Kiri Tunks

People don’t say no enough

Kiri Tunks is a teacher. Here, she talks about the education system’s failings, why her students give her hope and how her union keeps her sane.

I joined the NUT as a student teacher.

At the time – in the 90s – there were the beginnings of an education cuts campaign. I got involved, and I’ve been involved ever since – and now I’m vice-president of my union, the NUT section of the National Education Union!

There’s this idea that trade unionism damages your career, but I’ve found it to be the opposite.

If it wasn’t for the union, I would have left teaching years ago. It challenges things that are wrong, and it does make real changes. That’s kept me sane.

Nobody comes into teaching to make money.

They believe in what they’re doing and want to work with young people. Every year, I meet excited new teachers, and I watch the enthusiasm drain out of them as they realise the system is going to make it impossible to do things they want to. As a result, huge numbers of teachers are leaving – there’s a recruitment crisis.

The pay doesn’t help – we’ve had a real terms pay cut of about 15% since 2010.

If you put all those factors together, you think, ‘I’m working stupid hours, I haven’t got a family or social life, the stress is making me ill, and I’m not getting paid like I should be’. You’d have to be mad to do it.

People don’t say no enough.

They’re not aware of their rights, and they’re worried about retribution if they do say something. We often characterise it as like a dysfunctional relationship, where you keep taking on stuff on that’s not good for you. Teachers justify it as being for the kids, but it’s way beyond what’s reasonable.

I’ve been on strike several times.

You just have to put a marker down and say, ‘No further’. Sometimes, you threaten a strike, and that’s enough – management realise you’re serious and sit down to talk, and you get a deal. I think it would be better if they took us seriously from the start.

Schools are failing children as well.

There was a report this week that said one in four teenage girls are suffering depression – that’s an absolutely shameful statistic. School today is about passing exams, there’s too little pastoral care. The creative subjects are getting lost. We’re trying to hit targets that aren’t actually good for children.

If we put the young people in charge of the world now, I think we’d be in a much better place.

I teach a class called Global Perspectives. My year 9s are looking at whether prisons are fit for purpose and my year 8s are coming up with ideas for a new school. They’re so full of energy and creativity, which makes me full of hope.

My union is very concerned about the growth of sexism and sexual harassment in society.

It’s something people think they’ve won, but it’s getting worse. The Girl Guiding annual survey said 64% of girls say they’ve been sexually harassed in schools – that’s not acceptable. My union is organising a big public conference next spring to discuss sexism and stereotyping, particularly related to girls, but also in society in general.