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'Teachers do not take strike action readily but our members cannot take this continual undermining of their profession'

Kevin Courtney, deputy general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, writes:

"Let us be very clear – the decision by the NUT to take strike action on the 26 March in England and Wales is the result of Michael Gove’s refusal to meet and seriously discuss our trade dispute on pay, pensions and conditions. Contrary to the education secretary’s assertions, talks have never been offered on the substantive issues of the dispute.  

These ongoing disputes are unnecessary and deeply damaging. Teachers do not take strike action readily but we know that our members cannot take this continual undermining of their profession. Thousands of good, experienced teachers are leaving or considering leaving the job. Many others are being put off training or re-entering the profession.

Sir Michael Wilshaw has said that 40 per cent of teachers are leaving in the first five years of work. This is a shocking statistic and we have to ask ourselves why Michael Gove is refusing to engage to settle the dispute.

The NUT and NASUWT met with government officials in October – now over 17 weeks  ago.  These officials said Michael Gove would talk about a wide range of matters on implementation of pay and pensions. We were also told he would talk about the direction of travel on conditions as well as any implementation. Since then Michael Gove has put obstacle after obstacle in the way of talks and has shown no serious attempt to resolve – or even to discuss – the matters in dispute.

The NUT on the other hand has made every effort. We cancelled the strike planned for November and have postponed the strike planned for February and have asked the TUC to get involved to arrange a meeting with Michael Gove at ACAS. We have made it quite clear that we will meet with him anywhere any time to seek to resolve the disputes in the interest of the education service.

The secretary of state is now offered a series of meetings but says he will discuss nothing beyond implementation – no discussion of “direction” at all and no sign of a willingness to change even on implementation.

Further, the education secretary is still sitting on the 23rd report of the STRB - a report that deals with fundamental questions of the teacher contract and conditions of service. He is also sitting on the teacher diary workload survey that was conducted in March of last year – which we believe would show that teacher workloads are already unsustainably high.

Yet Michael Gove’s weakness as a secretary of state is becoming increasingly clear. Labour call him the weakest link. The Lib Dems are beginning to challenge him. Sir David Bell, former permanent secretary at the DfE, has urged him to listen.

It is in this context that the NUT is announcing a package of steps designed to get Michael Gove to change his mind.

We are asking all our members in state schools (including academies and sixth form colleges) in England and Wales to prepare for strike action on 26 March in order to demonstrate to politicians of all parties and to parents the degree of anger that teachers fell about the way they are being treated and the damaging consequences for the education system.

In the run up to the strike we are asking our members in England and Wales to join in a leafleting and petitioning effort in every town and city to engage parents in the defence of education and in the demand that Michael Gove settle the dispute.

And we are asking members in England and Wales to register to vote and to begin to engage with parliamentary prospective candidates. We want every prospective MP to understand the depth of teacher anger about the way the education service is being treated. We want them all to write to Michael Gove to demand that he settle the dispute with teachers.

Michael Gove can avoid this strike if in the upcoming talks he agrees not to proceed with the damaging changes he has proposed on teacher conditions and if it becomes clear that he is willing to engage seriously in talks about compromises on pay and pensions. The strike is in his hands. He now has failed to engage over the 17 weeks since we met his officials and suspended our November strike. He has seven weekw in which to avoid this next strike by showing that he is prepared to engage with teachers real concerns.

We will be taking further proposals to our Easter conference for further public campaign steps and industrial action if we haven’t seen real progress.

It should be remembered by Michael Gove and his superiors that teachers matter. Their votes also matter. The NUT/YouGov-commissioned poll in January showed that the percentage vote for the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats has plummeted since 2010. Unless there is progress on our dispute the teachers vote will not be one they can count on at the next election. " 

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