My careers since studying Mechanical Engineering at Cardiff have been a Project Engineer in 3 jobs over 10 years up to 1997. Then a secondary maths PGCE and 4 years at two challenged schools teaching Maths. Then (with a young family) 8 years as a part time supply teacher in over 100 settings including primary and special education. For the last 4 years I have worked four days per week as NUT Joint Divisional Secretary for Sheffield doing organising, negotiating and casework.
I am a life long human rights activist - I have chaired several Amnesty International groups, held other posts, been delegate to their conference many times and been involved in local and international campaigning.
I first became active in the NUT when, as a supply teacher and parent, my two local community schools were closed and reopened as one under BSF. I chaired the campaign to prevent this including a march of 500 local residents and the defeat of 2 Labour councillors (this was Labour policy) in favour of 2 Lib Dems who supported our campaign in staunchly Labour Hillsborough (David Blunkett's constituency). This helped result in a hung council and the overturning of the decision to close the schools by 2 votes including the invaluable support off the Green Party Councillors - I joined the Green Party at this point. A month later, Labour sided with the 1 Tory councillor and an independent (and a Lib-Dem was absent) to reverse the decision. The DfE was threatening the entire £240M rebuild programme in Sheffield if the closures did not occur. As I have always found, local council officers may as well work for the DfE as they never put Sheffield’s interests in front of DfE advice or try to negotiate for Sheffield. Our elected Councillors rarely stand up to the officers advice either.
I think it understandable (with the subsequent ConDem Government) that I have a huge sense of betrayal in all the mainstream parties and the politicised civil service. The campaign did prevent the new school being auctioned off for academisation. However, alas, it has subsequently been forced into academisation - as so often happens after such an upheaval, the new school struggled to get on its feet quickly enough and Ofsted landed.
Both of my children have been to an excellent local primary school and are now at the new secondary where, so far, they are happy (as far as teenagers will admit) and being well looked after and educated by dedicated teachers. These teachers do their excellent work very much in spite of rather than because of recent changes in education. It is a cause of great worry to me as a parent that staff turnover is rising as it is in many schools.
My politicisation through these experiences and my growing understanding of the march of the neo-liberals in all mainstream parties made me want to be active in the NUT which has always had such a principled position in education. My work with Amnesty has diminished as my work for the NUT has increased. I understand that it is hard for the NUT to be the only body in education willing to make an active stand against current Government policy. Though we have made a number of gains – small improvements in the attack on pensions, the STRB
refusal to rip up non-pay Terms and Conditions, the demise of Gove, the Workload Challenge, Better Ofsted and Government advice – we have not created any significant shift in political policy or created tangible change across the board on the ground. As a result, the unreported crisis continues to escalate with the predictable failure of vocational teacher training and record numbers of teachers walking away from the profession. Huge sums of money are being stolen from the classroom to spend on privatisation.
More than ever we need professional unity amongst the teaching unions. However, even more important is that the whole teaching establishment, in particular the head teachers' unions, need to develop more spine in publicly opposing the lunatic policies that have been and are being followed. This should include promoting alternatives based on evidence and the de-politicisation of education as well as joining boycotts and even taking strike action. There has never been so much at stake.