Striking teachers interviewed

Words, pictures and interviews: Guy Phillips

Strike action affected more than two-thirds of schools in Southampton on 30 June, when teachers from the NUT and the traditionally moderate ATL union joined university lecturers, civil servants and other public sector workers in Guildhall Square for a rally.

Teachers said they were on strike because they are being asked to ‘pay more, work longer, and get less’ and that the teachers’ pension scheme is affordable.

“As far as I’m concerned this is a tax upon teachers of £2.8 billion, to go towards paying off the deficit – which is not our fault at all,” said ATL member Sam Cutler, pictured above (front row centre), with striking colleagues from Sholing Technology College.

He said he hoped the Government would get round the table and negotiate so the dispute doesn’t go in into the autumn term.

We also caught up with Pete Sopowski (right), NUT Secretary for Southampton, who said that teachers were on strike because they don’t believe the Government is serious about negotiating on pensions. He said that teachers are going to be expected to work until they are 68 while paying more in contributions.

You can hear the full interviews using the player below:

Teachers Strike 30 July (mp3)

(copy and paste this link to your browser to listen)

In a letter to local authorities before the day of action, Secretary of State for Education Michael Gove said that he is ‘personally committed to working openly, honestly and constructively to ensure that teachers continue to receive the high quality pensions that they deserve and value’.

“Against this background, the Government’s view is that industrial action, with the attendant risk of disruption to pupils’ education and family life, is not justified.

Moral duty

“In the current situation both the public and parents will expect all of us to put the interests of pupils and families first. We all have a strong moral duty to pupils and parents to keep schools open and the Government wants to help you to fulfill that. I am particularly concerned that school closures would cause great inconvenience to working families and single parents who will have to make ad hoc childcare arrangements and whose own working lives will be disrupted. I am confident that you will take effective steps to support schools in staying open and to minimise the impact on pupils and parents.”

What’s your view on pensions? Is it morally right for teachers to go on strike, and to “inconvenience working families and single parents”? Or is it perhaps one of the few ways they can make their voices heard?

28 thoughts on “Striking teachers interviewed

  1. What tosh! No teacher makes the decision to take strike action lightly. Teachers have no moral obligation whatsoever to allow governments to ride roughshod over pay and work conditions that have been fought for over decades. Governments try to play the guilt card every time a dispute occurs. Does it penalise parents and children? Not really, most parents have no hesitation in taking their children out of school for family holidays (for off peak prices… which I don’t blame them for, and because of the simple fact that some parents can only take their holidays at times when they can be released by their employer). A day’s strike may inconvenience and irritate… but that is the point.
    Don’t forget also that most teachers are working hours way too long, taking on duties that are simply paper creation for no good reason… I mean in reality, who ever really looks at 90% of the guff we are forced to create…IEPs? Is there really a point?
    There is supposed to be a downward pressure on working hours.. Ha, ha!
    Don’t forget that teachers are paid for only 195 days a year… work for 200 giving 5 days unpaid work during inset days… Teacher’s pay is ammortised over 360 days… it may appear that you get paid for your holidays… you do not! You don’t even get the ‘holiday pay’ that other occupations/professions receive.
    Think on this… In Australia… a very similar culture… teachers have an entitlement to 90 days paid leave after 10 years of service. In Canada… 1 year’s sabbatical after 7 years of service.
    Don’t be conned, get militant.

  2. The lack of Business Studies teaching jobs out there is simply depressing and scary, which I am experiencing first hand recently qualified with a PGCE – and pensionless btw (spent the last 6 years bringing up children – unpaid!) So, if any of you Business Studies teachers out there are so unhappy with your lot, then I would be very happy to take over from you…..times are not good for anyone right now.

  3. In case anyone has forgotten, it was not only Teachers that went out on strike. However as usual for all governments, it is the Teachers that get all the publicity and condemnation, as they are the easy target for politicans. Why should Teachers have to pay more, for longer and get less. The politicans are not having to pay more for their pensions, for longer and to get less.

