One of the unreported comments from the Spectator schools conference
last week were Michael Gove's on the strike action that the NUT and NASUWT
are proposing later on this summer. These unions are striking over a few things but teachers' pay is probably their most significant complaint; the abandoning of national pay scales and the ratcheting up of "performance-related pay" (PRP) are perhaps the most well-publicised changes, but there are other issues too, which you can find here
It's worth watching the video of Gove talking about strikes with Celia Dignan
of the NUT at the Spectator conference, not necessarily because he's saying anything new (he offers talks but promises nothing) but because of the tone he adopts. I would characterise it as mocking and dismissive; you can see his eyes glazing as he talks about the unions. They are like children who are "beyond hope" for him. I don't think he really understands what unions are really. I also think that Andrew Neil, clearly close to Gove, typifies how the media elite view unions; as beneath contempt, to be openly mocked. I thought Celia Dignan did a good job; a left-leaning woman in a very male, testosterone environment, being harried and mocked by both Gove and Neil. They had all the power in that situation, speaking from the podium, she had none, and yet she stood her ground and attempted to pin Gove down on whether he was interested in negotiating. He obviously wasn't.
Instead, he made a rather satirical comment about the possibility of NUT setting up a free school; a policy they've been resolutely opposed to. He admits he would never send his children to such a school which he imagines would be called the 'Antonio Gramsci academy', a reference to a radical Italian Marxist thinker who Gove has referenced before
. This said, maybe it's an idea the unions could consider? The free schools policy is the only game in town at the moment and maybe such a school could become a model of good practice? Or would it be undermined covertly by the government? Or would setting up a school undermine the NUT's credibility? I don't know.
I sense the mood is changing towards the unions in the profession. I think though they'll only have a real impact if they ALL club together and think a bit more imaginatively about what sort of action they will do. At the moment, this piecemeal action feels too much like what happened in the late 1980s when the teaching unions all acted unilaterally and lost the confidence of the public. It's only when more conservative unions like the ATL
can be brought on board that they'll have a genuine impact. That could be about to happen if Gove presses ahead with his plans to change teachers' working hours and holidays. I spoke to an ATL member yesterday and it appears that even they will consider strike action over that.