Michael Gove may think he sounds tough when he says there will be no reward for militancy among teachers.
But unfortunately, his approach makes him seem as if he is the one who is picking fights, not those who went out on strike.
We completely accept there are two sides to every story. And we accept that within all unions, as within all political associations, there will be people with extreme views as well as moderates, but the over-riding feeling from Mr Gove’s comments that we report today is that he has missed the point.
By tarring everyone who left the classroom this month as being in the militant fringe, he is over-looking – whether intentionally or ignorantly – that there are many teachers with serious concerns about education in this country.
There are many ‘moderate’ teachers who would prefer to keep education in a more accountable structure than the independence of free schools and academies gives – and would point to the recent problems of dropping standards and inexperienced heads at free schools in Sussex and Derby as proof of the justification of their worries.
The rise of the free school and the academy has been unremitting, but the debate surrounding those schools that do not convert, and the role of the local education authority after more schools have left its control has not been debated fully enough in public.
There are also serious fears over teachers’ workload, and the rate that change is being imposed.
But what does Mr Gove do? He tries to turn teachers’ legitimately-expressed fears into complaints about their own pay and pensions, as if that is the only thing that is motivating the unrest. True, it’s another one of the aggravating factors, but the constant variants of the ‘all in it together’ refrain are becoming tiresome, especially when they are used to discredit legitimate and legal action.
We welcome Mr Gove’s intention to talk to unions – although he could have made a start here in Portsmouth yesterday and didn’t.
But we have less confidence that his attitude will lead to any debate, let alone concessions, and we fear children’s education will suffer.