The Government must crack the teaching unions
On the left is Mary Bousted, who leads the ATL. On the right is Christine Blower, who leads the NUT. Together they are Blower and Bousted, the directors general of the trade unions to whom the majority of the nation’s teachers are affiliated. It is their task to ensure that teaching remains a highly-unionised, Labour-dominated, Socialist-obsessed profession. In staffrooms across the country you will see more of their posters about teachers’ rights than children’s responsibilities. They are complicit in the chronic culture of poor standards; they ensure that classrooms hold more lessons about global warming than epistemology (if their members know any longer what that is).
After more than a decade of Labour’s education reform and billions of pounds, we were assured time and again that things were getting better and results were improving. But year after year we saw the calibre of the nation’s education qualitatively and quantitatively diminished: according to the OECD's comprehensive world education ranking report for 2010, by the end of the Labour era the UK had fallen to 11th place in Science (beneath Estonia); sunk to 20th place in Reading (way beneath Poland and Belgium); and plummeted to 22nd place in Maths (behind Hungary, just above Slovenia). Impressive, eh?
One really doesn’t need a degree in Posh & Becks Studies to appreciate that education is shackled by a sclerotic culture of excuses and plagued by low standards, arbitrary targets, inaccurate league tables and stifling political correctness. It is so steeped in and constrained by leftist ideology that any attempt to reform it would make the Reformation look like a walk in the park. It will take more than a Thomas Cromwell to annul the unholy union between the NUT and structural Marxism: indeed, Cromwell suppressed only 30-or-so monasteries; Michael Gove has to ensure the dissolution of thousands of state schools in order that his reformation endures.
His Grace said many moons ago that the National Union of Teachers was likely to be to David Cameron what the National Union of Miners was to Margaret Thatcher. We’re not quite there yet, but the ‘threat’ clouds are gathering and strike action is looming. Historically, teachers’ strikes have had very little effect, principally because (unlike miners) the profession is divided across multiple unions of varying degrees of militancy. Usually, only the NUT conference makes the media, because only they tend to generate a story worth reporting. In their leadership, the spirit of Arthur Scargill is very much alive and well. It's no wonder that teaching unions appropriated and adapted the metaphor of the hard labour of the coal-face and popularised the image of their members slaving away at the chalk-face. It's a little harder to sustain that image in the era of interactive whiteboards.
For decades, teacher training and Ofsted’s assessment criteria have conformed to the same leftish ideology. It is by these processes that the teaching profession is inducted into patterns of thought and brainwashed into habits of behaviour which stifle the spirit, extinguish inspiration, discourage individual expression, and ensure that teachers embrace the bland uniformity of the state orthodoxy which they in turn pass on to the children in their charge.
Traditionally, the NUT has been the guardian of this orthodoxy. The likes of the ATL and the NASUWT are nothing but irritating splinters and sects which have hindered the NUT in the pursuit of their educational utopia. Not any more: at long last, the teaching unions are united in their opposition to pension reform, and coordinated strike action looks inevitable. A strike by teachers will only damage pupils' learning and inconvenience busy working parents.
One fully expects the NUT’s ghastly Christine Blower to insist that her members ‘have no alternative’ but to strike. But when meek and mild Mary Bousted of the ATL screeches from the same multi-faith meditation sheet, it may indeed be ‘a warning shot across the bows to the Government’. She intones: “When even the least militant education union and teachers working in private schools vote to strike the government would be wrong to ignore it."
Possibly, in terms of strike action. But Mary Bousted has been drip-feeding her members leftish propaganda for years. Militancy is not limited to Trotskyites or the combative aggression of ‘Everybody out!’; it includes subtle infiltration, ideological induction and political propagation. And on these, Mary Bousted is far from militant. Take this little piece from a recent edition of the ATL magazine:
The Future of State EducationThis is not only crass and simplistic, it is blatant propaganda. Yet Dr Bousted insists that it is ‘a realistic snapshot of what education will be like in five years' time thanks to the government's plans’. She lies about the intentions and deceives her members by insisting that taxpayers' money ‘will line the pockets of shareholders rather than be spent for the benefit of pupils’. She insists that the Gove reforms will ‘severely undermine teachers' professionalism and control over their work’, when, in fact, the reforms liberate teachers from state control by making schools autonomous. She complains that pupils ‘may be taught by untrained and unsupported teachers’ (where he she been for the past decade?). She decries a ‘rigid curriculum of facts and figures’, seemingly oblivious to the fact that free schools will be...err...free to formulate their own curricula with far fewer rigidities than are presently imposed.
