A little bleary-eyed after a night in the Town Hall Chamber schooling recalcitrant politicians about their duties to the public, KEN TOWL was back on the picket lines this morning as teachers ramped up their industrial action
Thursday morning, and I find myself in a queue for free bacon sandwiches.
Two days earlier, on February 28, payday, I noted that I had been docked £130 for “strike action”. These events are not unrelated.
The bacon sandwiches (along with tea, coffee, orange juice and croissants), are courtesy of the NEU, the largest (and fastest growing) teachers’ union, and the largest union in the country to have met the government’s anti-strike criteria through popular support from members.
After an early morning shift on the picket lines, some 200 teachers from schools all over Croydon gather at Ruskin House. It is the biggest crowd I have seen there since Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership campaign back in 2015.
It is more than a crowd. It is, appropriately for school workers, an assembly. We are addressed by union officials clearly unused to speaking to so many members at a time. It is like the biggest staff room I have ever seen. There is concern that the bacon sandwiches will run out. They are replenished. Sausage sandwiches are added.
There is a motion. You can’t have a union meeting without a motion. The motion proposes an escalation of strike action after the already-planned strikes on March 15 and 16, before we have to ballot again in June. Under current law, the strike ballot only empowers unions to act for six months at a time.
We go off into breakout groups and discuss our feelings about ramping up the strike action into April and May. Primary teachers want to target SATs, the assessment tests carried out on pupils, while secondary teachers don’t want to jeopardise GCSEs. SATs are arguably useless metrics that create stress for young pupils without any intrinsic benefit, while GCSEs might just help older pupils to get jobs, apprenticeships or A-level courses.
As usual, teachers are torn between their vocation – a heartfelt desire to do the best for the children and young people they teach – and their anger at a government that seems to despise education and the people who provide it.
We have just discovered, thanks to The Daily Telegraph, just how much we are despised. When he was education secretary, Gavin Williamson moaned that teachers “really really do just hate work”.
This was in answer to Matt Hancock, the kangaroo testicle-munching erstwhile health secretary, who described teaching unions as “a bunch of absolute arses”.
This may, or may not, have informed this morning’s debate among Croydon’s teachers.
We reassembled and voted on the motion. The anger in the room was palpable. The vote was unanimous.
Croydon teachers were in favour of escalating strike action, knowing that this would cost them. It is quite likely that this mood is reflected across the country. The NEU gained 40,000 members nationally after it reached the strike threshold, and another 10,000 have joined since the first strike on February 1.
We then marched, accompanied by three friendly police officers, to Croydon Town Hall to present a letter, signed by every arse among us, to Croydon’s very own Mr 15per cent, Mayor Jason Perry.
We made a lot of noise, and we were assured that we could be heard from the inside, but Mayor Perry did not deign to come out and address us.
Teachers remain angry, and committed to action. The NEU had better make sure there are enough bacon sandwiches to go round on March 15 and 16.
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