The insularity and arrogance of the government has now engineered a collision course with the teaching profession as the NAHT today announced that it was “highly likely” that heads would now ballot for a strike over pension changes. Last month, two of the country's main teaching unions voted to ballot members for a national strike over reforms.
The government’s refusal to listen to the concerns of teachers – from academies and free schools, pensions, EMA, BSF, schools sports partnerships, the reform of the national curriculum, synthetic phonics – may result in the closing of thousands of primary and secondary schools in June.
A pyromaniac’s fuse was lit back in December when Lord Hill of Oareford, Under-Secretary of State for Schools, wrote to Academies advising them to ignore NASUWT’s request that they sign up to an agreement that their teachers would continue to work under national pay and conditions. Furthermore, he hinted that ministers might even turn down schools (already desperate for cash) for academy status if they declared themselves happy to stick with national pay agreements. He may well be encouraging academies to flout the law in which case they could face judicial review or an employment tribunal.
The government then poured more petrol on the fire by announcing that teachers would do their training not in universities but in schools. The inferno now threatens to rage further out of control as teachers, like all public sector workers, refuse to be made scapegoats for a financial crisis they did not cause.
Governments usually only commission an independent review if they know the outcome, so it was no surprise that Lord Hutton’s recommendation was neither “fair” nor “independent” as he claimed. He said his recommendations are not about cutting the deficit but about making schemes "sustainable and affordable" but this is untrue and he knows it. Even his own interim report last October showed that the cost of public sector pensions is falling. The National Audit Office report in December showed that changes already agreed will reduce public sector pensions costs by 14%.
What fatally undermines Hutton's argument, though, is Gideon Osborne explicitly telling parliament that "from the perspective of filling the hole in the public finances, we will seek changes that deliver an additional £1.8bn of savings per year in the cost of public service pensions by 2014-15".
So public sector pensions are being cut not because they are unaffordable or unsustainable but because there's a hole in the public finances and that wound was not blasted open by public spending, public sector workers or their pensions but by the banking crisis and the recession that resulted. And the banks? Business as usual – bonuses cut but salaries increased to make up for it.
The unpalatable truth is this government does not respect teachers as it does not respect public servants who provide public services – health workers are taking a battering from Andrew Lansing – so they will withhold a decent wage and a decent pension.
But they will bend over backwards for the private sector - especially if they want to profit from the public sector, so we should be even more vigilant of the recommendations of the ASI report, allowing profit making companies to run academies and free schools. The pension row has its tentacles wrapped around this issue too. The CBI’s John Cridland recently argued that public sector pensions act as a barrier for "third sector and private sector organisations" who want to run public services. If these organisations want to scrimp on staff pensions it begs the question, are these the sort of organisations that we want running our welfare system, our schools and our hospitals? The government appear to think so. No wonder they want to push through unfair pension reform.
Gove made the usual placatory murmurings at the NAHT Conference today but three things are clear. The first is that the disruption to our children’s education in the summer term is the result of the government’s dismantling of our schools and their contempt for teachers. The second is that the attack on pensions is about crude cuts to solve a problem public sector workers did not cause. The third is that government policy is laying down the stepping stones towards the wholesale privatisation of schools and other public services.