My profession needs a better voice than these morons

3 June 2009
The Times and The Sunday Times
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On Saturday the work-shy teachers at the NUT conference backed a boycott of SATs. On Sunday they moaned about too many tough guys going into teaching (if only!). On Monday they demanded an eye-popping 10 per cent pay rise and yesterday they were threatening to strike over the vagaries of sixth-form funding. What next? A luxury desert island for every teacher?

Sometimes it feels like the NUT is not on a different planet, but in a far-off galaxy reachable only if you travel back in time to the days when the unions ruled the roost. As a child of the 1970s, I remember watching union activists on TV looking like they were in charge – because in many ways they were. Fortunately, the grip of the brothers on Britain has been loosened.

The NUT is a throwback. It is one of the few unions that still wields huge power. The reason we do not have local pay for teachers is because the NUT insists on national pay scales. That’s great for teachers in areas where the cost of living is low; getting a job in a rural county is very difficult because you can live like a prince on a teacher’s wage.

However, where the cost of living is high, as in much of the South of England, it is almost impossible to raise a family on a teacher’s wage. The NUT’s refusal to countenance local pay bargaining has caused a recruitment crisis in the South. In the school where I teach, a comprehensive in outer London, despite the recession, it has proved almost impossible to fill key posts in English, maths and science.

Poor pay for teachers has led to 1,000 headteacher posts being vacant, and 5,000 classroom teaching posts being unfilled. What’s more, if Sir Cyril Taylor, the former chairman of the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust, is to be believed we have 17,000 sub-standard teachers.

This is the argument the NUT should be putting forward: our children deserve better teachers and the only way they will get them is by improving pay and conditions for teachers. In this sense, a pay rise could be justified. Britain’s prosperity depends on children receiving high-quality education. At the moment, six out of ten 16-year-olds leave school without decent qualifications in English and maths; we have five million illiterate adults in the UK.

Are these issues brought up by the NUT? No, because it would mean admitting that some teachers need a kick up the backside and some need the sack – a taboo in the unreal world of the NUT. It makes me cringe to see them arguing so poorly for a pay rise, chanting like yobs on a football terrace to end SATs and presenting themselves like comedy grotesques. Teachers deserve a better voice than the morons in the NUT.

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