Arise, Teachers of England: the game has changed.

Yesterday, I was invited to speak to a group of actors and directors from the Royal Shakespeare Company about the crisis in our school system. We discussed in detail the narrowing of the curriculum through the government’s testing agenda, the asset-stripping of the public realm through the academies programme and the “culture of fear” that has taken hold in so many of our schools as a consequence of flawed accountability measures, leaving teachers and young people alike anxious and uninspired.

Many of the questions I was asked were, quite rightly, about what we can do about all of this. One member of the group expressed his frustration that a mood of “exhausted resignation” has settled over those who want to protect our public services. During the last parliament we held strikes, we went on marches and we signed petitions; at every step we fought the government and at every step we lost. I think this is particularly true of teachers. Defeat after defeat on workload, pensions and so-called performance-related pay have left many of our number asking: “what’s the point?” And it’s driven many of us, myself included, to take a break from the profession altogether.

The reason we failed in the past is that we were never able to make our message resonate with the public. Anti-union legislation brought in during the early 80s prevents us from striking over “ideology” so all trade union-backed campaigns are forced to focus on our own pay and conditions rather than the impact of the government’s policies on young people. To the average voter in middle England, if they were aware of NUT, ATL and NASUWT campaigns at all, the message would have elicited no more than a shrug of the shoulders and a mutter of: “bloody teachers are moaning again.”

But that may just be changing. There’s a palpable sense now, since George Osborne’s announcement in the budget that all schools will be forced into academy chains by 2022, that the public are waking up to the reality of what is being done to our young people’s futures. The needless turmoil being imposed on perfectly good schools up and down the country, the removal of parent governors and the murky secrecy in which the whole project is shrouded has caused millions of ordinary people to sit up and think again. Even several Tory councillors in middle England have gone public with their concerns.

So now is not the time for “exhausted resignation.” Now is the time to dust ourselves down and get ready to take up the fight again. For the first time since the Conservatives came to power in 2010, the public are listening to us. For the first time, this may actually be a fight we can win. This is the time for teachers to start shouting. Whether it’s through strikes, rallies, petitions, social media campaigns or simply writing to your MP, let’s make some noise.

Do not go gentle into that good night. The game has changed; let’s pick ourselves up and defend our schools.

9 comments

  1. Well said,Tim! It seems like this govt. has got a bit carried away with the lack of opposition. This is the time to hit back as the push has been very unsubtle, including the word “force” being used: a word which is very alien to English ears! It is not surprising that local councillors are fighting back. It would be good to see teachers joining with councillors to get this pernicious attack on local democracy repealed!
    Now IS the time. 😎

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  2. An excellent and challenging post, Tim. I left the profession in 2003 after over 25 years.
    I remember when the National Curriculum was just an egg. We were told that we were to receive a general set of teaching guidelines. The government took great pains to assure teachers that they would NEVER be told what to teach or how to teach. Above all … we were told that pupils would not be tested. Fine talk … but a load of old rubbish. Look at what we now have !!! Now look at us.
    Teachers have no champions really when it boils down to it. Parents will ultimately take more. notice of political spin doctors who manoeuvre and manipulate public attitudes.
    I now see fresh enthusiastic teachers being worn down in just a couple of years.
    God only knows what it will be like in another 25 years.

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  3. Interesting posts, and too much to comment on in detail. You have some real grievances, and I hope you can move forward easily. As a long standing Chair Governors, (although Secondary), I have real issues with the way that Govt plays with education, constantly changing the goal posts. Not that different to a job in the commercial world though.

    One area merits a wider thought. Parent Governors. When this first came in, it was straight out of the sitcom “Yes Minister” (or Yes, Prime Minister). Watch the episode on Education if you disbelieve me. It was mooted some time after the first airing of the episode and showed the problems and confusion that the Govt could easily have been in. Nevertheless, Parent Governors as a concept is good. IF, you have the right people. In my experience the most common aim of Parents who became Governors was the furtherance of their own agendas generally related to their own children, which did not match the school agenda of teaching students effectively. Also, there have been some excellent Parent Governors, who I have encouraged into other designations so that they stayed when their term finished. Nicky Morgan’s promise to not have a Parent Governor designation is good, Governors should be selected for their skills, commitment and integrity to get the Governance right, leaving the Teachers to get on with the job in the classroom. If they also happen to be Parents, ideal, but this should not be a pre-requisite.

    So, when your local school (s) is seeking Governors with skills to Govern, manage change and improve Teaching and Learning, will you apply? I hope you do.

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  4. Something else that ALL teachers and educationalists should be asking the government is … What exactly are you seeking to achieve in real terms ? The best will never ever be good enough. Teachers are being asked to blindly steer a ship towards a horizon that doesn’t actually exist.

    .

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