Michael Gove set himself on a direct collision course with teachers this morning when he appeared on the Andrew Marr show to denounce this week’s strike action, claiming that such militancy would inconvenience thousands of working families, especially single mothers, and that teachers risked a loss to their reputations if they went ahead with it.
This is the latest of a series of confrontations resulting from the public’s dissatisfaction with a Coalition government made up on the one hand by the Conservatives, who still haven’t won an election since Thatcher’s day, and on the other, the LibDems, who are in their final death throes having been fatally knifed by their own Coalition partner.
The first serious confrontation, of course, was against university fees and that laid bare not just a level of anger not seen in young people since probably the 1970s but the hypocrisy of the LibDems and the unsettling, unconvincing and hastily arranged political marriage of Cameron and Clegg.
The public and bloody battle with the NHS has gone into temporary ceasefire but that garnered huge public support, as did the March protests, when public protest with the government’s bloody amputation of public services first made itself collectively heard. And opposition remains worryingly high for the government, especially on the back of more unwelcome news of pay rises for senior figures in the banking industry whose reckless gambling and negligence triggered the global crisis in the first place.
So, I am not at all certain that a teachers’ strike is going to be seen as militant or as self protective as Gove likes to makes us believe. Everyone is feeling the pinch, so my guess is that a lot of people will feel a great deal of sympathy and solidarity as they did when students took to the streets to protest not just about tuition fees but the destruction of public services and institutions.
Anticipating this, I wonder whether Gove didn’t go on the show with the express purpose of sowing discontent against the teaching profession, just in case no one was much bothered? No doubt some will be inconvenienced over childcare issues on just one single day, but people are more than just inconvenienced by the Coalition’s bleak economic policies. Bleak not just because they are so austere but because they offer little hope of growth and recovery. This means stagnating or folding businesses, more unemployment, more state dependence and a generation of young people leaving school or higher education with no professional future to enrich and give some meaning to their post-study lives.
Single mothers? This, from a party that has offered little support to single mothers or their attempts to find employment, but has gone out of its way to stigmatise and demonise them. Yet he now asks for schools to stay open so that an army of mums and perhaps some dads (women, especially, have been hit hardest by the financial cuts) can take over lessons, subject of course to CPR checks. This is so unrealistic that it’s objective can only be yet another insidious way of trying to turn public opinion against the teaching profession, who he will also blame and punish for underperformance in schools, no matter what mitigating circumstances there may be.
I think the teaching unions could have avoided falling into this obvious trap had they made much more of their unhappiness with the way Gove has continually ignored their concerns about key education policies and their concern over how they will compromise or even damage the education of the children of the very people he is appealing to now in order to discredit teachers. It was all over the broadsheets and internet but how many people got to see or hear of it?
The truth is teachers, like so many of us who are frustrated and angry with an increasingly dictatorial, arrogant yet incompetent Education Secretary, are at the end of their tether and left with no more options to be heard, taken seriously and respected. Pension cuts are the final straw and Gove knows it, so he is disingenuous now to claim that strike action is “premature”.
As Peter Hain, who appeared on the show just before Gove, said “Teachers and others are not strike-happy. What this government should do is withdraw their unilateral, reckless attacks on these workers and get round the negotiating table like everyone wants them to do."
It is impossible to see how such a confrontational and dismissive attitude towards teachers is going to encourage them to stay in the profession and for people to consider it as a career option. Gove has done everything to demotivate them. He pays some lip service to the value of teachers, saying he respects their knowledge and expertise, but he will then contradict himself by trying to review the way teachers are trained, encouraging his new schools not to hire trained teachers at all and have one of his stooges write to schools, insinuating that if they pay the agreed union rates to teachers, they might not get their Academy conversions approved.
Gove and the rest of the government need to wake up to the growing discontent that their schools policies is arousing, because it is not going to quieten down nor is it going to go away and it is certainly going to get more and more emotive, well-organised and powerful. The ugly and cynical battle with the NHS exposed the government’s plunder-weaken-then-privatise-agenda and that same agenda is being stealthily applied to education.
No doubt he will try again to put it down to left wing militancy but the truth is opposition to school reforms, like the opposition to the cuts, spreads across all classes, political persuasions and within cities, towns and villages up and down the country. I very much hope that the strike will give some much needed media profile to, and greater political and public debate about, the destruction of state school education, since it is evident that more and more people are examining the issues, rejecting the government spin and realising that the damage the “reforms” are doing to education, communities and the country as a whole, will have a profound effect on the future cohesion of the country.
It is not a strike by the very people committed to teaching children that will impede children’s education and inconvenience our life for a few days. The badly conceived, poorly implemented and socially divisive policies enforced by Gove and Cameron will do that for decades to come if they are not stopped.