Michael Gove's letter to Santa...

If Michael Gove scrawled a wish-list last Christmas it probably read something like this: "Dear Santa, Could you arrange a teachers' strike that has no public support, patchy backing from teachers, no chance of success, no exit strategy and allows me to look good standing up to militant unions? Oh, and if you could fix it so it looks as if I'm the only one who cares about standards and a decent education, that would be excellent and I promise not to ask for anything next year, unless Dave goes of course."

If Mr Gove wrote that list Santa must have been listening because the NUT and NASUWT have just announced the continuation of what must be the most stupid industrial action in recent history. Today the unions declared that the strikes they kicked off in the Northwest a couple of weeks ago would be rolled out to other regions in the autumn.

This cannot be because they've been overwhelmed by support - only 40 per cent of schools were closed by their action in the Northwest, one of their strongest bases. It cannot be because they feel they have won the argument; their ever-expanding list of grievances keeps on growing largely because they cannot decide what it is they are striking about. It cannot be because they have any realistic hope of success; do they seriously expect the government to open pension negotiations it successfully concluded with the other unions 18 months ago?

No, the only reason union leaders are desperately trying to get teachers to strike isn't because they feel they can win, it's because they don't know how to back down. They are trapped by their own shrill rhetoric, trapped by their own internal politics, with militants desperate to earn a "I've been on a picket" badge, and trapped by the fear of being outplayed on the left by each other.

Teachers are angry and morale is at an all time low, union leaders complain. Yes, they are. But how are pointless strikes with no chance of success likely to help? Do they really deserve or need to be led over the top and over a cliff? This is not a strategy, it is an adolescent farce. It's like being forced to witness some slow-moving lemming leap. And the people who will suffer are not just the pupils locked out of the schools unjustifiably closed but the entire profession.

While union leaders tour television studios wailing "shan't, can't, won't, all out", Mr Gove is left to own the field proclaiming his belief in rigorous standards, excellent schools and the best education for disadvantaged kids. With opponents like the two big unions, he could be forgiven for thinking that all his Christmases had come at once.

Gerard Kelly

Log in or register for FREE to continue reading.

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you