Teaching and support staff going on strike tomorrow are acting out of self-interest rather than a desire to improve education, according to Michael Gove.
The NUT is joining the Unison, GMB and Unite unions for a one-day national strike, with thousands of schools expected to be fully or partially closed. The support staff unions are taking action after rejecting the offer of a 1 per cent pay rise for their members, while the NUT is pursuing a wider industrial campaign over pensions and working conditions, as well as pay.
NUT general secretary Christine Blower has claimed that the teaching profession is “on its knees” and that “education will suffer” as a result of the government’s refusal to listen to their concerns.
However, in a speech at the Education Reform Summit tomorrow, Mr Gove will criticise the NUT's "stand up for education" campaign, and accuse the unions of neglecting the best interests of young people.
“The unions, in the past, have claimed to ‘stand up for education’,” he will say. “Today they’re standing up for their own pay and pensions. I urge them to join all of us in this hall, all of us who are really standing up for education – putting education first and foremost – and the education of our most deprived children most of all.”
The coalition’s package of education reforms, Mr Gove will say, is designed to improve the life chances of young people from the most deprived backgrounds.
“Basically – it means this. Every child in the country, no matter where they live, what their background, or whatever type of school they attend, gets the sort of education which introduces them to the best that has been thought and said.
“The sort of education which equips them to do whatever they want in life – and leaves no opportunity out of reach. That is the mission which drives me and unites all of us. This is the goal we are all striving to achieve.
“Of course, any change to the status quo is difficult. Of course, people can be more frightened of what might be lost than inspired by what might be gained. But for years, for decades, our status quo has simply not been good enough. We can’t and we mustn’t keep going backwards – and failing the poorest above all.
"So to those striking today – to those walking out of classrooms to take to the streets – I urge them to reconsider.”
But Ms Blower said that government policies, particularly the introduction of performance-related pay, have had a damaging impact in schools.
“Teacher morale is at a low ebb,” she said. “Thousands of good, experienced teachers are leaving or considering leaving their job and a teacher shortage crisis is looming.
"Ofsted itself says that two in five teachers are leaving the profession in their first five years. This is a very serious state of affairs and is a direct result of this government’s policies.
“Performance-related pay is not suitable for schools, which work in a collaborative fashion… The fact that teachers are prepared to take strike action is an indication of the strength of feeling and anger about the government’s imposed changes.
"The profession is on its knees. Strike action is a last resort but, due to the intransigence of the coalition government, it is one which we cannot avoid."
NUT members to strike next month - June 2014