THE decision by Scottish teaching unions to ballot their members on strike action raises important and difficult issues. Principally, do teachers deserve more money? Of course they do. I’ve yet to meet a teacher who entered the profession to become rich.

Additionally, teaching has become progressively more difficult. Challenging pupil behaviour, frequent changes to curriculum and assessment have contributed to stress and workload. Smaller budgets mean doing more with less.

The perception that teachers are overworked and underpaid has impacted on recruitment. Nearly all councils have multiple vacancies. Head teacher posts that once would have attracted double digit applications have become hard to fill.

Unsurprisingly, teachers have become restless and vocal as they see their salaries fall in real terms. Large demonstrations and near-unanimous rejection of a 3% increase by Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) members were clear signs of the way the wind was blowing. The decision by the EIS Council to ballot members on strike action comes as no surprise.

Teachers have a case for a rise but, then again, so have many other public sector workers. Threatening strike action can be a useful bargaining strategy, but teachers and their leaders need to ponder further on its effectiveness and consequences.

To paraphrase LP Hartley, the past was a different country and indeed, we did do things differently there. The present social, political and economic climate is very different to that of the 1970s and 80s. Take, for example the number of days lost to strikes. From the early 70s until the mid-80s around 25 million working days were lost each year. In 2017 the number was 276,000.

That is largely due to the decline in union membership and influence. Additionally, unions have recognised that strike action is rarely effective. Teaching unions have generally bucked the trend and teachers continue to form a largely unionised profession. The relative strength and solidarity of the teaching unions may well be fuelling their apparent readiness to act. Nevertheless, like Marty McFly, teachers are in real danger of being transported back to the future.

Very few of those to be balloted would have been involved in the prolonged industrial action of the 1970s and 80s. That lack of personal experience may well contribute to strong support for strike action. Those of us, however, who lived and worked through those years remember what it was like and the lasting damage it did to the profession and, more importantly, to the youngsters who were in our care.

Back then, teachers generally managed to keep parents on side. The strikes and school closures were only part of widespread action by many groups including miners, dockers, transport workers and large swathes of the public sector. It is questionable if, in the current climate of austerity and post-Brexit uncertainty, parents will be as supportive. Many of them have suffered reductions in their own spending power and standard of living. They are unlikely to view teachers as a special case especially if incurring additional expense for child care.

Teachers might also wish to consider the moral imperative. Presumably we all entered the profession because of our passionate belief in the life changing potential of education. If so, can reducing young people’s life chances be justified? Surely, very few teachers would argue that these youngsters are mere collateral damage. It was particularly dispiriting to hear one union leader threaten sustained strike action in Government ministers’ constituencies. To target particular children because of where they live would be despicable and unacceptable.

During the disputes of the 1980s I continued to run a school football team. I recall being berated by a delegation of colleagues, one of whom asked, “Whose side are you on?” Up until that time I had never considered that there were sides in education. I naïvely believed we were all on the youngsters’ side.

Hopefully, unions and the Government will recognise that they are both on the youngsters’ side. Teachers deserve a rise but it mustn’t be our young people who foot the bill. A decent increase spread over two years may be a way out. Sure, it will cost, but not as much as sacrificing another generation of young people and their prospects.