it that fuel company dividends are not considered to be inflationary?

  • Steve Trevethan 2nd Feb '23 - 11:20am

    “Education Secretary dismisses teachers’ pay demands whilst wearing a £10,000 Rolex watch>” [Daily Star]

  • @Guy. Agree entirely that pay is not really the big issue. Teachers (I used to be one !) are ground down by pupils who are increasingly exhibiting “challenging” behavior and doing so at an earlier and earlier age. Teaching a year 9 or10 lower set was always a lively experience but I now hear teachers telling me comparable stories about the 6 and 7 years olds in their charge. Even worse is the macho management culture, head teachers who are really in the wrong game and who seem to be actively engaged in demotivating their staff. Add to that a government who impose a huge and often pointless administrative load and it’s hardly surprising that you can’t get the staff.

  • @Steve Trevethan. Dividends paid to the the owners of any company are not inflationary because they are simply a distribution of profits from the companies coffers into the owners bank accounts. No increase in money in circulation, no demand led inflation.
    Pay increases for teachers (and nurses and firemen for that matter) would not be inflationary IF they are fully funded out of tax increases. In that situation the government are simply taking money out of my pay packet and yours and giving it to those public sector workers deemed more worthy. No increase in the money chasing goods, no inflationary pressure.
    Problem is that government can’t put up taxes any more, for obvious political reasons so public sector pay rises will end up being funded out of borrowing, or perhaps by just printing money. And that’s your problem right there.
    At this point someone at the back who failed the mid term economics test (see how I’m warming to the theme ?) will say, “Why don’t we confiscate oil companies profits to fund teachers, nurses, etc ?” . And the answer is that in a global economy large companies will simply relocate if you fleece them once too often, and then you’ll get nowt ! And the obscene profits from these nasty oil companies…….(pause for pantomime booing)…… are also funding many older peoples private pensions. Shell, BP, not to mention British Tabaco, are probably the most widely held shares in pension fund portfolios.

  • Richard David Denton 3rd Feb '23 - 4:12pm

    ASOLUTELY YES ! We as a party ought to fully support this strike NEVER MIND PICKET LINE AMBIVALENCE FROM LABOUR AND FEARS OF BACK SLIDING SOFT TORY VOTERS IN TARGET SEATS! On principle support striking teachers.
    Retired teacher- including young offenders in a secure unit in LONDON

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