Tuesday, May 21, 2024
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School’s out – and don’t the teachers love it!


BOSSES of the largest teachers’ union seem determined to keep schools closed for as long as possible. Who cares what is in the best interests of the children, the economy or the country? The National Education Union (NEU) recognises that a moment of opportunity has arrived. It sees a silver lining within the dark cloud of the national and international emergency.

In a highly politicised and power-flexing gesture, the union has set out its negotiating stance for teachers to return to work.

It has published eighteen questions that it requires the government to answer before teachers can consider swinging back into action. What is more, the union has ditched its usual opposition to ‘testing’ so forcefully expressed in the context of schooling. It is, now, all in favour and sets out five tests to ensure that its eighteen questions have been correctly answered by the government.

Failure to answer any part of any question satisfactorily at any stage of the negotiations will require a re-sit and a re-mark at a later stage.

The logic of the union’s position is that the school lockdown can continue indefinitely. This is overwise known as having the government over a barrel. Educational godfathers from the Blob are running the lockdown show.  

The union, of course, claims to ‘want all schools to be reopened’. Quite a concession, you might think, but it adds the ostensibly sensible rider that ‘this must be when it is safe for them to do so’. And there’s the rub – because it will be the union that will decide if and when its questions have been correctly and acceptably answered. The examiners’ mark sheet will be based, it claims, on ‘reliable evidence, peer-reviewed science and transparent decision-making’.

Such a process is beset by trip wires. What makes for ‘reliable evidence’? How will ‘peer-reviewed’ science be evaluated when scientific opinion differs even over the effectiveness of face masks? Who is to decide on the ‘transparency’ of decision-making?

Problems, questions and concerns, some legitimate, especially over personal protection equipment, are at the heart of the union’s position. Much the same is true of NHS and care-home workers on the front line. The difference being that nurses, doctors and carers are getting on with the job, regardless. The National Education Union appears to be less interested in solutions, answers and ways forward than it is in an opportunistic power grab.

Given the media-induced hysteria, teachers find themselves in a strong position. Not only is the TUC backing them, a large majority of parents apparently agree with the continuing closure – 90 per cent, according to a poll for Parentkind. A separate Mumsnet poll did, however, discover that 43 per cent of parents would send their children back to school once they opened their doors.

Teachers and their unions have rarely exercised more influence on a national debate than during the current lockdown. With such power comes responsibility. The interests of children, especially the underprivileged ones, should come first. The skeleton schooling currently on offer is scarcely being used. Only around 5 per cent of vulnerable children are turning up. Hardly surprising – how many parents want their child to be identified as one of the non-key worker, poverty-stricken ones who is entitled to go into school for feeding and child care?

We need a bit of honesty in the debate about re-opening schools. Many teachers, it is doubtless true, continue to work hard, especially in setting and marking online tasks for those pupils who have access to the internet. The lockdown for many, however, will have come as a welcome respite from the daily grind.

Back in 2017, before merging with the Association of Teachers and Lecturers to form the National Education Union, the National Union of Teachers published a survey indicating that half of young teachers were planning to leave the profession within five years.

A further report last year by the new National Education Union was equally apocalyptic with regard to teacher morale: ‘Around one in five teachers (18 per cent) expect to leave the classroom in less than two years while two-fifths of teachers, school leaders and support staff want to quit in the next five years – blaming “out of control” workload pressures and “excessive” accountability, according to a poll by the country’s biggest teaching union.’

Small wonder and inevitable, then, that many teachers will regard school closure as a welcome release. In setting its questions and tests for government over school-openings the National Education Union is placing what it perceives as the interests of its members over the best interests of children and, indeed, of the country. Many battle-weary teachers do deserve ‘R & R’ but obstructing the re-opening of schools is not the way to provide it.

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Chris McGovern
Chris McGovern
Chris McGovern is the Chairman of the Campaign for Real Education. A retired head teacher with 35 years’ teaching experience, Chris is a former advisor to the Policy Unit at 10 Downing Street under two Prime Ministers.

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