The Long View

Last week I contributed to ‘Call Kay’, a radio talk show on BBC Radio Scotland. The subject of discussion was teachers from all of the Scottish unions striking in Scotland, for a 10% pay rise. Both classroom teachers, representing teachers and those in management posts, from secondary and primary phases are involved. The main talking point was that of the effect upon Scottish children, who would miss up to 16 days of schooling in the next couple of months and as might be expected, callers aired a variety of views.

A mother of two children, one of whom had additional needs arising from her being on the autistic spectrum, expressed her concerns about the situation disrupting the daily routine upon which her child with additional needs very much relied. She also spoke of the huge uncertainty and and anxiety of the pandemic that affected two school years, and the fact that her children had only just started to settle down properly with their schooling this school year. Another caller whose child was preparing for public examinations this summer, again brought up the after effects of months of school closure, resulting in a learning shortfall situation and the likelihood of lowered attainment levels. Then there was yet another perspective, this time from a person employed in Education, reminding listeners of the current Scottish Education Secretary’s flagship policies, designed to ensure that every child’s levels of attainment rose and also to reduce the poverty in which 25% of Scottish children were believed to be living. She argued that whilst teachers were inadequately remunerated the realisation of government’s aims was unlikely.

All of these concerns are valid and reasonable, but as any adult who has a duty of care and responsibility for the wellbeing of children knows, there are always immediate, short term, and then longer term, aspects to be considered. When I was a parent of school-aged children and a teacher, in the eighties, and teacher strikes were taking place, I felt caught in the middle of two opposing forces. As a parent I was all too aware of the effects upon my children, our family and the many other families that I knew personally. As a teacher I was hyper-aware of the effects upon my pupils and their families. However, I did strike because I was also conscious that those ‘on the ground’ in education, had to be rewarded fairly for the important and hard work that they were doing. In other words I had to choose to take a long view and put the bigger picture first. Now, four decades on, I am a grandparent and am still involved in education, albeit, working with teachers rather than as a teacher, and I continue to think the long view is important and justifies the immediate, although deeply regrettable short-term effects.

The unions and individual teachers need to be communicating better that their withdrawal of services in the daily education of children is not about their withdrawal of goodwill and care about the children. It is, in fact, the opposite and as such it is offering an opportunity for media to be a force for good in helping with the communication of this idea.

This dual thinking about both short-term and long-term benefits and challenges, requires a maturity of thought and a capacity for critical thinking. In an ideal world, parents, just by virtue of their longer life experiences, relative to their children, would be able to take this stance. However, perhaps because their schools were not equipped and resourced to teach these thinking skills, they haven’t developed these.

Since I was part of this radio discussion, Scottish teaching unions have announced that they will be taking further action in April and the newspapers are reporting that nine out of ten teachers in England and Wales have voted to strike for better pay (above inflation-rate) on seven different days in February and March.

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