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Gove's approach couldn't be more wrong

KEVIN COURTNEY of the NUT on why teachers are up in arms over the Education Secretary's mania for markets

Teachers in more than half of England are preparing for strike action next week.

The action will complete an escalating series of strikes which began in north-west England last summer, followed by a strike during the Tory Party conference which covered roughly a third of the country.

Schools and sixth-form colleges in the northern region, Cumbria, London, the south-east and the south-west are gearing up for action on Thursday October 17.

This series of strikes is to protest and challenge attacks by Education Secretary Michael Gove and the coalition government on teachers' pay, pensions and conditions.

Gove has already implemented a proposal to deregulate teachers' pay and has just given evidence to the School Teachers Review Body quango advocating deregulation of conditions not related to pay, such as the length of the school year and day.

He is insisting that if teachers retire before age 68 they will suffer penalties on their pensions.

The NUT and NASUWT set Gove a relatively small hurdle to avoid this series of strikes - to engage in a full programme of talks, suspend the implementation of the pay changes and publish the valuation of the teacher pension scheme.

None of these would cost any money - but nevertheless Gove didn't engage.

He is beginning to pay a price for this. Even at the Tory Party conference many people asked us why he wouldn't engage.

And the fact that the unions were able to suspend the strike action in Wales following some progress in talks with Huw Lewis, Labour Minister for Education in the Welsh government, highlights Gove's intransigence even further.

As Secretary of State for Education, Gove's first responsibilities should be to ensure enough school places, to train enough school teachers and to maintain relationships with the unions representing the teachers and non-teaching staff. He is now demonstrably failing on all of these measures.

There is a common feature underlying all three of these failures - Gove's ideological belief, despite the evidence, that the market is the right way to run our schools.

He refuses to allow local authorities to open new schools, despite the shortage of 200,000 places across the next few years, instead saying that free schools should close the gap - a policy now clearly failing.

And he is running down much of the university provision for trainee teachers, instead wanting academy schools to train teachers - a policy called School Direct.

Comparisons have been drawn with training hospitals. However, these training schools are not a good parallel. They seem in many cases to be interested in training teachers for themselves not for the service as a whole - a teacher shortage crisis is looming.

These attacks on teachers' pay and conditions are also best understood as part of Gove's drive towards marketising and privatising our schools.

Outside the government there have been no significant forces demanding deregulation of pay.

It makes no sense to require each one of more than 23,000 school governing bodies to set teacher pay points and develop their own system of teacher pay progression.

It's not even what companies like Tesco do across their stores, so even the old canard of "the private sector does it better" doesn't apply.

So why is Gove pushing ahead with this attack?

When he was first elected he constantly referred to Swedish free schools as his favourite international comparator.

Twenty years ago these schools were set up and allowed to make a profit from the Swedish state education system.

They made those profits by keeping what was left after they drove down teachers' pay by employing unqualified teachers for less.

And Gove hasn't given up on that, allowing private investors to make a profit from running our schools here.

But he has stopped talking about it - and about the Swedish free schools.

Why? Well, it's embarrassing for him and his policies but the Swedish free-market model led to a decline in Sweden't international league table position and a big decrease in social cohesion as the privatised schools competed to cream off the best students.

And his proposals to deregulate the school holidays are nothing to do with helping hard-pressed working-class parents during the summer holidays.

They are instead about allowing different schools - different private providers - to set different holidays in the future.

This would be a real nightmare for parents. Children in different schools having different half-term, Easter and summer holidays would be much more difficult to manage.

Again, Gove's drive is marketisation, not genuine improvement in our situation.

Under the restrictive anti-union laws in this country we have to be very specific what the "trade dispute" with Gove is - and that is over pay, pensions and conditions.

But we do believe that Gove's attacks are part of destructive plans for the privatisation of our schools, which is a motivator for teachers to take action, both in their own defence and in the defence of the education of our children.

Gove falsely claims he wants to put children first, but as Karen Lewis of the Chicago Teacher Union said in a meeting at NUT headquarters last Saturday, "You can't put children first if you put teachers last."


Kevin Courtney is deputy general secretary of the National Union of Teachers.


If you can please support the NUT and NASUWT demonstrations next Thursday in London, Durham and Bristol. For more details visit the NUT website


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