NUT strike closes hundreds of Welsh schools
Build the action with all Welsh teaching unions
Today’s NUT strike provided an outlet for the simmering anger that most teachers feel about what is being done to education and the attacks on their pay, pension and working conditions. Across Wales about half of schools had closures - almost 500 schools were partially closed and 297 were completely shut. Many other work places were affected as the greater concentration of NUT members in primary schools meant that parents had to take the day off.
In Cardiff 400 teachers gathered on the steps of the Senedd to listen to speakers and enthusiastically grade UK education secretary Michael Gove’s performance as “inadequate!”, (the lowest rating used to grade teachers by the Estyn inspectors).
After a two year pay freeze, followed by a year with a below inflation 1% pay rise, teachers are now in dispute over pay and particularly over performance-related pay which has been proved not to work in education and will be used as a way of cutting teachers’ pay as school budgets are squeezed, as well as dividing teachers and undermining essential teamwork. On top of that constant changes to the curriculum and assessment many of which are inappropriate for pupils’ needs has led to a situation where primary school teachers are working an average of nearly 60 hours a week and secondary teachers 56.
It is now over two years since the dispute with the Condem government started over increased pension contributions and a retirement age of 68, even though the teachers’ pension scheme is in credit and is on target to remain so.
Although pay and conditions are not devolved to the Welsh government, curriculum matters and teachers’ appraisal are within their remit, and the Labour Welsh Government could do much to alleviate the pressures on teachers. Instead NUT Cymru research shows that stress related absence is increasing in Wales and the latest fear is that Estyn will introduce no notice inspections and add even more to teacher stress. This is against a background of 40% of new teachers in England and Wales quitting in the first five years and increasing suicide rates amongst older teachers who may not feel they can leave.
It was hardly surprising then, that boos greeted Leighton Andrews, the former Welsh education minister who was forced to resign last year, when he spoke at the rally at the Senedd.
Many NASUWT and UCAC members will be asking why they were not included in the strike at a time of unprecedented attacks on teachers. The reason given by the NASUWT leadership is that Gove is engaging in talks but so far no government ministers have attended any meetings, and civil servants who have no power to negotiate can only discuss how the changes will be implemented, not to make any concessions on the change itself. The widespread support among teachers for one teaching union will be reinforced by the NASUWT leadership’s lack of action.
It is important that this successful strike does not remain an isolated gesture but is followed by a clear programme of intensified further strike action which will allow other unions to co-ordinate their action with the NUT and will stop Gove in his tracks.
NUT Cymru rep
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