  4. The financial trouble that the country is in, isn’t most people’s fault, but everyone is paying, whether you work within the public sector or the private sector, employed and self employed. People are affected by having to take pay cuts, not having pay rises, having the working week reduced, not getting as many customers which obviously impacts the turnover, therefore the wages etc. The pensions in the private sector began changing at least ten years ago and they weren’t even half as decent as the pensions that many civil servants get now or are still going to get if the changes happen. We are all making some scarifices. Thank you to all striking teachers for wanting to inconvenience and irritate parents, who are also struggling on the whole to make ends meet and then further pee off bosses by needing to take time off work, when the next chop where they work could be them!

  5. I think in this economic climate we need to accept the facts whether from this Government or the next. There is simply no money in the pot. Going on strike is not going to sway the government. I am a Psychology Lecturer, I have never cared much about how much I get paid, and realistically this current state of affairs with pensions was always going to happen. Just being lucky enough to be employed is great. My top priority is my students, money just doesn’t come into it.

  6. I tried striking in the 80’s – it just made me feel unprofessional so I left and forged a new career. If you don’t like the job get a new one. It is possible and life is that simple.

  7. To the person called Catherine,if you do want the job,so go for it instead of complaining that you were at home for 6 years rising your kids and being unpaid: I wish I could have done what you did,but instead I had to work and be a single parent.When I hear people like you I’m feeling sick:You should shut up and enjoy your luck to have a husband working for you and stop attacking workers who fight to survive they and their kids.

  8. I’ve taught at an FE college and fully appreciate the teachers (and all other public employees) feelings about their pay, working conditions and pensions. Most professionals trained to an equivilent level working in the private sector are paid much more than teachers. Yet they don’t have to put up with constant abuse from schoolchildren who wield the real power in schools and constantly increasing unrealistic targets, which overload them with pointless paperwork.

    I’ve heard recent comments to the effect that for every 2 new teachers joining the profession, 3 are leaving every year. If there’s even the slightest element of truth in this, I’m not at all surprised. Sadly, I don’t know a college lecturer or school teacher who can say in all honesty and sincerity that they feel professionally valued.

    No teacher takes strike action lightly, so if they do strike there’s got to be something seriously wrong. The governments attitude and action is going to seriously discourage any good potential recruit to teaching, which will have serious long-term economic consequences for the country.

  9. Catherine, people who try and get a strikers job during a work stoppage are seen in very unfavourable terms by both the employer and the unions. This shouldn’t be seen as an opportunity for you to obtain employment but as a time to question the working conditions and demands placed on professionals employed in your target role.
    I have been through 4 strikes and uncountable work to rule events during a 43 year career in education and industry. These events usually hurt everyone, not just the parents or clients and it is almost always settled in a lose-lose situation. The strikers are forced to return with a less than satisfactory agreement in place(or a decree) and the government has often ignored the real issues causing the strike, hoping that (and often knowing so) it will all blow over with time (until the next negotiations?).
    Cost cutting is necessary in this economic crisis BUT it has to be shared. Are the MP’s cutting their inflated salaries, benefits and retirement plans as well? I really doubt it. Are the local OFSTD authorities taking deep pay,benefits and pension cuts? Are administrators being asked to make the same sacrifices teachers are? If the answers to these questions is no, as I suspect, then why should the strikers be asked to bear this unfair burden AND at the same time made the scapegoats for political mismanagement of the education system and the public’s financial well-being?

  10. I agree that teachers are asked to give more than most other professions and certainly teachers receive very little in return, but I do feel that leaving classes unmanned is perhaps not the way. What about just refusing to do all the meaningless admin which is, to say the least, a load of ‘cods’.
    Giving the statistic-collecting bureaucrats a shake up might achieve the required affect?????

  11. Thank you for your comments everyone, we are making sure they appear live as quickly as possible!

  12. good morning :

    this is jenny, it’s first time here.
    i am a chinese professor, a number of teach net.and i applied for the teacher job many times here. but the visa officer think i want to live UK forever, so he don’t give me visa, i don’t konw how to do. i am very diserpointed.
    can you help me or give me a good idea. i can play taiji, play piano and make many workhand projects.
    thank you!

  13. Successive corrupt governments, corrupt banks and corporations are responsible for the current world financial crisis (which is set to get worse) NOT the ordinary people i.e. the majority. The riots in Greece, Spain and Ireland are just a taster of what is to come.

