Teachers have a duty of care to their pupils and that is why they should never go on strike
Published in: Daily Mail
Sometimes, going on strike is the last refuge of the useless. This Thursday, more than 100,000 teachers are mounting a one-day strike in a dispute over changes to their pensions.
In response, the Education Secretary Michael Gove has taken an uncompromising line in urging parents to break the strike by coming into school and taking lessons themselves.
The response by the education unions co-ordinating this strike — the National Union of Teachers (NUT) and the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) — has been to issue lame warnings that any such parents will fall foul of health-and-safety rules.
The harm the striking teachers will cause children by disrupting their education is, of course, not acknowledged.
Now we learn in addition that those organising these strikes are little more than activists whose anti-social activities are actually subsidised from the public purse.
Although some don’t teach at all, or work in schools only part-time, these union organisers are paid by local councils to the tune of £15.1 million per year.
And to rub salt into the wound, Christine Blower, the leader of the NUT, is pocketing a 10 per cent pay rise — twice the rate of inflation — as she prepares to lead her members out on strike.
There is an overwhelming argument for saying teachers should never strike because of the damage it does to children’s interests.
After all, teaching is much more than a mere job. It is a vocation, which necessarily entails a duty of care towards the pupils of whose once-in-a-lifetime education teachers are the custodians.
For sure, there are many fine and committed teachers who do indeed understand what education is all about.
And there are even more who do the very best they can for the pupils they teach — and who all too often have to suffer an escalating tide of disruptive behaviour, aggression and violence not just from pupils but from their parents.
But the awful fact is that the guts were ripped out of teaching long ago.
From the Seventies onwards, state education stopped being about the transmission of knowledge. Ludicrous ideological fads inimical to education took over instead.
Educationalists decided children should learn not from teachers but from their own experience. Any kind of structured teaching was regarded as an assault upon a child’s autonomy and a threat to his or her self-esteem.
Teachers accordingly took a back seat as mere ‘facilitators’ of a child’s voyage of discovery. Not surprisingly, abandoning children to make their own way through the world without the intellectual maps to guide them resulted in children learning very little at all.
Some of those children went on to become teachers themselves. And so an alarming proportion of today’s teachers don’t even have the knowledge they need to pass on to their pupils — even if they wanted to.
Now, teacher-training institutions are apparently to set tougher entrance requirements to ensure that trainee teachers have mastered basic literacy and numeracy.
Alas, we have been here before. This requirement was introduced many years ago.
But the appalling reality was that so many candidates failed to reach this elementary standard that insisting it was met would have meant there weren’t enough teachers being trained.
Thus, it was watered down so candidates didn’t have to pass these literacy or numeracy tests before being accepted into teacher training.
Currently, they can take as many re-sits as they need. Now this is about to change. The Education Secretary is reportedly publishing new requirements this week which will allow only two re-sits of these ‘basic skills’ tests.
But even if this higher hurdle survives, we’re not exactly talking pedagogic polymaths here: the standard of these tests for teachers is said to be more suited to primary schoolchildren.
tells you everything you need to know about the dire state of education
in Britain that standards are to be raised by allowing trainee teachers
three attempts only (!) to spell ‘mathematical’, for example, or to add
up three times 24 and four times 28.
The disdain for transmitting knowledge and the resulting collapse of teaching are the core reasons why education standards have gone down the pan.
Last week, Sir Terry Leahy, the former chief executive of Tesco, became the latest in a string of industrialists and business leaders who have warned that poor standards in schools and universities leave young people ill-prepared for work.
More pupils, said Sir Terry, need to be taught ‘harder’ subjects at school, such as mathematics, sciences and languages.
If only! The problem is that so many teachers and educationalists just don’t agree with him. Or if they appear to do so, what they are actually agreeing to teach is such a dumbed-down version of maths, science or languages as to make a mockery of education.
The education establishment has managed to undermine all attempts to stop the rot.
In a programme for BBC Radio 4, the broadcaster John Humphrys discovered that after the Welsh abolished school SATs and league tables, exam performance in Wales declined by no less than an estimated two GCSE grades per pupil.
According to the Programme for International Student Assessment, which looks at education systems worldwide, the Welsh are now well below the average for the developed world for reading and even lower for maths.
When Humphrys returned to his old primary school in Cardiff, he found there was no structured literacy or numeracy hour. Instead, the children weren’t so much being taught as ‘learning by doing’ — which the rest of us would call playing — and could do pretty much what they liked.
(or perhaps naively), Humphrys seemed prepared to believe that such an
approach could work. But at one Cardiff secondary school, he found that
only 16 per cent of the children could read properly, and some had the
reading age of a four-year-old.
Well, this is where many of us came in more than two decades ago, when the Thatcher government belatedly realised British education standards were in freefall precisely because of this ‘child-centred’ approach.
Allowing children effectively to teach themselves most certainly does not work. It leaves children stranded in ignorance and unable to think.
And the worst affected are those from the poorest households, for whom school is their one ladder of opportunity.
This ladder has been kicked away from underneath them by an educational orthodoxy which has substituted jargon for knowledge and gobbledegook for academic rigour.
The Conservative government tried to address this catastrophe through the National Curriculum, SATs and national literacy and numeracy programmes.
But the National Curriculum was subverted from the start. Teachers resisted tooth and nail every attempt to get them to teach children to read by the one tried-and-tested system of structured phonics.
As for SATs, these were regularly manipulated to give the false impression of rising standards.
So we’re more or less back where we started, and Mr Gove has a truly Sisyphean task.
The long attempt to stem the decline in education standards has been blocked at every turn by the teaching unions, who appear to be in business to perpetuate mediocrity and protect the incompetent.
Mr Gove’s provocative call to parents to break the strike may have incensed the teachers. But it is their own proposed militancy this week that is a step too far.