The increasingly acrimonious public sector pensions dispute will be dominated by the teacher unions – more so with the decision by the National Association of Headteachers to ballot its members and the near certainty that the NASUWT the second largest union, almost certain to do the same.
If the 30th June strike is only the beginning of an escalating program of action, securing the longer term support of parents and students, will depend on unions using the media attention generated by the dispute to put forward bold alternative education policies to those being peddled by Michael Gove; but which represent more than just a return to the previous status quo.
In contrast to the growing opposition to NHS reforms, in education things seem to be going Gove’s way. With Labour hamstrung by the contradictions that ran through its own policies, it’s left to the unions, particularly the NUT and UCU to go on the offensive. Campaigns against academies for example, provide a great opportunity to publicise alternatives for how schools should be accountable to the local community. Unions could also spell out alternatives to the current ‘kill and drill’ approach to learning and the ‘testing to destruction’ culture which now passes for assessment. It’s crucial also, that unions continue to link their pension demands to campaigns for the restoration of EMAs, the abolition of university tuition fees and call for free further and higher education for all those who want it.
Young people continue to stack up educational credentials, but A grade students can’t get into the universities they want to. Unemployment amongst 16-24 year olds remains at almost 1 in 5 with thousands more young people unable to get jobs commensurate to their qualifications. With schools still as unequal as ever and with the exam boards now even setting the wrong questions, education is in danger of losing its legitimacy; a ‘second front’ is essential.