‘Responsibility for teacher strikes lies with government’

The Labour shadow schools minister explains why he believes the first teacher strikes are the culmination of 12 years of under-investment in education by the Conservative party – and why it shows change is needed
3rd February 2023, 5:00am

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‘Responsibility for teacher strikes lies with government’

https://www.tes.com/magazine/analysis/general/responsibility-teacher-strikes-lies-with-government-walkout-pay
Responsibility for teacher strikes lies squarely with the government

One of the great joys of my job is that every week I get to visit schools across the country and speak to brilliant teachers, school leaders and pupils.

This also proves to be one of the great frustrations of my job, as until the Labour Party is in government, I don’t have the means to help these schools who frequently tell me about how badly they continue to be let down by decision-makers in Westminster.

This dissatisfaction culminated this week in the first national teaching strike in over six years. For anyone paying attention, these strikes were not surprising and were entirely preventable.

Chaos at the top

Labour urged ministers to speak with unions last summer.

But since then we’ve had five education secretaries, four schools ministers, three prime ministers and, until last month, zero attempts by the government to stop schools closing.

In recent weeks, there have been cursory attempts by the education secretary to engage the unions but these are clearly nothing more than window dressing.

The government’s lack of urgency in stopping schools from closing was again illustrated last week as the Department for Education missed the deadline to submit to the latest teacher pay review.

While the schools I visit vary in size, geography and pupil intake, the issues raised by teachers are largely consistent. They are feeling increasingly overstretched, underpaid and undervalued by a government that takes them for granted. 

It is no surprise that we have ended up here.

Under-resourced and overworked

Over the past 13 years, successive Conservative governments have stripped the resources away from the local communities that supported children and families outside of schools.  

Thousands of Sure Start and youth centres have shut since 2010. The help provided by these wraparound services has not been replaced, and teachers have been expected to pick up the slack.

This means devoting more and more time, energy and sometimes money to help deal with children’s problems that stop them from learning, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds who are coming to school further behind their peers than before.

After a decade of Tory neglect, teachers were already approaching a breaking point. And things have only worsened since the pandemic when prime minister Rishi Sunak rejected Sir Kevan Collins’ education recovery plan claiming that he had “maxed out” support for children.

School leaders across the country regularly raise the increased mental health problems children in their schools have dealt with post-Covid. Teachers, again, have been left to deal with the consequences.

This has all taken its toll. Nearly a third of teachers who qualified in the last decade have since left the profession. Two-thirds of teachers who planned to quit in 2022 cited workload as the key reason.

So, you may ask, what has been the reward given to teachers for all of this extra workload? The answer: a 13 per cent real-terms pay cut since 2010.

It doesn’t have to be like this

Under the last Labour government, teachers’ pay rose 19 per cent in real terms.

We delivered fair pay and better conditions by making teaching assistants part of every school. We gave those working in the classroom the support to succeed for all our children. And we provided the wraparound support that allowed teachers to spend their lessons doing what they love to do: teach.

We were able to do these things because we grew the economy. Something the Conservatives have proven incapable of doing.

The responsibility for the impact of these strikes - and the disruption to both children’s learning and parents’ working lives that they will cause - lies squarely with the Conservative government.

No striking teacher that I’ve spoken to has taken this decision lightly.

They are desperate not to impact their children’s learning. But they feel backed into a corner after being taken for granted for so long.

Time for change

Labour would tackle these issues head on by ending private schools’ tax breaks and using the money raised to invest in 6,500 new teachers, filling vacancies and temporarily filling teaching positions to reduce teaching workloads and raise standards across schools in our country.

We would deliver youth mental health hubs in every community and ensure children get access to professional mental health counsellors in school. Teachers would no longer have to carry the burden of young people’s mental wellbeing on top of their wider workloads.

And importantly, we would restore the trust between teachers and the government by treating the profession with the respect it deserves.

No one wants strikes and no one wants children’s learning to be disrupted. There’s still time to prevent further strikes, but only if the government take responsibility, offer meaningful negotiations and find a solution.

If the Conservatives won’t fix the mess they have created, it is time they step aside and let people vote for a government that will. 

Stephen Morgan MP is the Labour shadow schools minister

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