...Meet Angela, a teacher trying to do her job in 2016.
Angela hurries along the academy's corridors past pupils reciting Latin verbs in their blazers adorned with the Sponsor's logo. She checks the clock: 15 minutes to her next lesson — enough time to input the performance data on the Year 11 progress checks, photocopy the Sponsor's materials for the lesson and grab a sandwich from the Coca Cola Cafe? Probably have to skip the sandwich.
She worries about the next lesson. In last week's observation by the federation manager she had been found wanting in the pace and performance aspect of her teaching. She was doing well up until then but the Sponsor had raised the required standards even higher this year to compete with the academy up the road. Everyone was struggling. Today's follow-up assessment would decide whether her Year 8 class could articulate their learning objectives. Another poor assessment would not bode well for her upcoming remuneration appraisal.
She could ill afford a low settlement.
She focuses on inputting the data until a hesitant cough behind her breaks her concentration. Adam again, the trainee she is mentoring. Adam, undoubtedly a bright lad, with a good degree, is having problems. He cannot understand why the pupils won't be quiet when he asks or why they remain unimpressed by his meticulously planned lessons. Angela explains yet again that it is not enough just to tell pupils what he wants them to know, but the familiar puzzled look remains on his face. She is not sure if he will last.
The clock above her head clicks over and the changeover bell screams out — the data will have to wait; she could fit it in between planning tomorrow's lessons and kicking out time. Last time she had stayed in five minutes after, it had cost the school £200 in charges. Wistfully she recalls her earlier days in teaching, was it really only five years ago?
She opines: ‘Within this parliamentary term, we are in danger of creating a lost generation — students who may be disengaged by a curriculum of facts and figures, who find limited and marginalised opportunities for vocational learning.’
One has to wonder how many schools Mary Bousted has visited over recent years, and question her knowledge of the past three generations of children, let alone the one to come. ‘Disengaged’ is nothing new, and youth unemployment reached record levels under her beloved Labour: it is not a coalition creation.
But it is on pay and conditions that ATL militancy is perhaps most apparent. Mary Bousted is of the view that the abolition of a national pay scale will make it ‘much harder for teachers to move between schools and around the country’.
This is nonsense: by giving headteachers and governors control over pay, it will liberate them to attract staff to problem areas and retain them. It is hard enough being a teacher in inner London without having to worry about how you can simultaneously afford to pay a mortgage and raise a family. Schools will be free to pay support staff and part-time workers what they need to in order to suit local economic circumstances. And Dr Bousted is implacably opposed to bonuses and performance-related pay, propagating the lie (again) that pupils' raw attainment in national tests or internal assessment will be the only measure of pupil progress or teacher performance. Has she not heard of CVA? And how’s this for fear inducement: ‘Once you take the local authority out of the picture there is no safety net for schools or pupils that fall through the cracks.’ Has she not heard of the ‘Pupil Premium’? Does she seriously believe that SEN children will be thrown into the gutters by this government? Does she have any idea of what the Prime Minister has personally experienced with his son, Ivan? Leaving children to 'fall through the cracks' is not a remote possibility.
But, nevertheless, she trumpets her ‘wake-up call’ because ‘the vision laid out here is bleak’. She declares:
The profession must wake up to the scale, ambition and purpose of this government's education plans. It must realise that the government plans for education are of a piece with its plans for health. Both will become the province of 'any willing provider'. The consequences, for students and for staff, will be incalculable.The end of state education? That doesn’t sound militant at all, Dr Bousted. No, not at all.
We know that you will be accustomed to tolerating the latest education initiative while getting on with teaching your pupils, but believe me, this is more than tinkering around the edges — this is the end of state education. There will be no way back if the coalition's reforms go through.