Wednesday, March 19, 2014
Christine Blower seemed surprised to hear that many EDP readers were less than sympathetic to the teachers’ cause when they commented on online stories about strike action.
Typical remarks included “should think themselves lucky they have a job, many of them would not be able to hold down an ordinary job!”.
Ms Blower, who was elected secretary general of the National Union of Teachers (NUT) in 2009, said that everyone Sky TV spoke to about the same issue said that while the strike might be inconvenient, they could find a way around.
Maybe London teachers are better at explaining their case to the public, she mused.
“Of course it’s inconvenient and disruptive. Strike action is designed to be inconvenient and disruptive, because that’s the way you bring things to the attention of government. It’s still only a one-day strike, and it’s still possible we might have a tremendous breakthrough.”
She added: “It’s true, our strike action on March 26 will be about pay and pensions and conditions. But we are just as concerned about other things that you can’t have a trade dispute about. We are concerned that schools are becoming exam factories.”
Ms Blower also warned of a national teacher shortage, saying that two in five teachers leave the profession within their first five years.
The NUT is a vocal opponent of the government’s academy and free school programme, and a recent survey of more than 650 academies by the Reform think-tank showed that changing teachers’ pay was the freedom they had made most use of.
The damning Ofsted report on the IES Breckland free school in Brandon has given Ms Blower ammunition, and in a statement to the national media, she used it to call for a halt to new free schools, and for existing ones to be brought into the local school system.
Instead of using academies to improve schools, she is enthusiastic about the strategy credited with improving education in London, where she began her teaching career in the 1970s.
She said: “Things were massively improved by the London Challenge. That was not taking (schools) away from the local authority, but was the schools working together. There was a small amount of money in it, but nothing like the £1.7bn being put into the academy programme.”
She added: “If they were interested in what works, they would be coming to Norfolk and saying ‘let’s have a Norfolk Challenge’, rather than atomising them.”
Norfolk County Council is both pushing for schools graded “inadequate” by Ofsted to become academies, and funding a London Challenge-inspired programme to foster school-to-school collaboration.
Ms Blower accuses councils of being “meek” in the face of government pressure for their schools to become academies, and said she could not understand Norfolk County Council’s push for Cavell Primary in Norwich to convert, despite moving out of special measures.
Ofsted, itself, has never been a favourite of the teachers’ unions, but critics have increasingly accused it of becoming a tool to implement the government’s academy agenda, something it routinely denies.
Ms Blower said that while she couldn’t put her hand on her heart and say education secretary Michael Gove and Ofsted chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw are “colluding”, “if it walks, talks and quacks like a duck, it pretty much looks like a duck”.
She talks of Department for Education (DfE) academy brokers “swooping” on schools that are put in special measures, and said: “It seems to be a symbiotic relationship between the DfE and Ofsted.
“They go around finding faults rather than seeking ways of schools improving.
“Their agenda is not ‘what can we find that’s good in this school?’, rather, ‘what are the problems in the school? Let’s not talk up the good stuff’. We do see Ofsted as being politicised.”
For Ms Blower, convincing parents that teachers are right to strike is just one of many battles.
Are teachers right to strike? Email firstname.lastname@example.org