LAURA PERRINS: While medics and shopkeepers refuse to be bowed by Covid-19, teaching unions are making outrageous demands before returning to the classroom… Don’t our children deserve better

There’s an old saying in politics: never let a good crisis go to waste. That is certainly the approach adopted by the National Education Union (NEU), Britain’s biggest representative body for teachers.

With breath-taking cynicism and self-serving ruthlessness, the union is using the Covid-19 pandemic to hammer the Government over cheap political points — at terrible cost to the nation’s children.

Its mission not only ignores entirely the educational needs of pupils, it also casts aside the rights of taxpayers who underwrite our state schools.

As the Mail has highlighted, many teachers have shown themselves to be nothing short of heroic during the pandemic, going the extra mile to ensure that the needs of children are not forgotten.

This paper has helped to distribute thousands of laptops to Britain’s most disadvantaged pupils through the pioneering Mail Force charity.

Such actions and those of others have taken place against the backdrop of the NEU’s shameless agenda.

Many teachers have shown themselves to be nothing short of heroic during the coronavirus pandemic, going the extra mile to ensure the needs of children are not forgotten (stock image)

This week the NEU called for the Government to meet a series of ‘demands’ before it would co-operate with the reopening of schools once lockdown begins to be lifted (hopefully in early March). 

Top of this list of ransom conditions was, all too predictably, a ‘permanent’ and ‘automatic pay rise’ for teachers because of the supposed increase in their workload during the pandemic, even though schools have been closed for much of the past year.

Other demands included an end to work assessments during the crisis, more time outside the classroom for preparation, regular risk assessments and a ‘long-term’ reduction in class sizes.

The NEU is exploiting Covid to seek higher pay in return for less work. As a mother of three school-age children, I find this stance outrageous.

It is the worst kind of ‘I’m All Right Jack’ trade unionism, full of intransigence and greed.

The unprecedented health crisis should be a moment for professionals of all stripes to show dedication and self-sacrifice.

Online lessons are an inadequate substitute for classroom contact, while another union

Indeed, that is precisely what so many key workers have done, from heroic medical staff battling the pandemic in our hospitals to refuse collectors and prison officers continuing to go to work at no small risk to their own safety.

But such an altruistic spirit is entirely missing from the NEU, with its invented grievances and inflated safety concerns.

Many people will baulk at the suggestion that the teaching profession should be awarded a hefty pay rise when so many employees have recently faced redundancy, pay cuts or insecurity on furlough.

The very fact that the NEU feels able to make such a demand at a time like this shows how detached it has become from the reality of today’s Britain, scarred by Covid-led poverty and soaring unemployment, now standing at 5 per cent.

Nor can the union seriously pretend that such a rise is deserved because of extra burdens on the profession. Instead, the opposite is true.

Despite the wails from the NEU, repeated lockdowns have eased pressures on many teachers.

Online lessons are an inadequate substitute for classroom contact, while another union, the NASUWT, absurdly alleges that video technology such as Zoom is a breach of teachers’ privacy.

The fact is: never in British history has so much been spent on primary and secondary schools.

National Education Union General Secretary Mary Bousted

But it is central to the NEU’s economic illiteracy to believe that the Treasury has a bottomless pit of cash from which union members can enjoy ‘permanent’ and ‘automatic’ pay rises.

What makes these ‘demands’ even more insulting to taxpayers is that, more than most other well-protected public-sector professionals, teachers enjoy not just generous pensions but a host of other perks, including longer holidays and shorter hours.

It is true that the poison of the NEU’s negativity has not extended everywhere.

As I know from my own parental experience, many teachers are superb, helping out in the crisis by volunteering far beyond their normal duties.

But that only makes the union’s stubbornness more alarming. 

Throughout the crisis, the NEU has been wilfully obstructive, with MPs accusing it of ‘playing politics’ and ‘hijacking the pandemic’, and NEU bosses describing Covid-19 as a ‘turning point’ in the power of teachers over the Government.

Only this week, as well as making its pay demand, it signalled its opposition to an official suggestion that the summer term might be extended this year by two weeks to make up for the months of lost education so many children have suffered.

The interests of these millions of youngsters seem to count for nothing in the selfish union mindset.

That has been the established pattern throughout this fraught period, as the union has clamoured for lockdowns and thwarted every imaginative proposal for alternative ways of working.

Last June, union bosses were at the forefront of the move to prevent the reopening of schools after the first lockdown, their blackmail proving so effective that the Government eventually decided that the question would have to be left to the discretion of individual head teachers.

And the union crowed last month when the country’s third national lockdown meant no schools would return in the New Year.

At times, the NEU almost seems hostile to the very idea of educating children in schools

‘You did it,’ proclaimed a union bulletin to its 450,000 members, adding that ‘you [the members] stood up for your own safety, your pupils, their families and your communities’.

There could hardly be a more perverse interpretation of civic duty than to celebrate the exclusion of children from schools.

One long-serving secondary school teacher tore up his NEU membership card in disgust, saying that the tone of the email ‘made me sick to my stomach, as if they had won a football match’.

At times, the NEU almost seems hostile to the very idea of educating children. The union appears to think we could have a great education system were it not for the pupils. 

In an outburst last year, the far-Left joint general secretary Mary Bousted described children as ‘mucky, who spread germs, who touch everything, who wipe their snot on your trousers or your dress’.

With attitudes such as that, no wonder a generation has been let down.

It is tragic that an ideologue like her should have such a prominent role in education — and those suffering most are our children.

Ms Bousted’s attitude was recently described by one insider as: ‘It’s all about the union and to hell with the teachers who want to get back to the classroom — let alone the children.’

The teaching unions have been a negative force for far too long. They have blocked every measure of reform through their attachment to political dogma.

They have undermined the drive to raise standards through their fierce protection of outdated, restrictive practices.

But, most disgracefully, their obstructionism has plumbed new depths in the pandemic.

Ms Bousted recently said that Education Secretary Gavin Williamson had ‘lost the trust of teachers and parents’.

When it comes to betraying public trust, she and her colleagues should look in the mirror. 

Laura Perrins is a former barrister and co-editor of website The Conservative Woman.

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