    Successive corrupt government have used the public sector, conning the electorate that they are making changes to improve, for example, the NHS, education, the essential services ….. you tell me what improvements have been made? My observations are that, in fact, services have declined in effectiveness not improved.

    And NOW they want to con public sector employees into working longer, pay more and reciev less in terms of pension income …………….. this is worth fighting for – SO USE YOUR LEGAL RIGHT TO WITHDRAW YOUR LABOUR OR WORK TO RULE……

  14. The rank hypocrisy of right wing tabloids who’ve demonised single parents for decades claiming to speak for them is staggering. In fact I’ve found that many sympathise with our action precisely because they’re facing similar pressures (either in cuts to benefits or pay/conditions at work) as this government copies the austerity policies that have been SO successfully implemented in Greece, Spain and Ireland. Many are happy to see someone ‘have a go’ in response – and many more can be convinced if we keep up the momentum.
    As an ex-Catholic I’m very familiar with guilt, but I’m not going to be morally blackmailed by a government that is happy for students to miss school for the sake of a royal wedding, and distort and diminsh their education for pedagogically redundant tests, and close their schools so that market forces can be seen to prevail (as revealed in a recent leaked report).
    With the NAHT likely to ballot in the Autumn in support of further action, we need to get organised in our unions and out into our communities to ensure the biggest impact possible – because strong teacher unions fighting for education are good for students too.

  15. At one time Education, theology, the law and medicine shared the same status in society. Successive conservative governments have diminished teachers status irreparably. It makes me furious when I have to visit the doctor and all they can say is take some paracetamol refer me on and wait for two years, some service? What salary? What pension? Etc. We are Educators not child minders!! For a meaningful recovery this country needs a high quality well supported teaching profession that is fairly rewarded. No one would choose to strike, the unions are working hard at all other strategies and if they don’t work we will all go out on sustained strike action. The profession is worth fighting for.

  16. I totally agree with the strike, since this government has come into power they are taking away everything, until all we have left is our dignity, I am sure they will continue hack away at that aswell. If we do not make a stand when they have the country in the state it is in we do not have a hope in the future, so to everyone out there fighting for the rights we truly deserve I commend you. We are the only country that sits back and takes what they throw at us, we pay our taxes, they want more and smile when they say “it is your fault you should have checked it” gone are the days of depending on an organisation to get things right.

    There is only one message that should be sent to this government STICK IT, 3 years into a resession and they still can’t get us anywhere near out of it, but they are still grinding away at taking even more from us, STRIKE is all this government will understand.

  17. Many of us in the private sector have reduced pensions these days –we are forced to change pension schemes when outsourced for example. Teachers even with the changes will still have a better pension than the majority of UK workers AND they have good employment prospects throughout their working lives (in contrast to the IT sector where youth presides over experience). So shut up and put up like the rest of us!

  18. The government seen to want to simply devide the country into public and private sector and to pretend that the private sectior are the ones being treated unfairly.
    Public sector pensions have been earnt as were the private sector pensions. Just because private sector pansions have been deminished by equally tretcherous actions by employers is not a good reason to allow public sector pensions to be decimated.
    I remember employers taking pension holidays and paying share holders big bonuses at that time rather than investing them, then there is the likes of the Maxwells and the fact that pensions in the private sector on the continent are paying up to twice what they are here in the UK because of ther iniquitous charges made by the funds plus taxes placed on them by Gordon Brown.
    I am coming up to 57. I have payed back extra years and invested in AVCs to “ensure” a decent retirement. The teachers have already had their pension changed , if we allow this how long will ity be before the next deterioration of pay and conditions. The changes from RPI and the pay freeze will already directly reduce my pension as it stands……this is enough on its own to make a stand let alone the reality that on substantial matters the govenment has already made its mind up.
    There are other ways to pay for the deficit….this is a political choice, not a need, an opprtunity to take advantage of ordinary people who have no other way of defending themselves but to strike. Let those who caused the problems be the ones to pay. Let our pensions be formuled in the same manner as MPs and remain attached to them, then we really will get a gold plated option! Their hypocracy is astounding. WE REMEMBER THE EXPENSES SCANDAL EVEN IF YOU DONT! Millionares taking £25,000 per anum in interest payments on their mortgages (Mr Cameron) at tax payers expense. Why couldnt they just buy the house outright?
    How dare they now lecture us on morality when their position amounts to fraud, we worked with one set of pay and conditions and now its time to pay up they change them.
    Teachers need to get hold of the facts and make a stand with the other unions otherwise you are doomed to an end to your career of flagging zeal, sickness and premature death ( which again will reduce costs to the robber barrons of our day). I have nevwer been on strike ever before but now, for the first time, having been pushed into a corner by a bully will fight back in any legal way possible.

