Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Why I'm Striking

I usually use this blog to reflect on my teaching practice and document my progress as I strive to become a better teacher. However tonight on the eve of tomorrow's strike I feel I need to explain why I feel so strongly about the issues involved that I am striking for only the second time in my life. 

First a little background. I'm 47, a widow and a single parent. I took my degree in Computer Science and Manufacturing as a mature student ( obtained a 2.1 if Mr Gove is interested ) and worked for HSBC for 13 years as variously an analyst programmer, process manager and project manager before deciding to retrain as a teacher in 1995. My reasons for doing were hopelessly idealistic - I wanted a job which made a difference and gave me a an opportunity to pass on my lifelong love of learning. Thanks to the additional bursary of the (now scrapped) Fast Track teacher training scheme I was in the fortunate position of being able to afford a sizeable pay cut in order to put this idealism in to practice.

During my time at HSBC I managed teams of over 90 people and developed IT systems which have been rolled out across the country. I was eligible for annual bonuses of nearly 40% of my annual salary and I still have the non contributory final salary pension which was part of the recruitment package when I was first employed ( since closed to new recruits ). I worked hard, was successful  and regularly got high achiever ratings for my performance reviews ( resulting in higher bonuses ). I sometimes had to work late and occasionally at weekends when there was an impending deadline but I never had to work as hard or for as many hours as I now find myself doing week-in, week-out as Subject Leader for ICT. I try to keep Friday nights and Saturdays free ( although at times of pressure this slips ) but other than that I am working every evening until at least 10pm and most of Sunday. At least half of most holidays I am also working. It's a punishing schedule and not one I could envisage continuing with until I'm 66.

Part of the reason for the long hours is that I'm passionate about my subject and keen to be involved with national collaborative projects such as the #ictcurric resource bank. However a large proportion of my time is spent marking coursework ( I have 7 100% coursework classes in KS4 alone ), writing reports, producing resources and planning lessons. ICT is a fast moving subject and I need to continually update my subject knowledge. I've only been teaching 5 years but in that time I've taught 7 different ICT courses at KS4 alone. And don't get me started on the ever changing whims of central government, the changes in goalpost and the jumping through hoops that we are continually subjected to.

Despite all this I love my job and would not wish to leave the teaching profession. For better or worse this is what I signed up for and I still derive great job satisfaction from seeing students I have taught succeed. Only last night I had a former student contact me via Facebook to tell me that he had obtained a merit in his BTEC level 3 course. However I feel that the current government has no respect whatsoever for teachers and is treating us with utter contempt. We are subjected to constant sniping from the education secretary who seems to see no value in any any form of education which does not mirror his own public school experience.

The pensions issue is the final straw. Teachers had their pensions reviewed in 2006 and agreement was reached then to make them affordable and sustainable. Now the government has turned round and wants us to pay more (up from 6.8% to 9.8% of annual salary), get less and wait longer. I'm likely to be paying an extra £80 a month ( when my salary is frozen for 2 years ) and lose £1800 per year in pension if I retire at 60. Can you imagine buying a personal pension and having the insurance company deciding to impose such change of contract terms? Teaching takes energy in the classroom and a massive workload outside the classroom - I cannot envisage being able to carry on at the current rate when I'm 66. Presumably this is what the government is banking on with many teachers being forced to take early retirement and therefore reduce their pensions still further. 

When you apply for a job you take into account the whole benefits package. When I worked for HSBC it was a non-contributory final salary pension, annual performance related bonus and a good salary. Even though I have now left they are honouring the pension terms they offered me at the interview. In general though the usual agreement in the private sector is larger salaries but lower pensions. In contrast the public sector generally offers lower salaries but has a more generous pension scheme - it's a trade off - now we are being asked to take the lower salaries and a lower pension. Put simply it's not fair.

As a final note - tomorrow's Independent front page:-

So tomorrow I will be on the picket line and on the protest march. I do not feel I have any choice. 


  1. Perhaps if you taught economics you would realise that the country cannot afford the overly generous pension package given to teachers by a socialist government with a union gun held to their head.
    Stop behaving like a spoilt brat and smell the coffee – the money earning sector cannot provide the luxuries you covet so stop holding us to ransom by denying our children an education. If you don’t like it quit – you have a choice unlike a great many without work.

  2. Anonymous 9:46 - what are these "luxuries"? I work in the private sector, but my wife is a teacher. She get much fewer perks than I do and works just as hard - if not more. We even pay for childcare on her days off so she has the time for marking & lesson planning.

