As we all stood in the wings, waiting to perform our act, science teacher James started to get cold feet again. He was just wondering whether this was an entirely ethical and professional thing for colleagues to be doing of a Saturday evening, albeit in defence of funding for state education. Was it really necessary for us to have formed a men’s troupe and to be cavorting on stage around the catchment area in a state of serious undress? What if the viewing parents didn’t get the underlying metaphorical message about the similarly shocking "denuding" of school budgets; what if they didn’t see the irony?
Poor James then began chuntering on about whether this was quite why he had gone into teaching. Then dour Frank from geography told him bluntly to shut up and slapped some more tanning oil over him. Young James, you see, is new to teaching and is a little naive. The rest of us had realised some time ago that things had been moving us relentlessly in this direction. The time for the Full Monty protest had come.
This slightly disturbing dream was probably the result of my raging within over that breathtakingly blinkered decision in the budget to fund more free/grammar schools and to ignore the £3 billion taken from the rest of us, while also reading recently about the trainee Australian teacher who left the profession to join an all-male stripping troupe called Man Australia. I woke up from the dream in some anxiety, but I do nonetheless see it as a possible "Joan of Arc moment" – a powerful vision calling me to try to do something more meaningful on behalf of this troubled profession. Enough of mere words.
Certainly, I for one have had enough of the current "Stock Aitken and Waterman" form of online protest, where we read an endless production line of formulaic "hits". At the moment, essentially the same song is being played repeatedly and – as with the likes of Bananarama – it’s never going to change anything. We could continue forever to read familiar "Where is the love?" lyrics complaining (albeit justifiably) about workload, excessive accountability, school budgets, teacher shortages and teachers’ pay, but the piece-full protest does not make any difference.
Benevolent mass protests about funding
My previous call to action was for the whole profession to go public on the workload issue on an agreed Sunday. We would quietly take our weekend marking to a series of popular public landmarks – urban or rural. We would be like Antony Gormley statues, looming on the horizon and silently working in unexpected and sometimes extreme places – whether at the top of Snowden or on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square. I thought the idea might take off but in the end I felt a solitary figure that Sunday afternoon last spring, marking next to a sweetly smelling druid at Stonehenge.
Nonetheless I still think that a series of mass, benevolent protests by the nation's teachers is still the most powerful way to protest and build up public interest and support. We should increasingly try to work with health workers and others who have been similarly neglected. We surely need to put ourselves out there – separate from any union action – just to show that it really matters to us all.
The mass benevolent stunt is surely the best way to wrong-foot politicians who will otherwise seek to portray our actions as selfish, political and union-controlled. If we just wait for a strike the government will easily dust off their usual cynically crafted script: "selfish teachers", "children suffering", "no thought for the inconvenienced parents" and so on. Let’s actually all go out and do something extraordinary, not play into government hands.
How about – for starters – teachers announcing that they are each giving a pound to a charity fund this year, every time a government minister lies again about their funding of schools? (Up to a designated limit per person.) How will ministers respond when the cheques start being publically handed over?
Stephen Petty is head of humanities at Lord Williams’s School in Thame, Oxfordshire. For more from Stephen, see his back catalogue
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