  19. The range of comments reflects the diverse thoughts and feelings held on this issue. For me the key strands are that:

    1. I do not believe any teacher takes strike action rashly, it is a last resort.
    2. In 2007 the previous Labour government successfully negotiated a deal on pensions that was sustainable and headed off the slippery slope to a pensions funding black hole.
    3. The latest report on state pension funding reaffirms that the teachers pensions schemes – yes, since 2007 there are two – are sustainable, self financing and not a drain on the public purse.
    4. This government has only entered negotiations because they were forced into it by concerted union pressure.
    5. The right honourable D Alexander, Treasury Chief Secretary, has made statements during the negotiations that make it abundantly clear that teachers pensions will be reduced by dint of increased contributions and pushing out the retirement age no matter what.
    6. Without any negotiation or warning the pensions have been switched from RPI to CPI (a reduction).
    7. The strictures of the 2007 agreement also remain in place for all teachers and thus those entering post the agreement get less anyway (including changes to actuarially reduced benefits for early retirment).
    8. As a rule of thumb non-teaching graduates earn more through their employment than teachers and thus governments have previously upheld the final salary pension basis to compensate for this. So you either earn more during you employment and take less in pension or earn less and have a better pension. The current machinations would leave teachers earning less and taking less in pensions too!
    9. Yes, there is a sense in which we are all in this together, and teachers along with many other types of employment are facing a pay freeze and redundancies. So will the non-teachers (a) recognise that it is a graduate profession and (b) stop carping on as if teachers are being protected from the pain in some way or other.

    A principal culprit in the vacuous rhetoric is the media who hunt for and publish a one sided narrative to sensationalise the issue and completely fail in their responsibility to present a balanced and researched view.

  20. KIM – you are so typical of those private sector sheep who believe the propaganda – reality is that private sector pensions were mismanaged, fraudulent and over optimistic – they were bound to fail and they did …………………. public sector pension have been properly managed and are now a target for yet another corrupt government to save money by diverting taxes away from PS pensions in an attempt to add to the rip off, of the majority through various schemes in an attempt to sort out the economic chaos created by criminal governments, banks and corporate enterprises.
    SO Kim …………… get real – realise that you have been stitched up and join the fight for the majority of ordinary people to be properly and democratically governed from here on in.

  21. what pains me is that pension is the money you chose to save so that when you are old you can have a fall back.what belong to the gov’t is the un-taxed portion which they would eventually when the money is due.what if teachers refuse to belong to the pension scheme what would you do govt? why do you want us that old before we can enjoy our money,mind you; you talk to people who have sense and knows what they want not because you said it.and for parents, its all about children and families what is your contribution or advise to govt on the way teachers are being treated for looking after your children? i am a mum too; cant you understand our feelings??? if you hear teachers are on strike then stay at home with your children and allow us the right to be heard.even the teacher on strike needs a childminder to be out in the street.

  22. It is definitely right for teachers to take strike action otherwise we sit back and allow the government to steal our pensions from us, after we have payed into a scheme for years with the promise of a decent living after retirement. This is our money that we have paid in and now cannot access. We join thousands of other workers under the same threat.
    The argument that the private sector does not enjoy the same benefits surely means that those pensions should be brought up to a decent level, not ours pushed down.

