UK Politics

Michael Gove: Strikes could damage teachers' reputation

Education Secretary Michael Gove has warned teachers against taking part in Thursday's strikes - saying they risk losing respect for their profession.

And he told the BBC he backed the idea of "parents going in to help" keep schools open in England and Wales.

Teachers are among up to 750,000 public sector workers striking over changes to public sector pensions on 30 June.

Meanwhile, Business Secretary Vince Cable has played down the prospect of changing union laws.

The strike, by members of the National Union of Teachers and the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), is expected to disrupt thousands of schools.

The teachers' unions are campaigning against changes to their pensions which, they say, will mean working longer, paying more and getting less when they retire.

But Mr Gove said he had been concerned for some time that teachers were not held in the same high esteem that they were in other countries - and although that had been changing in recent years, he said taking part in strikes could mean that respect is "taken back a little bit".

'Retrograde step'

He told BBC One's The Andrew Marr Show the strike was "premature" as negotiations were continuing between the government and unions over public sector pensions.

Mr Gove urged them to "stick to the talks and let's not have the sort of militancy that will disturb family life for hundreds of thousands of people across the country - and will mark a retrograde step for the profession".

He added: "You don't see hospital consultants going on strike and I don't believe that teachers and head teachers should. It's within their rights - it's a civil right - but I think it's wrong for the reputation of the profession."

But Mary Bousted, general secretary of the ATL - one of the striking unions - told Sky News that her message to parents was: "If the government gets away with doing a Robert Maxwell on our pensions... there will be no honourable teaching profession. Good teachers won't want to go into the profession because it won't be worth their while to do so."

Mr Cable told BBC Radio Five Live's John Pienaar that his words during a speech to the GMB conference - at which he was booed when he warned against co-ordinated strikes - had been misinterpreted.

"I was in no way threatening them with strike legislation. I think it was over-reported in some respects," he said.

He said people were pushing from both sides - some for strikes, some for strike legislation, but changing the law would be a "final resort" and the government favoured negotiation.

Mr Gove said legislation on strike laws had to be kept "under review" - as the public would demand change "whether in the law or whatever in order to make sure we do not have militancy that disrupts family life".

He said there were "different options" for dealing with it but he did not want to "ratchet up the rhetoric" and get into a "pitched battle" with unions at a time he was in negotiations with them.

'Massive inconvenience'

The Independent on Sunday reported that Mr Gove had written to schools, to ask them to get parents to help keep schools open during the strike.

Asked whether he was suggesting that parents should go in to take lessons on Thursday, he said: "Well, parents going in to help certainly."

He said otherwise there would be "massive inconvenience" for working families - particularly single parents who would have to find childcare at short notice.

He added that the government wanted to do "everything possible to ensure that schools stay open" - but he did not know how many would have to shut on Thursday.

But he was criticised by Labour frontbencher Peter Hain, who told the programme: "One of the things that's led to this situation is the government's reckless and arbitrary attack on public sector pensions without being willing to negotiate.

"I mean here's Michael Gove coming on your programme and he's urging parents to break strikes. That's not a responsible way of resolving these situations."

He said it was not for Labour to urge union members to go to work saying political leaders should be trying to resolve strikes, not applauding or condemning them.

The government says public sector pensions have to change because of the "unsustainable" rising cost to taxpayers - particularly as people are living longer.

But NUT leader Christine Blower has accused the government of trying to "ride roughshod" over teachers in making changes to their pensions.

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