Workers at Oaks Park who took strike action against bullying and victimisation

Workers at Oaks Park who took strike action against bullying and victimisation   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

An National Education Union (NEU) rep teaching in north London

There is a perfect storm brewing in education. Frustration over the issues of workload and pay will come to a head.

The pandemic has given an excuse to managers to up productivity and intensify labour, and in schools that means an increased workload for all staff. When school students are self-isolating, or are off school because they have tested positive for Covid, they are expected to keep up with their school work. For teachers this means either making sure students have access to online learning resources for their lessons, or live-streaming their lesson to the absent students, while teaching the rest of the class face-to-face.

In my college, and hundreds of schools across England, we have the additional burden of being graded as ‘requires improvement’ by schools inspectorate Ofsted. Schools in the most deprived areas of the country are far more likely to be rated this (27%) than those schools in the least deprived areas (11%).

This Ofsted grade affects possible future government funding. So senior managers have decided that they can use this as an excuse to implement what they want, when they want. Specifically, this means classroom visits every half-term; weekly one-size-fits-all online training; fortnightly recording of student progress, which have usually already been recorded separately in your mark book and on a spreadsheet; half-termly target setting; constant checking and rechecking by middle-managers that you have done something they have asked you to do. All of this because senior managers are trying to second-guess what Ofsted inspectors are ‘looking for’ when they finally get round to visiting your school.

And performance-related pay is still going strong in schools. So, as well as having to spend time doing additional administrative tasks, I have to write a statement citing everything that I do in my job against a 12-point checklist, and justifying why I ‘deserve’ a pay rise. Neither of which help me to actually raise the understanding of the students I teach, which is what I actually want to do and why I joined the profession in the first place.

At the same time, there is growing resentment and anger at the pay freeze: “We work all the hours of the day and night and we’re not even getting recognition through a pay rise.”

The Tories claim they are trying to help students who have lost out on education because of the pandemic through their ‘catch-up’ programme. But this is the same government which has a target to bring education funding to the same level it was in 2010, by 2024. There will be a generation of students who have known nothing but education poverty in their lifetime. We need full funding for education now.

We have to find a way to get rid of Ofsted – there is zero trust in the professional judgement of teachers, by either the government or senior managers. We need to get rid of performance-related pay – it is divisive and soul-destroying. And we need to build the NEU’s campaign for an 8% pay rise for all education workers. The fight on pay is immediate: it is one where a collective national fight can be won. A victory over pay would lift confidence to turn back the tide on workload, performance pay and Ofsted.