    Surely teachers are money generating by helping to educate our future employees - which should be cause to give them as much support as possible, not criticise and de-value them. How can we expect a proper education system if we don't treat the people responsible for it properly?

    Also, I'm assuming you're happy for your children to be taught by people in their mid/late 60s? I'm not sure I'd want to be in charge of 30 teenage boy/girls Physical Education at 63

  3. GA

    So your teacher wife gets perks? That must be nice! I have to work for everything I get.

    WHy do you expect us all to put teachers on a pedestal and hold them in reverence? Like any worker teachers should be given as much support as they require to get their job done, which is no different to any other worker. Right now teachers are not giving the rest of the workforce much support by making us miss a days pay so that they can moan at having their pay & pensions brought in line with the rest of the country.

  4. Anonymous - EVERYONE who is worth anything works hard for everything they get and that includes teachers.

    You say that we deserve support as much as any other worker - I totally agree. However, unlike other workers, our job is going to be extremely difficult to do and is going to need much more support if we are to work to the age that the government wants us to. At the moment I climb 3 flights of stairs to get to my classroom. Do you expect me to be doing this at 68?
    Am I really going to be an effective teacher at 68? Will I have the energy, the enthusiasm, to be the teacher that all pupils take inspiration from? I can try but I certainly doubt it. And so what can I do? Become one of the out of touch consultants that teachers so hate that come into schools and tell younger teachers how to do their job with the new fads and training, on ridiculous amounts of money for not much work? (yes, teachers know and dislike these people too). Not everyone gets to be a head of department or a member of senior management. what about normal classroom teachers who act as crowd control, teacher, counsellor, social worker, police officer?

    I totally appreciate that other pension schemes are poor and that the teacher one is still better than others, however, just because we are taking a stand and defending that which we were told we would achieve by our retirement age, does that mean that we are awful people?
    The man on This Morning today said that through this strike we are attacking the children in our care. If this was the case we should have gone on strike prior to the public examinations however during the balloting teachers decided to wait so this would not impact on those who needed us as more than just an extended child care facility.

    A further thing to realise about retirement ages and, again, I stress that this is not only in the teaching profession, is what happens to the next generation? If teachers continue to teach for another 5 years or, by my retirement age, another 8, where are the jobs going to come from for the next generation of teachers?

    The fact is that this is a hard situation. Teachers appreciate that cuts have to be made in all areas but we have decided to stand up and fight for our pensions and this is our right. If the rest of the country has decided to lay back and accept, that is their choice. I, however, cannot afford to contribute up to another £100 a month on top of my contributions to my repayments of my student loan (yes, accrued by my choice to go to University, but do you want uneducated teachers?). I would, one day, quite like to have a deposit on a house, to be able to afford a wedding, but at the moment I struggle with rent, bills etc. (and no I am not asking for sympathy).

    Teachers have no desire to upset the apple cart as it were, but we will try as hard as possible to defend that which we feel we have achieved by the end of a, in my case, nearly 50 years in the teaching profession and that which was promised by the previous government. I'm sure that you can appreciate why teachers are so upset. If one child was given £10 pocket money a week for doing chores and was promised so by his mum, but he was then told that he could only have £5 because the boy next door only got £5, who would feel injured? And yet most people would not care and would say that its not even an issue.

    I can see both viewpoints, but as a teacher, I am on our side, as anyone would be in our position. show me a teacher than would say "well ok then."

  5. "where are the jobs going to come from for the next generation of teachers?" Sack the incompetents just as we do in the real World thereby raising standards.

    Look, no one likes having things taken away from them and in that respect you all have my sympathy, but this has been going on for years in my version of reality. The fact is you were promised things by previous governments that the country cannot deliver because the private sector can't afford it. You know the arguments and I've heard it said that you are not protesting against what has to be done but rather the way it has been done, which I find churlish. We have all had our expectations lowered thanks to years of economic mismanagement and now we need to bite the bullet so that the country as a whole can recover.

  6. Thank you both for taking the time to comment on my post. Anonymous - I've experienced both private and public sector and I feel I've explained in the post which I've had to work hardest in. I was most of the way through the Advanced Skills Teacher application before I decided to become a Head of Department instead so I feel my own performance is not at issue. If it's truly so cushy being a public sector worker why are you not queueing up to join us?