In yet another sad indictment of life in modern Britain, thousands of NEU members have balloted to strike on several occasions this spring, across all parts of the country. Disheartened by successive real term pay cuts and a perennial lack of support from the Conservative government, teachers across the country feel as though they are being pushed to breaking point.
Whether right or wrong, this must be of enormous concern to those most involved in the process of education: the students. Any decision to vote “yes” to consequential walkouts is one taken with a heavy heart, with the interests of both student and teacher central to the decision to strike. Therefore, it only makes sense that we as pupils stand in unison with our despondent educators when they are due our support and understanding.
For centuries, there has existed a symbiosis between student and teacher. Traditionally, the teacher is afforded decent working conditions, adequate resources and reasonable pay on the premise that they will endeavour to assist the pupil towards success in their studies. In theory, the taxes paid to the government by the parents of the student should cover these expenses. A quid pro quo then arises which, when orchestrated successfully, makes for a mutually beneficial arrangement.
However, the governing Conservative Party appears to have proven that it is not always this simple. In recent years, the government has interrupted proceedings with their lacklustre treatments of public services. Chronic and persistent underfunding, a sticking-plaster approach to the numerous underlying problems facing our schools, and a general disrespect for teachers have led to the ebbing away of confidence in our education system. Increasingly, we are told stories of teachers working extremely late beyond working hours to meet targets, contact parents and are even forced into dipping into their own diminishing funds in order to support their students.
Some may be inclined to argue that the aforementioned extra mile which teachers undertake on a daily basis are part and parcel of a career in teaching. The modern teaching profession simply expects that inevitable sacrifices have to be made in just the same way that sacrifices are made in every profession. However, it is telling of a wider problem when teachers find themselves spending a significant amount of their own independent time to support students, and even potentially doing the job of two people, yet are not remunerated as such.
A change is required for a myriad of reasons. Firstly, the Conservative government need to ensure that teachers are adequately paid and rightfully treated to ensure that students can access the first-rate education the government claims to provide them with. Secondly, they need to ensure that teachers are contented, and do not wish to “jump ship” as it were and pursue other careers. Finally, repairs need to be made between the government and teaching unions to demonstrate the country’s commitment to the symbiotic relationship between the two.
As it stands, the best way that we, as students, can help to engender change is by supporting the striking teachers. Although industrial action may seem a drastic measure, fundamentally it is being taken for the long-term benefits of the students. Without sufficient funding, teachers are not able to deliver the learning experience that they would wish to provide which this has a deeply damaging consequences for the students. It is the responsibility of our government to offer an appropriate amount of support to teachers, and to properly fund schools up and down the country. Let’s hope they are up to the task.
In the meantime, we as students should throw our weight behind the National Education Union as they continue to “have the argument” with the powers that be. In the long-term, it will be well worth the hassle for both the teachers and students.