Strikers lose parents' sympathy
Parents have expressed little sympathy for the national teachers' strike, affecting activists' plans for further industrial action.
The TES and the National Confederation of Parent Teacher Associations (NCPTA) polled 750 parents about the strike, which was due to close thousands of schools in England and Wales yesterday.
Nearly a third said the action, by the National Union of Teachers (NUT), had lowered their view of teachers. However, most parents who responded said their opinion remained unchanged.
The lukewarm response of parents will be a factor for the NUT leadership in deciding whether to proceed with a ballot for rolling strike action, as the union's Easter conference demanded.
The online TESNCPTA survey showed that 63 per cent of parents believed the Government's 2.45 per cent pay offer was sufficient, or more than teachers deserved.
Christine Blower, the union's acting general secretary, said she believed teachers still enjoyed the goodwill of parents.
"I can't deny there are some parents who are opposed to strike action," she said. "But we haven't felt great waves of opprobrium coming in our direction.
"We haven't done this for 21 years. The post-strike period will tell us whether we can continue the public-sector campaign, which primarily for us is about teachers' pay.
"This campaign is about ensuring teachers have decent pay levels and that they can continue to work in a decent education service - teachers need to be respected and valued."
As The TES went to press, however, the Government had shown no signs of agreeing to union demands for a pay rise of 4.1 per cent.
Ed Balls, the Children, Schools and Families Secretary, said: "Teachers should not be walking out. I'm very disappointed, and I think that parents across the country are disappointed."
NUT activists were similarly resolute, calling for a series of rolling strikes, starting in June. "We have to step up the action," said a newsletter distributed by London activists. "Will the Government have to listen to us? Yes - but only if today's strike is the start and not the end of the matter."
David Butler, the NCPTA chief executive, said some parents had faced a "nightmare" when making childcare arrangements.
"I suspect that if action continues, there is potential for a loss of parental support," he said. "If it continues, parents will get frustrated."
More positively for teachers, the poll also showed 85 per cent of parents believed their children receive "good" or "excellent" teaching.
The Federation of Small Businesses warned the economy would lose millions of pounds yesterday, as parents stayed home to look after their children. Nearly 40 per cent of the parents polled said they would take time off work to look after their children during strike action, while others said they would leave them home alone or in the care of friends or relatives.
Kathy Todd, a single mother from Sheffield, was forced to arrange a day off from her work placement to look after her youngest son Marcel, age 7.
"I agree that teachers should be paid more, but they're not thinking about the effect it has on people like me, a single mum trying to improve my situation for me and my children," she said.
The NUT's executive will meet on May 7 to decide how to proceed with its pay campaign, alongside other public sector unions like the Public and Commercial Services Union and the University and College Union.
NASUWT's general secretary, Chris Keates, said her union has received a "significant upsurge" in new members in the past few weeks. The Association of Teachers and Lecturers said it recruited three times more members this month than usual, while Voice, a no-strikes union, said its recruitment numbers jumped by 100 this month.
Headteachers' associations also claimed a membership surge. The National Association of Head Teachers said it received 500 new members this month, though that did coincide with a membership drive.
WHAT PARENTS TOLD THE TES
How did the decision to strike change your view of teachers?
More negatively: 32%
More positively: 7%
It doesn't: 61%
How much do you think teachers wages should increase by this year?
2.45% (the increase offered by the Government): 41%
4.1% (the increase sought by striking teachers): 32%
If your children's school was closed by strike action, would you or your partner:
Take time off work to look after them: 38%
Be home to look after them: 33%
Ask a friend or relative to look after them: 16%
Pay for childcare: 6%
Leave them to look after themselves: 7%
Source: TESNCPTA online survey
HOW PARENTS REACTED
- "It appears more like greed. We don't feel sorry for them, they are not overworked, and my children's education is not first class, therefore they don't deserve it."
- "If they want to be viewed as a profession, they should behave like professionals."
- "The strike can give out the wrong message to children - that it is OK not to go to school if you want to 'get your own way'."
- "What's to strike about? Short working day, long holidays and good pay already."
- "The Government treats teachers appallingly badly and my view of teachers is one of admiration. They need to take a stand."
- "I don't believe teachers get paid enough compared to other jobs and if it makes the powers that be take notice, then I'm happy for them to strike."
- "I think teachers' pay is appalling and I would be prepared to pay more tax to pay them more."
Source: TESNCPTA poll.