As many teachers across South Gloucestershire, B&NES and Bristol prepare to strike on 17th October, Kingswood MP Chris Skidmore says industrial action in schools should only be allowed if parents back it.
Members of the NUT and NASUWT are protesting over pay, pensions and workloads, saying Education Secretary Michael Gove’s failure to acknowledge teachers’ concerns has forced strike action.
But Mr Skidmore, who is a member of the Education Select Committee, says the unions are a “menace to children’s education” – and suggests that parent power is what is needed.
Writing in The Telegraph, he said: “While both unions have claimed 80 per cent support strike action, this is a very partial picture. Reflecting the sheer indifference teachers have for their unions, which many feel compelled to join in order to get insurance, turnout was low. Factoring this in, just 33 per cent of members balloted by the NASUWT gave their support, at the NUT just 22 per cent did.
“Not only have the unions only managed to muster a small minority in support, it’s also been a year since members were balloted.
“Acting out of political loathing, with barely any democratic mandate, these unions are proving a menace to our children’s education. We must finally say enough is enough, and restrain these unions from unnecessary and harmful action.”
He added: “Parents want what’s best for their children, and this means a high-status teaching profession where excellence is rewarded. Parents only agenda is to make sure that schools are as good as they can be, making them uniquely well placed to judge whether the disruption of strikes is in the best interests of teachers and children.
“Take one of the key objections of the unions, the introduction of performance-related pay. A recent poll found 61 per cent of parents support this. They can see that far from damaging the profession this would address the unfairness of the current system where length of service counts for substantially more than effectiveness, demoralising the exceptional but young teachers we want to keep in schools.
“The truth is that industrial action is being pushed forward by the hard-left core at the heart of these enormous unions, not by teachers themselves. Look closely at the NUT executive for instance and you’ll find that more than half are linked to organisations like the Socialist Party and the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty; three have previously stood as Labour Party candidates.
“These are people with a political axe to grind, and they won’t let a lack of support from the nine out of ten teachers they represent prevent them from doing all they can to frustrate reform and embarrass the Government.”
Mr Skidmore said that restraint needed to come from somewhere non-partisan, with the best interests of schools and pupils at heart, and parents fitted the description perfectly.
“If a union is calling on their members from a school to strike then the parents of every pupil there should have the chance to weigh up the disruption against the claimed justifications. If parents support action then it can go ahead.
“Strikes should only happen when they’re good for schools and children; parents, not unions, are the people whose judgement we should trust on this.”
Some local headteachers have already told parents that their children will not be able to go to school on the 17th. At Castle Primary in Keynsham there will be widespread disruption with some classes closed in all day, some just in the morning or the afternoon and some will remain unaffected. And at The Meadows Primary School in Bitton, industrial action will close three classes.