In some ways, it is not up to us to declare whether a strike is or is not justified – the decision to take industrial action, especially in a profession such as teaching with so many people depending on you, is a deeply personal one.
There may well have been, as some media outlets have taken glee in reporting, a number of teachers who spent their ‘day off’ in the pub, but equally there will have been many teachers who, while wanting to protest about the situation their profession finds itself in, could not bring themselves to leave the classroom and could not, in all conscience, down tools. Every teacher will, as they should, have their own view and generalising is not useful.
It’s good to see headteachers taking the attitude that any walkout will have been carefully considered – it’s an enlightened view and one that will help the debate. But it’s worrying that warnings of further action have been issued – many parents will not want to face another day of making fresh plans, or negotiating a last-minute day off work.
We should be alarmed at this industrial action. Not just for the disruption, but for the discontent that it heralds among the teaching profession.
The unity of action across the country shows that there are deep-rooted concerns about the ‘direction of travel’ of education, as NASUWT rep Sion Reynolds puts it. But while there are two sides to every argument, the worry here is the gulf between them. The unions say the profession is at breaking point: the government, in its pronouncements on the subject, has just emphasised the disruption caused. The two sides have not engaged.
We need to step past any cheap jibes over ‘13 weeks’ holiday a year’ – as anyone who knows a teacher will attest, that’s not how it pans out in reality – and also past the firebrand element of unions, which by their nature are often happier striking under a Conservative-led government.
What we need is proper, transparent discussion, so each side can answer the other’s criticisms. As it stands, none of us is any the wiser as to what happens next – other than more disruption is on the way.