Saturday, 26 November 2011

Industrial action.

Going on strike is something I never thought I would do. If you had asked me 10 years ago I would have put my hand on my heart and told you that it just wouldn't happen. Of course, 10 years ago I was probably knee deep in nappies and not being paid anyway - but that's beside the point.

I will be striking on Wednesday 30th November. I have endured some unpleasant comments from non teacher acquaintances who have made, in my experience, no effort to listen to my reasons as to why I, along with many of my colleagues in the NUT, are going on strike. Apparently I should be thankful for my 'short working day' and my 'excessively long holiday' which more than make up for the fact that the government wanting to increase (by 50%) my pension contributions while delaying the date at which I will be allowed to start receiving a much reduced pension.

I am not a mathematician, but I can use a calculator. I am paid £13.49 an hour if one assumes I work for 40 hours a week (clocking in at 8am and out at 4pm every day) for 40 weeks a year (because I get those excessively long holidays). How lazy I am! That is only 1600 hours a year and the OECD calculates that the average worker in the UK actually worked 1647 hours in 2010.

But there is a bit more to this than meets the eye. I could easily add another 30/35 hours to my total if I add up all the parents' evenings, pupil awards evenings I am expected to attend. Since the beginning of September I have left school at 4pm twice! On both occasions I had a train to catch and had to rearrange various after school activities to make sure I got to the station on time. On a daily basis there are house team meetings, department meetings, staff development meetings, after school detentions and revision sessions that eat into my evening. I consider myself lucky if I leave school before 5.30pm (having arrived at school at 7.30am).

I teach 9 different sets of children. The average class size is 30, so that is 270 books that need marking on a regular basis, to a standard that promotes the child's learning and enables them to meet their targets. Lessons do not miraculously fall into place without a certain amount of planning. I know I will get quicker at this, and that I will be able to reuse certain aspects of previous lessons, but planning will always be a huge part of a teacher's work load, especially if that teacher has children with special needs (be they struggling with English as an additional language or at the other end of the spectrum needing to be stretched beyond the other pupils due to their exceptional ability). I estimate, conservatively, that I do about 20 hours a week over and above the 'normal' school day. That's another 835 hours a year added to my total - taking my hourly rate of pay down to £8.67 before you even consider the days I have given up in the holiday to go into school to get my room sorted out, or given up at the weekend to help with trips, school fetes etc. That may be why I bristle somewhat when people mention my 'short working day' and 'lovely long holidays!'

Don't get me wrong. I love my job! There is no way I could go in every day if I didn't! And I do get to blow things up in front of a class of children who sometimes have the decency to look suitably impressed. I like to think I am getting to be quite good at it too. Teachers do tend to put themselves down a lot. We concentrate on the three children who refused to do the work rather than the 27 who got on with the task and were eager to do more. Teaching is increasingly target driven. I have targets to achieve based on how many GCSEs my pupils get at certain grades. If I achieve these targets I won't get a bonus, and I don't expect one as I am merely doing my job, but I do find it a bit annoying that the bankers, who did their job so truly appallingly badly that my pension is now being cut to help the government sort the mess out, still receive eye watering bonuses!

But, and this is a huge but, the main reason I am going on strike is not because of the pension issue. Having started teaching later in life I was never going to qualify for anything like the average teacher pension of £10,000 a year. I, along with the other members of the NASUWT, am concerned about the proposed changes to pay and conditions that the government want to introduce.

I worked hard to qualify as a teacher. I have a good science degree (upper second) and a postgraduate certificate in education (PGCE). A PGCE is not an easy qualification to obtain. It is rigorous in terms of both the academic and practical content of the course. Many people fail to get a place on a PGCE course. A lot of people drop out as they discover it is not for them, and people often fail to meet all the standards needed to pass the course. It is a thorough preparation for teaching.

The unions fought hard to establish national pay scales that applied (note the past tense!) in all state schools. Meaning that schools could not refuse to pay teachers 'the going rate' due to budgetary concerns.

So I am worried when I read that Mr Gove wants school to be free to employ 'who they want' and pay them 'whatever they want.' Academies are leading the way, in that they no longer have subscribe to the national pay scales, 'Free schools' do not have to have people with Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) teaching in their classrooms. Is this the thin end of the wedge?

The government want to remove the limit of observation of teachers, both in terms of hours and who can undertake the observation. At present the time is limited and observations can only be carried out by a qualified teacher. Being observed is part of the job, but it is a somewhat nerve wracking process requiring extra preparation and follow up for each lesson. The changes they are proposing change observations from being a tool for use in performance management to effectively putting all teachers in a situation where they are subject to competency proceedings all the time.

The government want to remove the hard won 'rarely cover' agreement that protected a teacher's planning and preparation time. Turning up to school thinking that you have one glorious free period to make a dent in the marking/planning/report writing/data inputing only to find that you have to cover a class because an colleague is off sick is soul destroying in the extreme!

We are constantly bombarded with new initiatives, new targets and curriculum changes, we are always trying to do more and more in the time available. Teachers, on the whole, are good at what they do (the ones who aren't don't enjoy it much and tend to leave!) and want to do their best for your child.

That's why I'll be striking on Wednesday. I want the best for the children I teach today, and the ones I will be teaching in 10, 15 or 20 years from now. And that is why I will, along with the NASUWT, be working to rule from 1st December. I am not lazy, workshy, or hugely left wing. I just believe that it is time we took a stand, in a way that has been legally and democratically mandated. I do not believe that my taking one day off will ruin the chances of my GCSE pupils any more than the trip to look at the Christmas market in Cologne last week would ruin their chances, or the numerous lessons that pupils miss due to other extra curricular activities.