BORIS Johnson must take on the teaching unions. Tom Harwood in his hard-hitting Telegraph article last week was right. My only point of difference with him is to say that the resolve Johnson needs is not so much Reaganite as Thatcherite.
On Monday I rehearsed the international evidence that shows the risk incurred by children going back to school is negligible, evidence which the militant Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the UK’s National Education Union, is intent on ignoring.
Her union should be giving the Government its full support. Instead it is determined to be as destructive and bolshie as possible. The key teachers’ union has a record of blocking the path of educational reform; now it is blocking children’s education altogether. It has to stop – this is no time for diffidence.
Mr Johnson must reverse his ‘spine-ectomy’. He must tell the NEU that they have just written their own suicide note. Unless the NEU is faced down and destroyed as a force, the future for British children and indeed for the whole country looks bleak. For far too long has their unconscionable power and negativity been ignored.
The first time I wrote that it was time ‘to break for ever the stranglehold of the teaching unions over British education’ was in 2011. This union’s predecessors had declared war on Michael Gove and his reforms. It was not Mary Bousted but Christine Blower and Chris Keates who were then my targets after the publication of their ‘Joint Declaration of Intent’, an unashamedly ideologically driven manifesto against reform. They threatened to hold the country to ransom by not educating our children.
It was a portent of their negative power to come. I argued that it put them on a par with the greedy TV technicians of the past who’d held their companies to ransom with huge demands for overtime and weekend working. I said that the lesson from history that Ms Blower and Ms Keates should learn is that unions are defeated when right is not on their side. Unfortunately the Conservative Government then in office failed to listen and failed to reiterate this crucial lesson of Mrs Thatcher’s era. Now we are where we are today.
Like the TV technicians, teachers do not want their routine and lazy practices exposed. There is little sympathy for the jobsworths amongst them. Parents lost faith years ago with everything from endless inset days to part-time teaching and producer capture attitudes. So too, I suspect, have thousands of principled and professionally minded teachers who simply want to be able to get on, teach children properly and behave professionally.
Boris Johnson’s time has surely come. He could restore his crumbling position with this one hugely important conservative action – by liberating teaching and education from the shackles of the narrow-minded, politically correct and frighteningly socialist NEU.
The question is how. This is my suggestion – readers may have others – he should lock out the union.
First he will need to take pre-emptive action. A determined and forward-thinking Mr Johnson will start quietly recruiting a force of retired experienced teachers to fill the breach. He will advertise new teaching support roles for unemployed graduates and recent graduates with degrees (1st and 2nd Class) in English, history, maths, French, geography, science and so on. No teacher training will be required – they will learn on the job.
Finally, if the union decides to picket schools he will have the Army standing by to let children and staff through.
Teachers and heads who do not return to work will be deemed to be on strike and have their pay stopped. And they can of course forget any pay rise – strike action will disqualify them
You may say that schoolchildren’s lives have been disrupted too much already. Well, since the unions threaten to continue this disruption, there is nothing to lose.
That would be my plan – what would be yours? Discuss!