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Pupils versus trade unions

John Rentoul

rahm 300x168 Pupils versus trade unionsCatching up on my reading. This from the Washington Post last month is interesting on the movement among Democratic mayors in America for schools reform, often striving to overcome opposition from teachers’ unions.

There are two big battles. One over tenure: the guarantee of a job for life for most teachers, which makes it hard to get rid of underperformers. The other over the length of the school day. Rahm Emanuel, mayor of Chicago (pictured), wants to extend the school day there, which for most children in the city is five hours 45 minutes.

I didn’t agree with Michael Gove’s recent mild comments about longer school days, but I do think that diversity of provision is a good thing: long school hours and short holidays suit some pupils and not others. The important thing is that unions should be on the side of the children, not the convenience of their members. That applies in America as much as here.

Footnote on American journalism: I love the quotation attributed by WaPo to “one former national labor leader who spoke on condition of anonymity in order to speak frankly about another union”.

Photograph: Charles Rex Arbogast/AP

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  • Hill244

    Wasn’t Antony Charles Lynton Blair arrested in 1974? In a men’s toilets? Didn’t his records “disappear” recently?

  • Junius

    ‘Catching up on my reading…’

    I am currently ploughing through a tome which thoroughly deserves the epithet revelatory, The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes by Jonathan Rose, and have reached the chapter on schooling, from which the following is an excerpt:

    ‘One Slaithwaite boy characterised his 1d.-a-week school as “A better-than-nothing institute.” It was conducted by an old woman (“when they could do nothing else they could keep a school”) out of her married son’s house. She had a leather lash tied to a walking stick and sometimes used it. Nothing much was taught beyond the alphabet, and the pupils often slipped away when she dozed off…’

    The teacher ended up in the workhouse, but the boy went on to serve in 1926 as a school visitor.

    Another pupil in a dame school was given small sums to do yet never instructed as to how they might produce an answer. He went on to become chancellor of the exchequer.*

    If memory serves, my own primary school days in the mid-1940s were of six hours – nine to four with a one-hour lunch break, which meant I could run home for a meal and be back in good time for the afternoon class. I had to smile at John Rentoul’s naivety in believing that ‘The important thing is that unions should be on the side of the children, not the convenience of their members.’ Who pays union officials’ salaries, for heaven’s sake?

    *That last sentence was a big fib.

  • Russell Child

    “The important thing is that unions should be on the side of the children, not the convenience of their members.”

    A pompous and fatuous statement.

    There are nearly half a million teachers working in UK state schools, many of them members of trade unions. Every day the vast majority of them go into work and do all they are required to do, and invariably much more, to improve their students’ lives through education.

    The idea that being a member of trade union automatically prevents you from being on the side of children is contemptible. As is having a headline of ‘Pupils vs Teachers.’

    It is entirely possible to be a member of a trade union, disagree with Michael Gove’s and John Blake’s ideas and be an excellent and committed teacher.

  • Pacificweather

    Labour, yes New Labour, created Acadamy schools some with a working day as long as that proposed by Mr. Gove. You recommended Lord Adonis’s book to us. Did you not read it or are you ashamed of Mr Blair’s contribution to education? Why not give credit to the teachers who willingly supported those schools who were also members of trade unions.

    America has under funded state education for decades. To provide alternatives that would circumvent union practices would cost more money than they are willing to spend. The Blair government spent money and Lord Adonis’s intellectual effort and energy improving education in Britain and overcoming the comprehensive school legacy promoted by Thatcher. Why are you only proud of Blair’s deceit and fantasies and not the real contributions he made to British society?

  • andagain

    The idea that being a member of trade union automatically prevents you from being on the side of children is contemptible

    And yet, any union is always going to put its members before anyone else, and children fall into the catagory of “anyone else”. It can not be, and therefore will not be, any other way.

  • Pacificweather

    Yet, strangely, teachers go to great lengths to avoid strikes and have accepted less than inflation pay increases. Perhaps their union considers more than just its members. Perhaps the union is its members. Perhaps those members do not always put themselves first.

  • porkfright

    No. As ever, The very rich, the very vested interests and Oxbridge Toffs versus the Trade Unions.


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