Nigel de Gruchy: ‘Teacher strikes don’t have to be selfish’

With a spring of discontent looming for teachers, the Independent’s education editor Richard Garner has an interview with veteran union leader Nigel de Gruchy who claims industrial action can be good for children. This is an extract from the Independent…

It was Nigel de Gruchy who first dreamt up the soundbite “industrial action with a halo”, applied by himself to the industrial action by the union of which he was general secretary for 12 years, the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT). Union members refused to teach the most disruptive of pupils so as to restore order to the classroom for the other 25 or so young people in it.

In most cases, this was applied when a pupil had been permanently excluded from school after an assault – either on a teacher or fellow pupils – but ordered back into the classroom after a successful appeal against his or her exclusion.

Industrial action by teachers is expected to loom large in the national consciousness over the next week as both the NASUWT and National Union of Teachers (NUT) consider escalating action over the Government’s decision to scrap annual incremental pay increases for teachers, increase their pension contributions and cut education spending.

The phrase “with a halo” is unlikely to be much in use this time, especially from the lips of the Coalition Government as it contemplates the spectre of children being sent home from school.

That phrase of Mr de Gruchy’s comes to mind at this time because he has just published a book. Despite its rather pedestrian title, The History of the NASUWT 1919-2002: The Story of a Battling Minority, it is an interesting read, giving a philosophical insight into the question of whether teachers should engage in industrial action.

In typical de Gruchy style (he was renowned for his pithy soundbites in explaining complex educational issues), he tackles the question head-on. “Were we a professional organisation, which by popular definition (if not in reality) put the clients – the children – first, ahead of any consideration of self-interest? Or were we a trade union which put its members’ interest first and ‘to hell with the kid’?”

“If forced to answer the question in terms of such simplistic and brutal alternatives we came down on the side of being a trade union.” However, he concludes that the issues “are not so starkly opposed as I have portrayed”.

“In practice, most of the time the interests of the pupils and teachers ran parallel,” he adds.

Read the full interview at: Nigel de Gruchy: ‘Teacher strikes don’t have to be selfish’

The History of the NASUWT 1919-2002: The Story of a Battling Minority by Nigel de Gruchy (Arima Publishing, £25)

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