  23. What point was the eteach intro to this blog trying to make -‘both parents are working’ so what? Are we merely childminders then? The point of striking was to ensure we get what we had been promised and paid for over a number of years!!! How can we possibly have 67 or 68 year olds teaching in a classroom? I have worked in schools recently with 34 children in reception class how is a 65+ year old supposed to cope with that? Not all of us will get or want cosy Headteacher positions (which often mean we only have to see children at assemblies) some of us like to do the job we trained to do but honestly will we be able to do it at 65+ I don’t think so…

  24. Going on strike means nothing and it achieves nothing. I believe that our unions should spend time making our lot better. They should this by lobbying and debate not by taking some sort of moral high ground and pretending they speak in our collective interest. In my view they don’t.

    Why have teachers and lecturers been used as whipping posts by both sides?

    We are professional facilitators of education. Our job is clear.

    The question should be. Why have the unions allowed pay to fall, hours to increase and treatment of professionals’ respect be eroded?

    I pay union dues for reasons that do not include giving union reps bulging pockets and expensive suits.

    Strike, no thanks. My job is to teach and if I don’t want to anymore then I will change my job.
    It’s quite simple really.

    I say that you’ve done little to protect us in the past so why start now.

  25. In response to your comments Patrica, you dont know my circumstances – not only was I looking after my children, but also helping my mother care for my father who had early on-set alzheimers….I would not call that a choice, and as soon as I was able, I did go ahead and start to forge myself a career , so I did appreciate what I had because I chose to dedicate myself to my family. I commend anyone who is a fighter and you don’t have to be a single parent to be one.

  26. Catherine, I bet you had no choice to care for him… social services are so stretched that they simply cannot provide the time or money or services everyone needs. and a lot of vulnerable adults fall through the care gap meaning families have to rely on charities. The question on this blog is should teachers strike ? The country has no money!!! Noone has any money!! (except fat cats) the regular private sector company is suffering – those in this sector are having their pensions, benefits and rights cut too – can they / do they ? go on strike?

  27. Did they actually achieve anything from going on strike and i have been told by my daughters school that they plan ANOTHER STRIKE later on this year, not all the schools in our area were affected by this strike, so some were open as usual, so why could something not be sorted out a long time before all this happened, its not as if this just happened over night…the Goverment promised us that the talks they were having would HOPEFULLY sort this out….!!! and guess what it didnt happen…!!!!, i no the kids did not mind, they had an extra day off school, but what about us working parents, who then have to organise EXTRA CHILDCARE..!!!, extra m0ney that we have to find, do we get an apology for having to sort our family out so that the teachers can go on strike….NO…!!!, just expected to carry on as usual,
    I wish that this Goverment would actually do something right that they have promised us, and not let it be all talk and no action…so if there is to be another strike, then lets hope that it can be sorted out before we have to go through this ALL OVER AGAIN…PLEASE PLEASE THINK OF US WORKING PARENTS..WHO HAVE TO EITHER FIND A CHILDMINDER, OR TAKE TIME OFF WORK TO LOOK AFTER OUR CHILDREN…EITHER WAY WE LOOSE OUT ON MONEY FOR ONE DAYS STRIKE….!!

  28. The words ‘strike’ and ‘education’ seem to be resounding in so many countries. Education is being attacked in both Canada and the U.S. as well. In North America education is being treated as more of a business, with rights and protection being stripped from agreements so that governments can fire teachers on a whim instead of working with the teacher to improve their practice. It is a sad time for teacher as we have to fight for a profession which was once held with esteem and dignity but has been reduced to dollars and pounds.

    I am from British Columbia, Canada and, yes, my union is currently going through then negotiation process with our government. It is a difficult time as we have a government which wants to strip our collective agreement and build one which undermines teachers in a dramatic way, stripping our professional atonomy. When I return to work in the fall our union will be strike action starting with work to rule – not doing those little administrative things that create extra paper work. (I look at it as a bee sting – it is just annoying for administration.) If things do not get worked out between the government and the union strike action will be escalated. Did I vote to go this route – yes. Did I take this action strictly because of money – no. I voted yes because a government shouldn’t have the right to dictate, it should negotiate because that is democracy.

    I sympathize with parents for the inconvenience a strike has for them. I really wish these steps would not have to come but if teachers do not stand up for themselves – their job conditions, etc. – who will? If we value education and all it offers then someone has to stand for those that do the teaching.

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