❮   all STORIES
“Hope doesn't come from words. Hope only comes from actions.”― Greta Thunberg

The Strike

As a headteacher you have to try and manage this situation, considering everyone's views and positions, whilst remaining child-centred, carefully ensuring that your own views aren't influential. It's the proverbial rock and hard place, where you may have nothing to gain, apart from criticism.

It was a day of strike action and the large majority of the school had been closed. I sat at my desk, mid-afternoon, to take stock of how I'd managed things, feeling generally that things had gone as well as they could have. I may not be in a position to say very much, but I had been able to make clear to our families how hard our staff worked hard everyday, although our families need little reminder of this.

And then the phone rang.

'When the phone rings, it's good to have a heads up. My secretary was very good at getting the back story, and sharing it quickly with me before taking the call. Unfortunately on this day, it didn't happen.'

I expected the paper ringing again for a quote, but this was 'that parent'. The one who needed no invitation to criticise teachers and to make clear his disdain for their lack of consideration.I could kick myself. Caught off-guard and on the back foot, as he launched into his media-fuelled rant. I did my best to interject with clumsy responses but was unable to do anything other than listen. As his words subsided, I did my best to explain. This was of little interest to him. His unfortunate view had been manifesting over many years, more than likely stemming from his own experiences.

What I did say.
'I very sorry and I understand your concerns. Our staff work very hard and are entitled to act if they feel that they do not feel that they are valued. Thankyou for your call'.

What I wanted to say.
'I am also a parent. I have made clear the situation in my newsletters, which you haven't read. Just like you never visit school, attend any events and have little knowledge about what the teachers genuinely contribute. Your daughter also loves school, and is making great progress, which is a profound indicator of what our staff do. I also know that she is due to attend the residential this year, which is just one example of teachers working without pay.'

'This is one of those situations where you relive the conversation with all of your smart answers at hand. However at the time, I was far from smart. Nothing can take the wind out of your sales like confrontation can.'

Managing strike action is a minefield and it can be another example of how solitary the job can be when you are paid to be diplomatic. I'm glad that I didn't share my views because it wouldn't change anything. I remember this call clearly, but unfortunately have to remind myself of all of the support that our families demonstrated. Either by letting the staff know, or by getting on with their childcare arrangements. If you are a head managing this, make sure that you stop to notice your support. You can learn a lot about how your school is doing on days like this.

Strike days are like snow days for headteachers. There's absolutely nothing to gain apart from criticism. You feel isolated because the colleagues that you work shoulder to shoulder with, have been advised to communicate with you in the most unnatural ways. You receive 'advice' and 'guidance', but every school is different, with many different variables.

Once again it's all about 'headteacher discretion'. The empty void of decision making that is reliant only on your own experience and intuition. The place where people say 'I'm glad I'm not you'.

But it's not about me. I knew how hard our staff worked and I knew how committed they were to our children, my job was just to quietly make sure that everyone else knew this too.

Whilst we may say that there is nothing to gain, there may well be everything to gain, thanks to the actions of others.


There's no real gains to be made, but you can feel pleased with how you handled things on a personal level - given the amount of decision making that you have to consider.

Experience. This is probably not the first time and won't be the last time that this will happen. Over the years, you can become confident about what your position is and how best to manage this process.

I do believe that taking action is the right things to do. To show support for your staff when they will have their own conflicting thoughts can be reassuring. My staff inevitably felt guilty, but what they did was right. The pressure on teachers and schools needs to be exposed. It needs to be out there being discussed so that teaching and education can be healthy in the long term. Many staff will not strike despite their position, just because of the fear of criticism.

About the Author

David Rushby

Former Teaching Assistant.

Observations, learning walks, book studies and parent and pupil surveys for your ipad or tablet

Get 'Everything is Going to be Alright' in your inbox

Thanks for subscribing

"Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much." – Helen Keller

Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form :(

Suggested Stories

Special Measures