Comment: Gove only has himself to blame for striking teachers

By Chris Keates

Michael Gove, has no one to blame but himself for the announcement this week that the NASUWT and the NUT teaching unions will be escalating industrial action.

Serious efforts have been made to engage the education secretary in genuine dialogue to resolve the deep concerns of the profession about the impact of coalition government's education policies on the teaching workforce.

What Gove fails to grasp in his ideological mission to destroy the current frameworks is that teachers' pay and conditions of service are inextricably linked to the provision of high quality education.

They are part of the universal entitlement of all children and young people to be taught by those who are recognised and rewarded as highly skilled professionals and who have working conditions which enable them to work effectively to focus on teaching and learning.

A wealth of robust evidence is available to Gove, some from his own department, which demonstrates that far from raising standards in schools, he is set to turn back the clock by over a decade and recreate the teacher recruitment and retention crisis which emerged in the early 90s as a result of the education policies of the last Conservative government.

When the Conservatives left office in 1997, teaching was the at the bottom of the list as a career choice for graduates, teacher morale was at an all time low, pay levels had plummeted and workload was excessive. But by the time the coalition took office in May 2010, the teacher recruitment and retention crisis had been resolved, teaching was back as the top choice for graduates as a result of pay and working conditions being improved and the result was that educational standards were rising.

Whilst it took the last Tory government 18 years to plunge the profession into crisis, Gove has managed to achieve the same results in barely three.

NASUWT surveying of members has shown that over half of teachers are now seriously considering leaving the profession. Three-quarters of teachers feel professionally disempowered. Recruitment into initial teacher training is plummeting and morale is rock bottom as a result of the assault on pay, working conditions, pensions and job security.

The pay and conditions of service framework which the education secretary is so keen to destroy resulted in this country being ranked in the top 20 highest performing countries in education in the world for the last three years.

Unfortunately for Gove, the rankings were based on pupil performance during the last three years of the Labour government which is obviously why the UK was not represented round the table with ministers from across the globe at the Education International/OECD summit held this month in Amsterdam.

It was to defend those conditions of service and pay which are the key to maintaining world class schools that the NASUWT embarked on pupil, parent and public friendly industrial action short of strike action in 2011.

This action did not disrupt the education of a single pupil. It was designed to enable teachers to focus on teaching and learning.

Regrettably, the education secretary failed to listen or respond positively to our requests for genuine dialogue to seek to address the issues of concern and we have been left with no choice but to plan to escalate our action to include strike action at the end of the summer term.

Gove holds the key to preventing this.

Recognising that parents and the public understandably will be concerned by the prospect of strike action, we have made three modest demands which he should have no difficulty in meeting.

1. Commit to genuine engagement in a dispute resolution process by establishing a series of meetings in the summer term 2013 with the NASUWT and NUT chaired by himself to address the issues under dispute.

2. Suspend the implementation of the changes proposed to the school teachers' pay and conditions document, pending the outcome of these discussions.

3. Publish the valuation of the teachers' pension scheme conducted on the basis of the 2010 criteria and factors.

With a positive and swift response to these reasonable demands strike action can be avoided.

Teachers do not take strike action lightly but their patience has been exhausted. The relentless attacks on the profession have taken their toll. Michael Gove alone is responsible for this state of affairs and its resolution is in his hands.

Chris Keates is the general secretary of the NASUWT, the UK's largest teaching union.

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