On Tuesday 5 July, members of the National Union of Teachers will be walking out of schools across England and Wales to draw attention to a worsening crisis in the education service.
Teachers have long railed against their growing workload, whose bureaucratic nature, ironically, means less time in the classroom. Coupled with imposed pay restraint, and a delayed retirement age, they now face greater uncertainty than at any time in recent history, because of the proposals in the government’s White Paper, with its enforced academisation, sidelining of parent governors and dilution of teacher training qualifications.
But the immediate crisis facing schools today is the failure to recruit, or retain, enough teachers to meet the needs of a growing school population. Evidence submitted to the parliamentary education select committee has identified a “woeful” lack of recruits in key secondary school subjects.
There is an 85 per cent shortfall in recruits to social science and business studies courses. Design and Technology courses are a third below what is required, and IT is 10 per cent short. Unsurprisingly, 40 per cent of all vacancies are in London and the South East, where the gap between wages and prices, particularly house prices, is most stark.
To add fuel to the fire, Osborne’s March budget added an effective 5 per cent surcharge on the cost of teachers through additional national insurance and pension payments, whilst at the same time freezing the money that schools receive per pupil.
Of course the NUT cannot think for a moment that the government will immediately roll over at the news of the annual teacher walkout (over 90 per cent voted in favour of striking but on a 25 per cent return). A general walkout is in danger of becoming as traditional as the school outing and the sports day at this time of year. Teachers will need to become more tactically astute and transform days of isolated protest into a programme of flexible activity where parents and education workers speak with one voice.