João Costa has a school year pitted by strikes and industrial action. Even now, close to the end of the academic year, there appear to be no solutions in sight

Teachers strike “putting essence of State education at risk”

Minister blames teachers for “prejudicing pupils”

Minister of Education João Costa has said today that the ongoing strikes waged by teachers (now extending to national exams and end of term reports) put the essence of State education at risk.

Turning teachers’ own narrative around to ostensibly confront them, he said that “the most prejudiced” in these months of successive strike actions have been the pupils.

Since syndicates representing teachers and non-teaching staff began their ‘head-to-head’ with the government, late last year, the constant refrain has been that THEY are fighting for the future of State education. Thus to be told they are putting what they believe they are fighting for ‘at risk’ may not be the best way of trying to broker any kind of truce.

João Costa began the year hoping for ‘tranquility in education’. He got everything but. Now, as the academic year comes to a truly shambolic end, he told an event in Torres Vedras:

“Our wish is that the school year ends with the tranquility that is due to all students, because we are already reaching a moment in which those who are most affected are those who really depend on public school, those who have no money to pay for tutoring, those who have no other stimuli. It is the essence of the public school that is being jeopardised by these successive strikes.

“It is fundamental that we understand that this period of concluding the school year, of concluding the assessments, is a very critical period for the future,” he stressed.

Clearly, in João Costa’s mindset, the government has been ‘playing its part’ in the negotiations process.

He said “what we want now” is for the measures approved by the government (irrespective of teachers’ dissatisfaction with them) “to come into full effect and for teachers to feel the impact of these measures on their lives”, he told the event, focused on the importance of reading.

“There are still matters to negotiate”, he conceded, giving examples of mono-teaching and the regularisation of the professional situation of technical assistants and specialised technicians in schools, “who in many cases live in precarious situations or also have a salary situation that is quite insufficient”.

He then returned to the theme of the event, calling on young people and their families to read, “considering that there is no growth or development if a population does not read”, reports SIC Notícias.

But no matter what the minister said today, teachers appear firmly set on returning to strike action on Monday, with the most ‘combative’ syndicate (S.T.O.P) promising more of the same for the next school year, starting in September.

S.T.O.P’s national coordinator André Pestana has repeated his justifications of the recent troubled past: “There is a lot of money in this country which continues not to be channeled into what is really important, public services (…) education professionals are tired, exhausted, and because of this there is already a shortfall of many teachers, because it no longer compensates, to be a teacher, because financially it is totally unsustainable”.

According to Pestana, “thousands of classes (hours where teaching should be happening) are being lost because of the stubbornness of the minister”.

Teachers are holding out for what they believe in – and hoping this time round they will not be bound by ‘minimum services’ (the three hours minimum of teaching per day to which they were bound in previous strikes).

João Costa obviously is hoping the opposite. A decision will come next week from the Court of Arbitration.

End of term exams are particularly vital for 12th year students hoping to enter university next year. If they do not go ahead, grades will not be given and this next phase in a whole generation’s education will be thrown into major confusion.

[email protected]