Today thousands of teachers went on strike. Over 8,000 schools were affected, and in the West Midlands teachers rallied in Birmingham to show their support for the action and their disgust at one man in particular: education secretary Michael Gove.
He claims that teaching has never been a ‘more attractive, more popular or more rewarding’ profession, insisting that changes to teachers’ pay, conditions and pensions – not to mention his controversial introduction of Free Schools and a further rolling out of academies outside of local government control – are necessary ‘reforms’.
Young teacher ‘Louise’ from Wolverhampton disagrees. She, like many of her colleagues striking today, are too afraid to give their real names on record for fear they will be targeted by employers looking to get rid of ‘troublesome’ teachers. ‘I became a teacher because I believe education is the key to young people’s future,’ she tells me with great passion. ‘Having qualified strong teachers who want to and are able to teach is of vital importance.’
She is incensed just at the mention of Gove’s name and is concerned about her own prospects for development in her job. A two year pay freeze, increased pension contributions and the ripping up of pay progression, linking it instead to performance, have taken their toll on Louise.
‘I can’t adapt to the changes. I work 55-60 hours a week and me and my partner can’t afford to have a family or buy a decent house. I am stuck in a damp two bedroom house,’ she says. ‘Teachers will be and are being de-motivated. The changes being proposed will lead to further staff turnover.’
But she adds that a major concern is for the next generation and her colleagues who are suffering unprecedented levels of stress. ‘You are more susceptible to illnesses when you are being worn down by ever increasing demands and poor behaviour in classes,’ she says.
Nodding her head in agreement, fellow union activist and teacher Jane says: ‘It is a physical job whatever people say. Teachers feel threatened by some difficult pupils. Other places have warnings about assaults on staff. Yet at all times you have to be professional whatever the provocation.’
With more than 30 years experience in the job and with all the stresses and strains, Jane still loves teaching and marvels at young teachers like Louise who have trained for many years, endured rigorous testing and checks and who are now taking a stand. ‘When I started you didn’t have to do the detailed lesson plan. Now if you don’t tick boxes, you are deemed not good enough,’ she says.
‘For example, Ofsted [the school inspectorate] visit you for 20 minutes and you have to meet 25 criteria in order to get an “outstanding” [rating]. It is impossible. What politician is subject to that level of scrutiny?’ She adds that a major concern is the greater use of teaching assistants to perform teaching duties despite the fact they are unqualified for such a role.
While conducting our interview over half an hour, Wolverhampton NASUWT official Jenny Battell takes three urgent calls from members – all with serious stress related issues.
‘Teachers feel alienated and are suffering physical and mental illness,’ she tells me candidly. ‘It is [teaching] becoming a toxic place to work. Teachers are increasingly seen as collateral damage. No one expects to be in that position.’ Her argument about toxicity in the workplace is further buttressed by her suggestion of the need for a study into employers’ use of ‘capability assessments’ as a means to sack perfectly good teachers from their jobs.
Both Louise and Jane agree and insist that strike action is a last resort but one they have no choice but to take. ‘I am quite a meek and mild person. I don’t even like politics,’ says Louise. ‘But I do feel enthused, supported by my union and that there is no other option but to strike.’
Jane takes it further and hopes the NASUWT and sister teaching union the NUT will take part in a general strike at some point if the education changes are not reversed.
Much of the media coverage has focused on the inconvenience being caused to parents by the strike. However many do support the action. Mother-of-two Julie from Walsall says she understands why the strike is going ahead. ‘Surely we want the best, most qualified teachers educating our children and I feel if pay and conditions are changed this could have a detrimental effect on the education system and for a children in the future,’ she says.
‘If they are striking for teaching standards then I support them. After all, I want the best for my children too. The government should want that too, but unfortunately it seems that the “Bigwigs” just do what they like.’
Today’s strike will not be the last act in this bitter dispute. Public opinion will be a key factor but with more strikes planned in the coming weeks, Jenny says the union is committed to an entrenched ‘war of attrition’ if the government refuses to sit and talk to teachers.
