Should teachers strike? It’s a question that divides opinion not just within the profession but also right across the country. Some will fiercely defend teachers’ decision to strike. Others will be of the opinion that teachers should not even be allowed to take such industrial action.
Of course, which side of the fence you sit on will be influenced in no small part by where you see yourself ideologically on the political spectrum, left or right. Although, the issue of teacher strikes transcends partisan politics to a certain extent, it should be remembered that the Labour Party is traditionally the party of the union movement -and is largely funded by it. And, in many respects, the unions are the sworn enemy of the Conservative Party.
It’s no surprise therefore that such a wide range of opinions are felt, passionately, on both sides of the argument.
Why have teachers taken strike action in recent years?
It’s worthwhile first to consider the reasons why teaching unions have chosen to call for strike action. The last few years have seen a series of strikes that have been called to tackle a variety of issues being faced by the profession.
There was action taken over changes to public sector pensions. The rise in pension contributions combined with pay restraint meant that teachers were seeing a real term cut in their take home pay and a reduction in what they could look forward to in retirement. The ‘work longer for less’ argument was one that was supported by other public sector unions such as Unison, Unite and GMB.
Changes to teacher contracts and the age-old issue of workload are other bones of contention, and in July 2016 the NUT called its first national day of action in 2 years adding concerns to school funding to their growing list of grievances
Should they or shouldn’t they?
Public opinion and support can help to drive strike action. When public support is lost, often the momentum of action is hit too. Junior Doctors, broadly speaking, were largely supported by the general public in their recent action. But as action goes on, public support tends to fall.
Teachers striking over pension changes wasn’t particularly well-received. In the age of austerity, the Conservative/Lib Dem coalition’s mantra was very much that tough decisions simply had to be made ‘in the national interest’ and that everybody ‘had to take a hit’ to a certain extent in tough financial times.
This was a belief largely supported and promoted by the mainly right-wing, Conservative- supporting mainstream media.
Plus, there was the issue that if you are a parent who is forced to stay at home to look after a child because of a strike by teachers – perceived to be middle class professionals arguing over pensions (perceived to be much better than your pension anyway) – you might well not be particularly supportive.
Media reports that in the NUT’s ballot in 2016 – 91.7% voted for strike action but with only a 24.5% turnout – certainly didn’t help to gain much public support.
How have things changed? Should teachers strike over funding?
So, while there will always be those that are adamant that teachers should never strike, the proposed changes to the school funding formula – and as the impact really begins to hit home for many parents – public opinion could well now be more supportive of teacher strikes.
Increased class sizes, a reduced curriculum and cuts to teaching and support staff will obviously impact on a child’s education. Further potential strike action will, of course, only occur after the result of the general election is clear as this will dictate the direction of travel for education over the next five years.
But funding issues might just be the straw that breaks the camel’s back when it comes to teacher strike action. Many will now feel that teachers not only should strike, but that they need to.