Chalk Talk: Why Michael Gove may be heading for a great escape


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The Independent Online

A couple of weeks ago, we highlighted how frequently Education Secretary Michael Gove prayed in aid of Steve McQueen movies to get his message across.

I suggested glibly that the next time he referred to the Hollywood movie legend, it would be good if he could cite The Great Escape after heroically saving the nation from a national teachers' strike next month.

Well, he hasn't quite done that – but he is at least half way there.

Leaders of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT) have decided not to join their colleagues in the National Union of Teachers (NUT) in staging a one-day strike on 26 March to protest at the Education Secretary's pay reforms, plans to increase their pension contributions, and their excessive workload.

In a statement, the union said its members were still just as angry at the way they perceived they had been treated – but that there would be no strike action this term.

It's no mean achievement for Mr Gove to have driven a wedge between the two unions. Up until now, their boast was that his one achievement since taking office had been to unite them.

The NASUWT cited two developments as having influenced its decision not to strike: the decision of the School Teachers' Review Body not to bow to requests from Mr Gove to rewrite their contracts and jettison restrictions on the number of hours and days they worked (and Mr Gove's acceptance of that recommendation), and his decision to finally set up a meeting with the unions to discuss their action.

I have long thought that the union's strategy over strike action has been flawed – sporadic strikes every few months do not seem to be changing anyone's mind and are likely just to inconvenience parents who have to make childcare arrangements.

To have a serious chance of persuading the Government to change its mind, they would have to resort to a longer form of continuous strike action. I doubt, though, whether there is the support for that in the profession.

In the meantime, it will be interesting to see how much support will be mustered for the NUT's action on 25 March.