Yasmin Gunaratnam reflects on John Berger’s gut solidarity with the stranger
Charlie Clarke and Heather Mendick discuss how to work through the tensions within Momentum
Photos from The World Transformed festival in Liverpool, by David Walters
A short story by Kirsten Irving
Nadhira Halim and Andy Edwards report on the range of creative responses to the housing crisis that are providing secure, affordable housing across the UK
As man-made global warming gets closer to the tipping point, Andrew Simms finds reasons to be positive about averting catastrophic climate change
In this extract from his new book The Candidate, Alex Nunns tells the inside story of how Jeremy Corbyn scraped onto the Labour leadership ballot in 2015
Graham Jones proposes a framework for a diverse movement to flourish
Bryony Moore profiles Stitched Up, a non-profit group reimagining the future of fashion
Musician Eliane Correa reflects on the fading revolution
Utopia: Work less play more
A shorter working week would benefit everyone, writes Madeleine Ellis-Petersen
Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant
Bike courier Maggie Dewhurst takes on the gig economy… and wins
We spoke to Mags about why she’s ‘biting the hand that feeds her’
Utopia: Daring to dream
Imagining a better world is the first step towards creating one. Ruth Potts introduces our special utopian issue
A better Brexit
The left should not tail-end the establishment Bremoaners, argues Michael Calderbank
News from movements around the world
Compiled by James O’Nions
Podemos: In the Name of the People
'The emergence as a potential party of government is testament both to the richness of Spanish radical culture and the inventiveness of activists such as Errejón' - Jacob Mukherjee reviews Errejón and Mouffe's latest release
Survival Shake! – creative ways to resist the system
Social justice campaigner Sakina Sheikh describes a project to embolden young people through the arts
‘We don’t want to be an afterthought’: inside Momentum Kids
If Momentum is going to meet the challenge of being fully inclusive, a space must be provided for parents, mothers, carers, grandparents and children, write Jessie Hoskin and Natasha Josette
The Kurdish revolution – a report from Rojava
Peter Loo is supporting revolutionary social change in Northern Syria.
How to make your own media
Lorna Stephenson and Adam Cantwell-Corn on running a local media co-op
Book Review: The EU: an Obituary
Tim Holmes takes a look at John Gillingham's polemical history of the EU
Book Review: The End of Jewish Modernity
Author Daniel Lazar reviews Enzo Traverso's The End of Jewish Modernity
Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants
Ida-Sofie Picard introduces Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants – as told to Jenny Nelson
Book review: Angry White People: Coming Face to Face With the British Far-Right
Hilary Aked gets close up with the British far right in Hsiao-Hung Pai's latest release
University should not be a debt factory
Sheldon Ridley spoke to students taking part in their first national demonstration.
Book Review: The Day the Music Died – a Memoir
Sheila Rowbotham reviews the memoirs of BBC director and producer, Tony Garnett.
Power Games: A Political History
Malcolm Maclean reviews Jules Boykoff's Power Games: A Political History
Book Review: Sex, Needs and Queer Culture: from liberation to the post-gay
Aiming to re-evaluate the radicalism and efficacy of queer counterculture and rebellion - April Park takes us through David Alderson's new work.
A book review every day until Christmas at Red Pepper
Red Pepper will be publishing a new book review each day until Christmas
Book Review: Corbyn: The Strange Rebirth of Radical Politics
'In spite of the odds Corbyn is still standing' - Alex Doherty reviews Seymour's analysis of the rise of Corbyn
From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation
'A small manifesto for black liberation through socialist revolution' - Graham Campbell reviews Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor's 'From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation'
The abolition of Art History A-Level will exacerbate social inequality
This is a massive blow to the rights of ordinary kids to have the same opportunities as their more privileged peers. Danielle Child reports.
Mass civil disobedience in Sudan
A three-day general strike has brought Sudan to a stand still as people mobilise against the government and inequality. Jenny Nelson writes.
Mustang film review: Three fingers to Erdogan
Laura Nicholson reviews Mustang, Deniz Gamze Erguven’s unashamedly feminist film critique of Turkey’s creeping conservatism
What if the workers were in control?
Hilary Wainwright reflects on an attempt by British workers to produce a democratically determined alternative plan for their industry
Airport expansion is a racist policy
Climate change is a colonial crisis, writes Jo Ram
Momentum Kids: the parental is political
Momentum Kids is not about indoctrinating children, but rather the more radical idea that children have an important role to play in shaping the future, writes Kristen Hope
New Cross fights new wave of housing privatisation
Lewisham residents object to a new trend in local authority housing developments
Stand-off with prison profiteers at the Tower of London
Marienna Pope-Weidemann reports on disruption at the European Custody and Detention Summit