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Are strikes inevitable?

Updated: Apr 9

The news headlines are currently filled with striking rail workers and as is often the case, the conversation has now widened to whether other public sector roles should strike too. Now, as far as I understand, a strike is a last resort – a way of getting people to notice a situation that they may be unaware of. Yes, they are disruptive and have a wider impact than just the sector that are striking but the point is that the people striking have reached a level of either desperation or sheer frustration about not being heard. It isn’t because they want to have a day off or just meddle with people’s ability to travel, go to school, receive healthcare etc. It’s because they believe in the value of the jobs they work in, the hours/years of study that went into getting qualified and the right to work with comparable conditions to other non-public sector jobs.

The National Education Union and NASUWT said this week that they will ballot their members on strike action if the government persists with its plan to only offer a 3% pay increase, citing that their members have effectively had a pay cut because in real terms teachers’ pay has fallen by a fifth since 2010. Added to that is the fact that the DfE are not meeting targets for retention or recruitment of teachers. The government is reportedly tackling recruitment by increasing minimum starting salaries to £30,000 -good news! This is an increase of 8.9%. There is a ‘but’ however : BUT current proposals are that experienced teachers’ salaries will increase by just 3% in 2022/23 and by 2% in 2023/24, and these will be funded by current school budgets not an injection of money by the government. By my calculations, that would mean next year, a teacher currently on Main Pay Scale 3 with 3-years’ experience to offer to a school and its pupils will effectively receive only around £500 more than their inexperienced colleagues. Those on Main Pay Scale 2 will actually receive less than the new starters. Now, whether you believe in striking, the right to strike or not, that doesn’t seem right, does it?

Teaching is a fantastic profession – chosen by those with a genuine desire to educate children for the future. Most teachers put their heart and soul into all they do; spend hours outside the classroom, planning and thinking about how to engage with children’s interests; consider how to best improve outcomes for all; spend their own money on resources that the children either need or will help to inspire and add interest to the lessons they teach so when Nadhim Zahawi says that teachers will be ‘irresponsible’ and it would be ‘unforgiveable’ for them to strike in the wake of Covid, I am insulted on behalf of the teaching profession. There isn’t a teacher in the UK that hasn’t felt the impact of Covid in their classroom; they are the boots on the ground trying to help children regain any lost ground every single day. They do not want to strike. I don’t believe anyone ever does. The dictionary definition of strike should be: a protest undertaken because someone in power did not understand and did not listen. Strikes are preventable. It takes discussion, empathy and compromise not hard-line stances. So, Nadhim Zahawi, I’d like to refer you to a catchphrase from a very cheesy dating show that goes – ‘the power is in your hands!’

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