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.
Grassroots posters giving an alternative take on the general election
Hundreds of people surrounded the fences this weekend. Hera Lorandos spoke to women who have suffered inside.
Laying out the case for Labour's leadership of a Progressive Alliance, Jeremy Gilbert argues that far from posing a threat to the Left, the Progressive Alliance offers a golden opportunity to end Tory rule and build a 21st century government committed to social justice
The Greens have stood down in Brighton Kemptown to clear the way for Labour, and the Lib Dems won’t stand in Brighton’s other seat, Green-held Pavilion. Davy Jones, who would have been the Green candidate in Kemptown, says this shows the way forward
The snap general election represents a unique opportunity to defeat this terrible government. We believe that visual artists have a crucial role to play!
Drax is the UK's biggest source of CO2 emissions – and we're paying for it, writes Almuth Ernsting
For the past 3 years, Barby Asante and members of London-based artists' collective, sorryyoufeeluncomfortable, have been responding directly to the vision of James Baldwin. Ahead of the nationwide release of a new film about the American activist and author, they reflect on the enduring relevance of Baldwin in Britain today.
Housing campaigners' gains in Bristol are spurring on a national movement to build a renters' union, writes Stuart Melvin
A new Espionage Act threatens whistleblowers and journalists, writes Sarah Kavanagh
We need an anti-austerity alliance, not a vaguely progressive alliance, argues Michael Calderbank
Greece’s heavy load
While the UK left is divided over how to respond to Brexit, the people of Greece continue to groan under the burden of EU-backed austerity. Jane Shallice reports
On the narcissism of small differences
In an interview with the TNI's Nick Buxton, social scientist and activist Susan George reflects on the French Presidential Elections.
Why Corbyn’s ‘unpopularity’ is exaggerated: Polls show he’s more popular than most other parties’ leaders – and on the up
Headlines about Jeremy Corbyn’s poor approval ratings in polls don’t tell the whole story, writes Alex Nunns
The media wants to demoralise Corbyn’s supporters – don’t let them succeed
Michael Calderbank looks at the results of yesterday's local elections
In light of Dunkirk: What have we learned from the (lack of) response in Calais?
Amy Corcoran and Sam Walton ask who helps refugees when it matters – and who stands on the sidelines
Osborne’s first day at work – activists to pulp Evening Standards for renewable energy
This isn’t just a stunt. A new worker’s cooperative is set to employ people on a real living wage in a recycling scheme that is heavily trolling George Osborne. Jenny Nelson writes
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 24 May
On May 24th, we’ll be holding the third of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.
Our activism will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit…
Reflecting on a year in the environmental and anti-racist movements, Plane Stupid activist, Ali Tamlit, calls for a renewed focus on the dangers of power and privilege and the means to overcome them.
West Yorkshire calls for devolution of politics
When communities feel that power is exercised by a remote elite, anger and alienation will grow. But genuine regional democracy offers a positive alternative, argue the Same Skies Collective
How to resist the exploitation of digital gig workers
For the first time in history, we have a mass migration of labour without an actual migration of workers. Mark Graham and Alex Wood explore the consequences
The Digital Liberties cross-party campaign
Access to the internet should be considered as vital as access to power and water writes Sophia Drakopoulou
#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part III: a discussion of power and privilege
In the final article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr gives a few pointers on how to be a good ally
Event: Take Back Control Croydon
Ken Loach, Dawn Foster & Soweto Kinch to speak in Croydon at the first event of a UK-wide series organised by The World Transformed and local activists
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 19 April
On April 19th, we’ll be holding the second of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.
Changing our attitude to Climate Change
Paul Allen of the Centre for Alternative Technology spells out what we need to do to break through the inaction over climate change
Introducing Trump’s Inner Circle
Donald Trump’s key allies are as alarming as the man himself
#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part II: a discussion of power and privilege
In the second article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the silencing of black women and the flaws in safe spaces
Joint statement on George Osborne’s appointment to the Evening Standard
'We have come together to denounce this brazen conflict of interest and to champion the growing need for independent, truthful and representative media'
Paul O’Connell and Michael Calderbank consider the conditions that led to the Brexit vote, and how the left in Britain should respond
On the right side of history: an interview with Mijente
Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Reyna Wences, co-founder of Mijente, a radical Latinx and Chincanx organising network
Disrupting the City of London Corporation elections
The City of London Corporation is one of the most secretive and least understood institutions in the world, writes Luke Walter
#AndABlackWomanAtThat: a discussion of power and privilege
In the first article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the oppression of her early life and how we must fight it, even in our own movement
Corbyn understands the needs of our communities
Ian Hodson reflects on the Copeland by-election and explains why Corbyn has the full support of The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 15 March
On 15 March, we’ll be holding the first of Red Pepper’s Race Section open editorial meetings.
Social Workers Without Borders
Jenny Nelson speaks to Lauren Wroe about a group combining activism and social work with refugees
Growing up married
Laura Nicholson interviews Dr Eylem Atakav about her new film, Growing Up Married, which tells the stories of Turkey’s child brides
The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari
Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next
Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace
Pass the domestic violence bill
Emma Snaith reports on the significance of the new anti-domestic violence bill