10 Feb 11

The force of argument not the argument of force

As teachers protest about their schools becoming, or considering becoming, academies, strikes are back in the news.

While Voice: the union for education professionals respects the democratic right of other unions to go on strike, we believe that industrial action is a negative force that damages education and the public perception of teachers and support staff as professionals.

We also believe that going on strike or walking away sends the wrong message to students. It sets an example of trying to achieve demands by force rather than by discussion and negotiation.

Voice believes in negotiation not conflict.

Voice opposes the creation of any new academies because we have serious reservations about them and the way that the Government is rushing ahead in allowing more schools to become academies without proper consultation. Voice has said many times that changing the way schools are organised and governed is not a guarantee of success or better education, and the mixed results from the academies established so far supports this. Voice is concerned that academies will create a two-tier education system that will damage the ability of local authorities to deliver central services, such as special needs support, to maintained schools, plunging our education system into chaos.

Academies are not some sort of panacea to magically transform education. A school that becomes an academy has the same staff, pupils and buildings (and possibly a little more money for a while as a sweetener) so how will a change of status and governance make any difference to the standard of education delivered? Adding the word 'Academy' to the sign on the gate isn't the answer.

Greater freedom is said to be what is on offer, but freedom from what and freedom to do what?

What should be happening:

  • Governors of schools considering becoming academies should be transparent and specific about their reasons for considering such a move.
  • Proper consultation should take place with all interested parties including parents, staff and the local authority.
  • Staff should be allowed to express their concerns some of which are personal in respect of pay and conditions and some are political in respect of the break-up of the local authority responsibility for and support of schools. Political issues are better dealt with at Westminster and not at the expense of pupils' education.
  • A reasoned case should be presented for any such change.
  • Assurances should be given to staff about their pay and conditions issues.
  • Consensus should be sought between all parties in moving forward.
  • Any decision should be focused on pupil outcomes. It is difficult to see how an "outstanding" school can improve by a change of status.

Voice believes that families should have access to a good-quality local education system that guarantees a good school for all, and that all schools should receive the levels of investment they need to deliver that quality education.

However, we believe that all those involved in education should make the best interests of children and students their first priority by working to find solutions rather than creating more problems, uncertainties and anxieties for them.

Although those who strike sometimes include children's education as a reason for action, the prime reason is to protect pay and conditions.

Pay and conditions at academies are variable compared to the maintained sector. Some better off, some worse. Teaching assistants and other support staff may be particularly badly affected by the loss or erosion of any system of national pay and conditions.

However, should teaching professionals put their own interests ahead of the interests, well-being and safety those of those they have a responsibility and vocation to teach and care for? If the action is about children's education, then why take action that disrupts it and inconveniences parents, who may themselves lose money when they have to miss work or pay for additional childcare to look after their children who cannot go to school?

In our views, strikes particularly in the public sector do not achieve anything and are counter-productive. How often do public sector employers award pay increases, reverse cuts or abandon plans to become academies because staff have gone on strike?

Voice is respected for its policy of resolving problems and finding the best possible outcomes by dialogue and negotiation, not conflict.

We do not undertake industrial action because we recognise its negativity and the damage caused to the interests of those for whom our members are responsible. The last 20 years of relative peace in the education sector have demonstrated the value of that position.

There is no doubt that in periods of industrial unrest we get a surge in membership when people are confronted by action which they find unnecessary or unacceptable.

Voice believes in the force of argument rather than the argument of force. Talking an issue out beats walking out. Positive action is better than negative action.

Advice to members

Voice's Cardinal Rule is "Members shall not go on strike in any circumstances". This applies to all Voice members. Strike action includes any kind of industrial action.

Alternatives to strike action:

  • openly seek opportunities and elected positions to promote Voice policies
  • collect petitions
  • exploit local and national media and the Internet
  • create public platforms
  • lobby MPs and councillors
  • demonstrate outside working hours
  • invoke parental pressure and support
  • seek support from governing bodies
  • persuade employers, to declare their position on issues
  • use employment law to register official disputes
  • monitor the efficiency and performance of employers
  • use your contractual rights to protest against employers which sanction disruption of the children's education or care.

Advice to members on industrial action.

More Blog posts on Academies

"Real business behind Budget cuts": TES letter, 2 July 2010

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