Forecast is stormy as union ballots on new wave of action

19th September 2014 at 01:00
NUT warns of possible strikes before the general election

Thousands of schools across the country could be forced to close by two more days of national strike action, as a dispute between the NUT teaching union and the government ramps up ahead of the general election.

Next week the union will launch a consultation with members on how to proceed with its campaign over pay, pensions and working conditions. Although its executive voted against joining support staff unions for a strike on 14 October, TES can reveal that the union will seek approval to call "up to two more days" of strike action by 7 May 2015.

The leadership will be writing to all members to ask them to back its strategy, which could lead to strikes "if the NUT executive [believes] this would help in negotiations with the secretary of state, Nicky Morgan".

The consultation marks a crucial stage in the NUT's campaign. It will be the first time that all teaching members have been asked for their views since the initial strike ballot in 2012.

Since then, a series of national and regional strikes has taken place, with the most recent action occurring in June alongside other public sector unions. Less than a week later, Ms Morgan was announced as the replacement for Michael Gove.

Although the union was quick to claim credit for playing a role in the former education secretary's downfall, the arrival of Ms Morgan has heralded a more cautious approach.

Some executive members have expressed frustration that the strategy agreed at the NUT annual conference in Brighton - to consult members on a "series of strikes through the autumn term and into 2015" - has been downgraded to a maximum of two days.

But Ms Morgan has adopted a less combative approach than her predecessor and the union leadership appears to be willing to give her a chance.

Last month, Ms Morgan said that academies were "just part of the picture" in the country's education system. And this week, ahead of a meeting with the classroom unions on Tuesday, she stressed her determination to crack down on the "unnecessary [bureaucratic] work that takes teachers' time away from teaching" - another of the unions' main complaints.

Howard Stevenson, professor of educational leadership and policy studies at the University of Nottingham, said that Mr Gove's departure had had a "huge impact" on the NUT.

"The situation has changed substantially and it necessitates a reassessment of their tactics," he explained. "The danger is that some members might equate Gove's departure with their action being a victory and think that's the end of the story.But even though Ms Morgan may be seen as the acceptable face of the Conservatives, nothing has really changed in terms of government policies."

For strikes: `We have to protect education'

Sarah Sheen, an English teacher at Driffield School in East Yorkshire, says she would be prepared to go on strike over the cumulative impact of reforms.

"It's not just about pensions, pay and conditions, it's also about how schools are changing," she explains. "Performance-related pay doesn't just affect our pay packets, it's about how we teach from day to day.

"Striking is very much a last resort. It affects students, and we also don't earn money that day, so we don't take it lightly. We will think about it very carefully but we have to make sure we protect the education system."

Against: `I believe in the force of argument'

John Crowther, who teaches physics at Herschel Grammar School in Slough, used to be an NUT member but has now joined the non-striking union Voice.

"I believe in the force of argument rather than the argument of force," he says. "I came into teaching to help young people. We are not helping them by going out on strike. I also see an element of hypocrisy when teachers moan about pupils being absent during term time but they are prepared to go on strike.

"As a profession, we would gain more credibility if we talked things through rather than throwing our toys out of the pram."

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