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We strike because we have no choice

Britain's children are losing out as the coalition cuts facilities, foists counterproductive tests on pupils and wages war on professional teachers. We're fighting for them, says CHRISTINE BLOWER

Michael Gove's comments that "teachers have never had it so good" reflect how totally out of touch he is with the profession.

The coalition government's education policies have left schools and teachers reeling.

Teachers begin the academic year with enormous enthusiasm to do the very best they can for every child and young person that comes into their classroom.

This year however, as it has been in previous years, it is both tempered and dented by the anger and frustration that teachers feel for all kinds of reasons.

Changes are being rushed through on examination and curriculum reform that pay no heed to the profession's views or concerns.

They are not being made in the interest of all children nor will they result in providing the vibrant environment relevant to the 21st century that schools and colleges should be.

Bringing in a curriculum in which "academic rigour" is all, and where creative and vocational education has very little place, has been roundly condemned.

As have the proposals to get rid of ongoing assessment and introduce a final three-hour end-of-course examination for GCSEs.

Music and sport provision in schools has been cut and the budget for local authority provided special educational needs support in schools has also been severely curtailed.

If Education Secretary Gove has his way there is a real danger of putting young people through nothing more than an examination factory.

The academies and free schools programme is proving to be a modern version of The Emperor's New Clothes - as we always knew it would be.

Out of the nine new free schools eligible for inspection by Ofsted, three "required improvement." If such a report were given to local authority maintained schools, they would be forced to accept academy status.

There is a severe shortage of school places, in particular primary school places, yet this government is sanctioning the opening of free schools in areas where there is no demand for additional places - even where there are surplus places - and eating up scarce funding in the process.

There have even been suggestions from some local authorities that to address the shortage they may have to open schools on a split system with pupils attending school three days a week for longer hours.

Making primary school pupils do 10-hour days over three days will be disastrous for both children and parents.

Young children cannot possibly be expected to be alert and learning for this period of time and parents will find childcare an impossibility.

Gove is presiding over a catastrophe in education provision which is of his own making.

As Education Secretary he has the responsibility to ensure that all children in England have a school place.

Instead of pursuing vanity projects such as free schools and forced academies he needs to return to a system of coherently planned and democratically accountable schools for all children, not the few.

Sixth-form colleges are facing severe budget cuts which will worsen the breadth of education they can provide.

The ending of the educational maintenance allowance and the raising of tuition fees has taken access to education back half a century.

Gove is well aware that on his watch as Education Secretary teacher morale has plummeted. Teachers are angry at the government's continual undermining of their pay, pensions and working conditions.

Today the next in the series of regional strikes will take place in the north-east government region, Cumbria, London and the south-east and south-west government regions.

This action follows the successful regional strike action taken on June 27 and October 1.

Teachers deeply regret the disruption caused by this strike action to parents and children.

The government's refusal however to engage to resolve the dispute over pay, pensions, job cuts and workload means that they have no alternative other than to demonstrate the seriousness of their concerns.

It is a great shame that the Education Secretary has let things get to this stage. With pay, pensions and working conditions being systematically attacked and an Education Secretary who refuses to listen or negotiate teachers now have no other choice but to be taking this industrial action.

If we do not take a stand now to defend the profession then the consequences for teacher recruitment and education will be disastrous for all.

Strike action is never a step that teachers take lightly and we are very aware and concerned about the inconvenience it causes parents.

Unfortunately we are faced with a government that is refusing to listen to the reasonable demands of the profession.

Changes to pay, pensions and workload will make teaching a far less attractive profession, which is not in the long-term interests of teachers and children.

Gove should do as his counterparts in Wales have done and enter into meaningful dialogue with the NUT and NASUWT.

We cannot stand by and watch our profession be systematically attacked and undermined.

There needs to be a change in the government's attitude to teachers and education.

 

Christine Blower is general secretary of the National Union of Teachers.

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