Teachers across England and Wales who are part of the largest teaching Union, the National Union of Teachers (NUT), recently called another round of strikes. Irrespective of your thoughts on whether the strikes are justified or not, strike action by teachers causes a great deal of disruption to anyone with children of school age. The rolling nature of the planned strikes, with regions taking it in turns to walk out rather than holding a national strike on one day, is planned to cause maximum disruption to parents and children. So why are the teachers going on strike?
One of the Union’s main bones of contention is that the government has voiced plans to introduce performance related pay for teachers. Under the current teacher pay arrangements, a newly qualified teacher starts at the bottom of the pay scale and the gradually progresses up the grades as they gain more years of experience or take a promotion into other management roles in the school. The government wants to turn this arrangement on its head and although all new teachers will still start on the same salary, pay rises in future would be based on a number of factors such as the grades achieved by the teacher’s students or how well they have worked as part of the teaching team.
Decisions about pay would be made by the head teacher. Unions oppose any such move away from the current pay structure and this forms one of their main arguments for going on strike.
Since the economic crisis of 2008, most of us have taken the opportunity to complete a pension review toensure our current arrangements will provide enough cover for our retirements. Civil service pensions, including the schemes which most teachers are enrolled in, have historically been a final salary pension scheme which in terms of money is more lucrative for the teacher but more expensive to run for the government.
The government has stated their intention to move to a career average salary pension scheme, which calculates your pension based on the average salary earned across the many years of your career rather than what your salary was when you retired. As part of this pension review, teachers will be asked to contribute a higher percentage of their salary each month to maintain their current standard of pension and newly qualified teachers may find they are paying in considerably more than their colleagues. This pension review and the radical redesign of the teacher pension scheme which ensued, has angered many in the public sector and is something the teachers have called a strike over before.
Teachers mainly talk about pay and pensions when calling a strike, because they often feel they won’t get much sympathy from the general public when calling a strike over workload. The common perception is that teachers only work from 9am to 3pm and have long holidays; far more than other professions enjoy. The fact is that in the past decades there has been an increasing workload on teachers, with new curriculum changes requiring far more in terms of lesson planning, evaluation and monitoring pupil progress than previously needed. Teachers are also expected to attend meetings with parents and other staff members out of school hours and to regularly take work home to do in the evenings.
Teaching unions feel that in general the workloads being expected of their members are ever increasing and unless they take a stand over this issue now, things are only likely to get worse in the future as more changes are made. This is therefore the final main reason why teachers are calling another national strike.