Bermondsey’s teachers are brilliant! From the split-site St James Church of England school, to the vibrant Riverside primary – both graded ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted, both in the top 6% of schools nationally – our schools are getting better and better. So, it was disappointing for many Bermondsey pupils and parents that members of the National Union of Teachers chose to hold a one-day strike on Thursday of this week, disrupting the domestic and work lives of some of Britain’s poorest families. Without a time-limited ballot, the union was able to call-out its members on an old mandate, voted for by a tiny proportion of its members – hardly democracy in action.
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But, with thousands of schools nationally forced to shut up shop, what was so important that local parents had little option but to miss work and lose a day’s pay, or find urgent child care? Well, the NUT cite workload and bureaucracy, performance-related pay, changes to pensions, talks between government and unions and teacher numbers as the main reasons. But, four out of five of these were problems for the NUT under recent Labour governments too – is there anything that the union agrees with? Stuck in the 1970s, it doesn’t understand that the world has changed; paying by performance raises standards and spurs on individuals to work harder and achieve better results.
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Strikes in the education sector do not work. Dialogue does. Choosing arbitrarily the issues on which it bases strikes, the NUT ignores a myriad of other perfectly valid reasons for action: class sizes (30 children is too many); standards of behaviour and lack of discipline; absence of competitive sport and learning; lack of parental responsibility and involvement; under-performing teachers. Bermondsey’s teachers need their unions to act responsibly, defending their interests but acting primarily in the needs of the children. These strikes test parents' patience, and damage the reputation of the teaching profession.
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Thankfully, not all Bermondsey classrooms were closed. The NUT should spend less time focusing on the needs of the union and vested interests, and more time fighting for better lives and opportunities for our children. They should promote higher expectations of teachers and children, encourage a diversity of schools and, yes, share the best practice of the top schools in the state and private sector. Bermondsey’s poorer kids deserve nothing less.
NUT - 5 reasons to strike
The NUT strike as it happened
10th July strikes