NEU teacher strikes are scheduled to go ahead this week despite union members in Scotland backing a pay deal. National walkouts are planned for March 15 and 16 in schools in England and Wales.
Steve Hitchcock www.devonlive.com
Unions are calling for above-inflation increases, and want schools to get extra money to ensure pay rises don’t come from existing budgets. The Department for Education said it wanted “formal talks on pay, conditions and reform, ahead of the latest strike days – but only if the NEU called them off.
One school in Devon will be closed on Thursday as staff at St Peter’s C of E Primary School, Budleigh Salterton, take part in a national day of strike action. Headteacher Steve Hitchcock has written to parents to inform them of the closure.
He said that staff feel strongly about striking in order to support our children’s education around staff recruitment, funding and pay, but recognise the pressure of two days of striking and an INSET day on parents, so have tried to compromise by striking on Thursday only. He added: “Personally, I am furious with the lack of engagement from the government, who are refusing to talk to the unions.”
He has written a letter which he sent to the DfE, his MP Simon Jupp, and the parents at our school. Read the full letter below
I felt compelled to reply to your email to headteachers on 24th February 2023. The views expressed here are my own, but I feel my work across my county gives me a good understanding and calibration of the feeling in schools. It is no wonder that the unions did not pause the strike action in the way you wanted. The DfE consistently refuses to listen to the profession and confront reality. My community of headteachers has been meeting with our local Conservative MP for many years, and we sound like a broken record.
The first point I want to make is that there is no trust between the DfE and Headteachers. In order for any profession to thrive, there must be equal measures of challenge and support. The matrix on the right very neatly shows this, and I am afraid to say the staff in your schools are predominantly in the ‘stressed’ box.
Recruitment and retention
The second point I want to make is that the DfE has to confront the reality that there is an acute retention and recruitment crisis in schools. It’s well known that MPs, ministers and certain elements of the population think that teachers are overpaid, lazy and get too much holiday. If that is really the case, then why does no one want to be a teacher (or teaching assistant) anymore? Things are getting worse, not better, as schools are expected to support families with health, parenting, diet, social work and more. These issues need to be taken more seriously by the DfE.
It is incredibly frustrating to hear the DfE use the same line each time there is a criticism of school funding. “The additional £2 billion going into schools in both 2023-24 and the following year means that by 2024-25 schools will be funded at their highest levels in history.” But it is not enough. Relative to both needs and the proportion of GDP of other developed countries, it falls short. A decade of austerity and a pandemic has caused a significant erosion of all elements of schools. My role as a headteacher is more as a fundraiser and community worker than an educator.
To tell staff that they can’t have a pay rise because it would cause inflation is frankly an insult. The point of a pay rise is so our wages keep up with inflation. How is it acceptable to receive a 20% cut in your salary over a decade, whilst being expected to deal with more expectations in school? If I asked my hairdresser to trim my hair and then massage my back, cut my toenails and clean my shoes, whilst taking away some of her equipment and paying her less, she would think I was mad! That’s not an unfair analogy of what is happening in schools.
My suggestions to fix this would be to start a national consultation on the point of schools and education in our country. Society has changed dramatically and the school system has not kept pace with this. A modern school is way more than just a place to learn a curriculum.
Parents no longer have access to support services, more children are in poverty, parents are expected to be in work more, and life growing up (particularly around safeguarding and the online world) is way more complex than in the past. Schools need to be re-imagined and given the resources to meet the needs of a modern family.
At the end of the pandemic there was an opportunity to revolutionise schools (hours, holidays, provision, expectations) which was missed, but it’s not too late to engage in a meaningful re-visioning of schools.
Children and families are still reeling from austerity and pandemic. We shouldn’t have children and families with so much stress, poverty and mental illnesses.
Does the government believe Schools are just about education? In that case, you need to instruct us to stop all the other support work we do, and provide it in another way. Schools are more than education? If we are ‘everything to everyone’ then schools need the funding, resources and recognition.
Whether you like it or not, schools feel the moral imperative to intervene constantly to support our families, with no recognition from the DfE or Ofsted. Imagine a school system where we were recognised for this, through inspection or more public respect from our MPs. It would improve staff wellbeing knowing they were doing more of a service than just teaching the curriculum.
It’s in all of our best interests, but most of all in children’s interests, to resolve these issues in a meaningful way. Strike action has a minimal effect on children’s education and well-being compared to the significant longer term issues that I have described above.
Pupils, families and school staff need way more support than ever before, and the current relationship between schools and the DfE is not going to resolve things effectively.
I would recommend that you:
· Re-imagine the purpose of schools and education in this country.
· Work towards a trusting relationship between the DfE and schools, so there is an equal level of challenge and support.
· Acknowledge the issues that we raise. If we can’t have more money, be clear what we need to stop doing and providing. If you can’t recruit more school staff, lower our expectations on what we can achieve.
· Stop patronising schools by saying school funding is at the highest level ever, when we are saying we need more to meet children and family’s needs, and keep our school buildings in good condition. I hope this is helpful. I would be happy to elaborate further on any of my points
St Peter’s CoE Primary School