Teacher strikes: back to homeschooling?

There’s a lot of parental support for the striking teachers, but it’s going to make life that bit more difficult for many.

Middle-aged distance teacher having video conference call with pupil using webcam. Home education and e-learning concept.

It does feel a bit as if everything is falling apart, but it’s been a long time coming. This week’s announcement of a teachers’ strike in England and Wales, if only for a few days and only affecting one union [although the biggest one], will mean parents are likely to be back to the homeschooling thing that was so stressful for many during Covid. In Scotland, they are already there and in the middle of 16 continuous days of strike action. That will make work difficult or even impossible for some parents.

Yet many parents support the strike because they’re acutely aware of the pressures facing teachers, exacerbated by ongoing funding problems, which have seen many shedding teaching and support jobs even before Covid hit. The Government has announced extra funding for schools, but the damage of the last years has already been done.

Every year there is an increasing list of teachers leaving and worries about the number and quality of new applicants, particularly in key subjects like maths. My son is currently being taught maths by his Spanish teacher. I know whole groups of A Level students who have made complaints about various teachers’ standard of teaching. At her last school, my daughter was taught Spanish by someone who was only about one step ahead of her in the language. Another teacher was learning psychology on the job so that he could teach it. It doesn’t fill you with confidence.

My background is in education news and I spend a lot of time talking to students and it’s clear the enormous difference one great teacher can make. But great teachers don’t come from nowhere. They require nurturing and support. My sister is a teacher – at a primary school. She says she wouldn’t advise anyone to go into the profession now. I know she’s a great teacher. She absolutely loves young people and has a real rapport with them. There’s something very wrong when someone like her says they wouldn’t recommend being a teacher.

What was needed during the pandemic and in the aftermath of the lockdowns was a sense that we all valued the kind of vital social infrastructure that schools are part of. Not just applause or thank-yous from ministers before they tell public servants to be more grown up and mature about pay. For too long finance and the private sector have been overvalued. The private sector doesn’t have all the answers to our social problems. Profit is not the be all and end all of what makes for a happy, productive society.

Parents, like everyone, are completely exhausted after the last few years, particularly the mums who still carry most of the caring responsibilities. The public sector is a female-dominated one. Many of its members are parents too. To get people through all of this there needs to be some sense of a vision for the future and that vision needs to embrace everything that makes for a better, healthier society.

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