UK Head Teachers Union Urges Shift in Advocacy Focus

Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers in the United Kingdom, has urged his members to seek the backing of parents — acknowledging the political reality that voter discontent is of more concern to politicians than mere strikes.

Last year, the NAHT joined other teaching unions by taking part in national strike action over changes to their retirement fund.

The walk-out – the first in its 115-year history – led to the full or partial closure of most state schools in England and Wales, causing chaos for millions of parents.

Hobby made his remarks during the union’s annual conference and as strike action often makes voters equally discontent with both sides they herald a shift in direction for unions frustrated by both Coalition policies and the lack of impact their threatened strikes have had so far.

Mr Hobby later qualified his remarks by saying that the threat of industrial action should be retained. However, if it was overused, then it became devalued. He said that parental backing had been a major positive in their campaign to reform national tests for 11 year olds and that parental backing over concerns at their children being taught by 68 year old teachers could also help unions win some concessions over the pensions conflict which has been behind many of the recent teacher strikes.

“The hardest lesson I have learned over the last 18 months is that, to put it bluntly, we are talking to the wrong people.

“Traditionally, public sector trade unions have faced off – positively or negatively – towards the Government. That was always going to be harder with a Conservative-led than with a Labour administration.

“The Government still holds the levers of power and of change but industrial muscle is a blunt instrument in our day and age. It is sometimes a necessary one, but the Government fears the voter more than it fears the strike.

“Our target must be public opinion.”

The NAHT has also threatened to call for the sacking of Sir Michael Wilshaw, chief of Ofsted, by passing a ‘no confidence’ vote. The mood at the conference can only be described as frosty when it came to discussing Sir Michael.

The Ofsted chief has earned the union’s ire for what they describe as demoralizing negative rhetoric which has created a climate of fear in schools. Soon after being appointed this year he said that up to 25% of heads in the UK were underperforming and wouldn’t be allowed to continue getting away the usual excuses of poverty and deprivation to explain poor exam grades.

Sir Michael is himself an ex-principal of Mossbourne Academy.