Monday, November 28, 2011

Back to school

My parents are to blame.  Also my wife's parents.

They made each of us feel that the most important thing we could do for our children was to see that they got a good education.  I'm not saying we did perfectly in our attempts, but we certainly tried and it seems to me that the government should have a similar responsibility to the children of the land.

Right now.  Let's just leave that thought there for the moment.  I'll be back to pick it up before it goes missing.

I have watched with bemusement the various occupations of recent months.  Occupy Wall Street.  The St Pauls protesters.  One thing that does surprise me is that the authorities find it so difficult to remove the protesters.  I'm quite happy for the protesters to have their say but not day after day.  There are more important things to demonstrate about.

Like Education.

Which leads me back to the strikes planned for two days' time on 30th November.  For years, head teachers across the land have insisted to parents that their children's education is too important to be trifled with and that unexplained absences aren't acceptable.  Indeed, a good friend of mine recently put up on facebook the following
Dear Head Teacher

Thank you for your recent request for little Tommy to be absent from school during term time. As you have pointed out on several occasions, the school does have a strict policy on this subject. I therefore must decline your request.

(ref teachers striking on Nov 30th)
But what really can we do about it?

Given how important children's education is to their future, it seems wrong that it should be trifled with to make a political point.  Driving into work this morning, I wondered what would happen if parents initiated a protest of their own: perhaps choosing tomorrow to Occupy State Schools.  Perhaps little Tommy or Tamsin could take a sleeping bag and 36 hours' provisions with them when they go to school tomorrow and then refuse to leave - and indeed have their parents join them at the end of the school day?

I am not recommending this.  I just wondered what might happen, since I believe in education.  Blame my parents.


Charlie Macro said...

I have spoken to colleagues from 4 different schools and am yet to speak to one who isn't striking with extreme reluctance Sean. After all most teachers go into the profession because they prioritise education above all else. The hard working nature of the highly capable, intelligent people within the profession (who could have easily chosen to take the private sector path of higher salaries and bonuses) will probably mean that they will just work twice as hard on Thursday and Friday to ensure the children don't lose out. Most teachers work a 60+ hour week plus a significant proportion of their holidays but certainly don't receive a pay packet that reflects this. The pensions CAN be sustained and are, without question, well earned. If you truly value education, then I would expect you to value the essential ingredient of this a little more Sean. As to the letter your friend received, absenteeism is a growing problem within schools and is leading to huge gaps in learning, which has led Head teachers with no choice but to take a firm stance.

Sean Haffey said...

Hello Charli

I think most teachers do a magnificent job. However, I also think most teachers are unaware of the reality of working in the private sector. In my company, the total salary increase over the past 5 years has been 1%. That's 1% over 5 years, not 1% a year. In the early 1990s, IBM had a 3 year pay freeze. Final salary pensions are a thing of the past in the private sector except for a very few lucky individuals. Colleen and I, for example, put another 20% of our salaries aside to save for retirement. And bonuses? I can think of two people I know who get them, and dozens who don't.

Now the unions may tell you that these defined benefits pensions can be sustained. This simply isn't true. This year the government will spend £68 billion just on interest on its debt despite all the cuts. That's more than we spend on education and police put together. It's not affordable. The only reason we're paying £68 billion is because we got the loans on low rates of interest: if markets become alarmed that we can't repay then they'll start charging higher rates for new loans and our interest bill will creep up to and then past £100bn a year.

Finally, have the unions explained why people in the private sector might think "OK, I'll have to put aside a huge lump of my after-tax salary for my own pension and, oh yes, I'll have to pay all over again for the civil-servants' pensions too." It won't happen.

How did we get here? Because the last government led people to believe that it could go on spending money that it didn't have and that somehow everything would be all right. Well, the bills have to be paid. There is no magic. And I am afraid that it's largely going to be your generation that will have to pay the accumulated debts of mine.

My blog entry was an attempt, perhaps poor, to put a bit of humour on it. I suspect if you ask people what they think of their local teachers they would mostly be very positive. But we in the private sector can't afford to pay two lots of pensions.

Sean Haffey said...

Hello Charli

You may also be interested in this document, from the Office of National Statistics. I was surprised.