Schools across England and Wales are shut today as teachers walk out over pay and conditions
Over the last few months of strike action, right-wing media and politicians have attempted to frame the disputes as solely over pay and workers as ungrateful and greedy. The progressives among us know that this isn’t true, but the new strike action among teachers in England and Wales may be one of the best examples of just how untrue this is.
When you sign up to be a teacher, at the best of times you’re committing to a stream of unpaid overtime, spending evenings or weekends marking homework, or planning lessons for the next week. But a mixture of falling budgets and fallout from the pandemic have meant the last few years have seen these pressures placed on teachers compounding to new extremes.
More and more teachers are now quitting the profession. Eight per cent of the entire teaching workforce left back in 2020/21, and it’s only got worse since then – some 44 per cent of teachers now say they plan to quit the profession in the next five years. The crisis has left increasing numbers of schools unable to actually hire enough teachers to cover their classes without relying on expensive short-term supply teachers. The cost of living crisis, too, has not only seen already burnt-out teachers needing to provide more pastoral support to their pupils, but also many underfunded schools struggling to pay their heating or electricity bills.
And, of course, pay isn’t irrelevant. Despite the workload and pressure only getting worse, the pay to compensate for that has badly stagnated too. Teachers’ pay has dropped by as much as £6,600 since 2010 in real terms, according to research from the Institute for Fiscal Studies. This year alone, soaring inflation has meant salaries for most teachers are set to drop by 5 per cent in real terms.
It’s not unfair to suggest that the UK’s education system is now teetering on the brink of collapse. Nothing else may demonstrate the extent of the problem clearer than the fact that the National Education Union, which voted for the strike, has seen its membership grow by over 32,000 since the vote in the 11 days after it voted to go on strike.
For young teachers that are new to the profession, this crisis is all they’ve known. Now, this strike is a rare chance for their voices to be heard. Dazed spoke to three young teachers about why they’re striking.
Teachers just wanna have funds #SaveOurSchoolspic.twitter.com/W7hzLtEEue— National Education Union (@NEUnion) February 1, 2023
JADE, 25, LONDON
“I think the workload being put on teachers right now is so overwhelming. It’s causing burnout and mental health problems… teachers aren’t treated as normal human beings, they’re treated like this is their calling, like they were born to be a teacher, and so you get to put them under way more pressure than most other professions. It’s not just the case for teachers, either: you hear the same thing about nurses, doctors, and all the people at the frontline.
“The headteacher has asked us to try to not be sick or take days off because supply teachers are expensive. And he’s told us that the school doesn’t get any extra funding for the bills amid this cost of living crisis. Before Christmas, the heating wasn’t put on until the last possible day as they couldn’t afford it. Children were going cold, teachers were going cold.
“I don’t think teachers get enough respect from the government, but also teachers are seen as a means to an end to solve a lot of problems that the government is supposed to deal with. The work falls on the individual teacher to fulfil all their class’s needs, so that everyone can use the teacher as a scapegoat, rather than acknowledge the government’s fault for not providing free school meals, not providing adequate housing or keeping children safe and out of poverty.”
SOPHIE, 27, DURHAM
“The government can’t keep ignoring what’s happening in the education sector. I’ve known a lot of good, experienced teachers who have fled it. Then there are the young teachers who had all these hopes and dreams who went through their degrees in order to teach, but now realise it’s not worth it at the moment. They went into it because they loved the profession, but with what’s happening with the pay freezes, the lack of funding and the workload, it’s not right for them and their mental health. In some cases they’re leaving to get jobs in supermarkets.
“People say teachers only work from half past eight to half past three and they get all these holidays off. But we only get paid for our contract time, and I don’t know any teacher who doesn’t do overtime. They will work for hours before and after school or stay up late at night or over weekends doing work.
“There’s the young teachers who had all these hopes and dreams, who went through their degrees in order to teach, but now realise it’s not worth it”
“I’ve known students who in year 11 have had five or six teachers in one exam subject because so many teachers have left the job. Hopefully in the long run these strikes will make the government sit up and listen and realise that education is in crisis and something needs to happen soon. Otherwise, it’s just going to implode.”
RACHEL, 34, LONDON
“I’m striking for two reasons. The first reason is that I don’t feel that my pay reflects the amount of responsibility I have. And the second reason I’m striking is because of the conditions that I teach under – the stress or the financial stress on schools and the way that it spills over and affects the children.
“When I started the school still had some money and we were able to use that to support vulnerable pupils or organise activities outside of the school and now there’s just nothing left. Our school is on a deficit budget. Now it’s basically like: ‘if you want anything, you’re gonna have to do a cake sale and raise the money yourself’.
“It’s only getting worse as you look around the school. There’s more need from students and more crowded classrooms. I know some people who teach classes of 40 children and they’re just squashing kids in. Or the building is falling apart, the heating doesn’t go on when it’s cold, all these things. It’s just sad.”
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