London - Arabstoday
Members of two teaching unions approved plans for a rolling programme of disruption and strike action starting as early as this summer as part of a long-standing campaign against Government changes to public sector retirement funds.
Despite reassurances that the summer GCSE and A-level exams would not be put at risk, parents fear the action could close thousands of schools and stop classes at a crucial time.
A "summer of discontent" is now expected after Government talks on a new pensions deal ended without agreement with the unions.
The votes mean more than 500,000 teachers are preparing for "national, regional and selective" walkouts and work to rules in opposition to pension cuts and pay freezes, performance related pay, new rules for sacking poor teachers and plans to cut the traditional six-week summer break.
Moves by George Osborne, the Chancellor, to introduce local pay and by Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, to expand free schools and academies – which set their own pay and conditions – take a sledge hammer to nationally set wage scales in the public sector.
Teachers leaders said the Government's barrage of reforms represented the most "vicious assault" on pay and conditions in decades.
The biggest classroom union, the National Union of Teachers (NUT) voted at its conference in Torquay yesterday for walkouts starting in the summer term.
The vote sanctions a one day national strike in England and Wales before the end of June, subject to consultation with NUT divisions and talks with other TUC unions, followed by targeted local action in the summer term, autumn term and beyond.
Christine Blower, the general secretary, said: "The determination to continue the campaign is absolute. The overwhelming majority of teachers have clearly rejected the imposition of the government's pension scheme. The vote today gives life to that rejection to win something better for teachers so that they do not have to work longer, pay more and get less."
Delegates at the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT) conference in Birmingham also unanimously endorsed an escalation of the union's current work to rule action, up to and including strikes, in the autumn term.
Chris Keates, the union's general secretary, said: "Teachers do not feel there is any area of their working lives that the government has not trampled over and it is impairing their ability to focus on raising standards for pupils."
School staff have already staged two countrywide strikes – in June and November last year – and a one-day strike in London last month over the pension dispute.
In November, when head teachers joined the strike, 75 per cent of schools in England were shut or partially closed causing major problems for parents
Pension reforms will result in teachers paying in more, working longer and receiving less when they retire.
Unions believe backing for strike action will grow when pay packets later this month reveal the effects of the increase in the contribution employees must make.
The Government says that huge public sector pension pot is unsustainable. Overall annual spending on public sector pensions is being reined in by £2.8 billion.
A spokesman for the Department for Education said: "The deal of teachers' pensions is as good as it gets and takes the right balance. It guarantees teachers one of the best pensions available but keeps a lid on rising costs for the taxpayer."
Teachers are also threatening action over the prospect of facing greater scrutiny in the classroom.
From September, a rule which allowed head teachers to observe lessons for no more than three hours a year will be scrapped. Ofsted inspectors will also concentrate more on teaching in the classroom.
New "capability procedures" which speed up the time taken to monitor and sack underperforming teachers also come in to force.
Teachers said the moves put staff under a "cloud of fear" and have been introduced to make the running of schools more attractive to private companies.
A DFE spokesman said: "It is absurd to say our school reforms are a "vicious assault" on the teaching profession. They are all about putting children first and raising standards.
"We are putting power back in to the hands of talented heads and teachers – allowing them to get on with raising standards without interference from Whitehall or politicians. All striking does is damaging children's education."
Delegates also oppose plans to cut the traditional long summer holiday and extend the school day.
Hundreds of free schools and academies have already introduced the changes following Mr Gove's support for a longer day and shortening the holiday to four weeks.
Teachers in Nottingham held a one-day strike last month and two more are planned later this month over city council plans to introduce a five-year term, cutting the break to four weeks.
An NUT conference motion, due to be heard later this week, states that "genuine rest and recuperation" is only possible in the long summer break.
But the claim has angered families who struggle to find childcare to cover the holiday.
One parent wrote on the Mumsnet parenting website: "Teachers don't have the monopoly on stressful jobs." Another said: "Four weeks in summer would be plenty. I don't know of anyone in jobs other than teaching who can take more than a fortnight at a stretch."
Justine Roberts, Mumsnet co-founder, said: "We have the highest childcare costs and the longest working hours in Europe. Some families really struggle with the long break because it is hard to find childcare solutions.
"Other parents take a more nostalgic view and would rather a long break when the weather is good and kids can play outside.
"If changes are made, they should be made nationally because what really annoys parents is when schools have different holiday and term times."
Schools and local authorities can set their own holiday patterns, as long as children are in school for a minimum of 190 days a year. Most schools have three terms a year.