“Scared” teachers today told of the pressure of “intolerable workload” as they voted in favour of using “sustained strike action” in schools to tackle the problem.
Delegates at the National Union of Teachers (NUT) conference in Brighton backed a motion calling for strikes to combat worsening workload – caused by a “perfect storm” of teaching shortages, rising pupil numbers, and funding cuts – by an overwhelming majority this morning.
Their vote came as the government revealed it was accepting in full the recommendations of three teacher-led review groups that it had commissioned to look at the teacher workload problem.
The NUT leadership welcomed the move but said the union would hold the government to account to ensure the recommendations were followed. Delegates reinforced that determination on the conference floor.
Laura Fisher, a teacher from Wakefield, said the situation was so bad that pupils had asked her if she slept in work due to the amount of time she spends in the classroom.
“If a child knows I'm spending too much time at school, and I know I'm spending too much time at school, how on earth doesn't the Government know?” she said
"I want to do my duty, but I don't have time. Nicky Morgan – I'll do my job, but let me get on with it.”
"I know striking is a difficult subject,” Ms Fisher continued. "People say, 'I didn't become a teacher to strike'. But every day I strike, I am teaching children the biggest lesson of all – that their education is worth fighting for and if that means I strike, I strike.”
Kathryn Quick, from Devon, received a standing ovation from delegates after speaking of the impact that workload had had on her and her colleagues.
“This intolerable workload is affecting our students now and don’t forget they are the whole point of this whole system,” the physics teacher said.
She told delegates how she “crushed” a student who had got a B in her mock after telling her it was below target and “not good enough”.
A teacher, for four years, she said: “I did it because I failed to protect her from the pressure pushing down on me and I was jumping through hoops and I was scared and I was worried about my pay progression.
“I will never tell as student again that their best is not good enough and I don’t care if you don’t give me M5 [a pay rise] as that’s not worth my soul.”
The motion they backed also pledged to "build a campaign to persuade members that national strike action will be necessary to bring about changes in the intolerable working conditions, and lack of work-life balance, created by current Government policies".
Strike action can begin only after a ballot of members.
Commenting after the debate, Christine Blower, NUT general secretary, said: "Government policies have created the perfect storm for a teacher recruitment and retention crisis.
"Teachers speak of having no life outside of school, nor time for family and friends. We are not talking about having to stay a little bit later of an evening, but of workloads that keep teachers working into the night and at weekends.
"The NUT believes teaching is one of the best professions anyone could hope to do. It is, however, being made a very difficult job under this Government.”
A Department for Education spokesman said: "It's disappointing to see the NUT taking this approach instead of working constructively with us to ensure their members and teachers across the country deliver our vision for educational excellence everywhere.
"As set out in our White Paper we have a vision to spread educational excellence everywhere and are determined to continue raising the profession's status. It would be refreshing to see the NUT doing likewise."