ONE thousand teachers, parents and supporters marched through Westminster in the cold and rain, led by the National Education Union, (NEU) to demand that Philip Hammond, the Tory Education Minister for Education, reverse school cuts, increase funding for High Needs, Early Years and Post-16 and that he implement and fully fund the STAB pay recommendations for teachers.
The anger of the teachers at the derisory budget increase of £400 million for ‘little extras’ as palpable was expressed and many welcomed the consultative ballot for all-out strike action, by all the teaching unions.
Colin Deare from Highbury Grove said: ‘There are too many education cuts. My partner is an Assistant Head at a primary school and they’ve got £200,000 less to spend. You can’t provide top education if you keep cutting the money. ‘Nobody wants to be a teacher. Everybody is leaving the profession, so it has to stop. There needs to be a change of government obviously. ‘The conservative party has never given money to education. They are not interested in it’.`
Kevin Courtney from the National Education Union said: ‘We are here today with about 1,000 parents and teachers campaigning against the cuts in school budgets. ‘The Tories are misleading people, saying education has more money than ever before, but actually class sizes are going up and we are losing subject choices. Arts, dance and drama are cut, with children with special needs particularly badly affected. There’s a huge increase in teacher turnover because they can’t deal with the workload and the pay situation facing teachers. ‘So it’s a real crisis for young people. We want the government to tell the truth and invest in our children’.
Ellen, a teacher from Kingston said: ‘We must guarantee that future generations of our children are going to get a good education. ‘We’ve have got to protest as much as we can and call for a general election to get a change of government.
‘The NEU are balloting for strike action in the spring early next year, we are doing an indicative vote at the minute and the head teachers are being balloted as well.
‘The unions put School Teachers’ Review Body recommendations but the government, have done nothing.
‘They didn’t deliver on teachers pay or anything else. This first ballot is just for the teachers and then it is going to be put out to all the other unions. We’ve all got to agree to work together and this is the next step forward.’
Emily White and her friend both Nets (newly qualified teachers) said: ‘We’ve both been working in education for the last four years and we are now teachers. ‘We have been seeing the impact of the cuts on education, particularly the cuts to special educational needs, and the impact on our school of staff cuts, and equipment and facilities not being available to children like they should be.
‘We are feeling stretched and that generally the profession isn’t valued. ‘We want to reverse the cuts. We have both voted ‘yes’ in the Indicative Strike Ballot. ‘I’m a Labour Party member, but I don’t think we should be complacent and just wait for a Labour government to be elected’.
Phil said: I’m from a school in Highbury, an English teacher. I think the aim for our movement at the moment is to deal a mass strike within the NEU, just to force the government to do what its economist have recommended and to pay us what we deserve.
‘It said we should all get 3% but the union believe it should be a lot more. To keep pace with inflation since 2010 it should be more like 12%. So we are hoping this Indicative Ballot will force the government’s hand.
‘We are becoming stronger as a union, because the NUT has joined up with the ATL. ‘We are now the number one ‘GoTo’ Union, for negotiating within education, bigger than we have ever been and as we continue to grow we’ll be able to join up with other unions and working people.
‘At the moment there are still the anti-union laws that make it quite difficult us to hold coordinated strike action out here on the street, so I think the next step will be to join up with the other sections, with doctors, with nursing staff, because we are all facing the same austerity cuts.’
Freddie Vinson, a primary school teacher from Southwark said: ‘We are outside the DfE right now asking them for more money, to invest in our schools and not cut the budgets. ‘I hope they are going to listen, because if they don’t there is going to be far more demonstrations and far more activism. The NEU is now the largest education union in Europe.
‘We are proud to have amalgamated with the ATL and now include not only teachers but all members of staff within a school. ‘The bigger we get, the more powerful we get, the more collective bargaining strength we have, and if they don’t start to listen, there will be more and more demonstrations.
‘We’ve got the Head Teachers joining us, the University Lecturers joining us, we should unite with other working people like the doctors and nurses in the NHS, and other public sector workers who are all feeling the effects of these cuts’
Dean Gillian, GMB London Region said: ‘The shambolic gesture that the education secretary made in the budget is hoodwinking the people. ‘On top of that our children are surely missing out on their education because we are losing all our support staff. Our union represents the support staff, SSA and the cleaners in schools, and they are the ones are being targeted right now.
‘So what you do see is teachers still surviving but all the support mechanisms that they have got are being eroded making their jobs absolutely impossible to do.
‘We should certainly be considering coming out with the teachers, but it is down to the national officer’.
At a well attended rally after the march, Mary Bousted, NEU leader said: ‘The whole of education is experiencing deterioration, and when you hear this crisis driven approach to educating our children from the secretary. . . When we hear the Department of Education making fast and loose with statistics, when our children are given ‘Little Extras’ rather than proper funding, can the government make it any clearer how little they care and how little they value state education.
‘If parents realised the extent to what is happening they would demand change … at some point that must happen … it’s just a question of how bad does it have to be.
‘Well I’m sure you will agree that point is here. More and more parents are realising how bad it is and so do our children on the front line. So that is why they are here today to demand change’.
April Ashley from Southwark Council said: ‘I would like to bring solidarity greetings from the UNISON sector which represents support staff in schools. School managers are always attacking the lowest paid first.
‘They see us as a soft target, many try to bully and intimidate us to force us to take on more work, even to cover for teachers, and this impacts on teachers in the classroom.
‘Behaviour becomes a problem because teachers are overloaded and under more stress and pressure.
‘I would like to pay tribute to a group of workers in Yorkshire, mid-day meal supervisors at Ladywood who have all been sacked because of funding cuts. But they are fighting back and have taken indefinite strike action to defend their school.
‘The only way the government will listen to us is if we take action and shut down the schools. We need to show that we are serious in defending members and children in our schools. ‘Southwark is experiencing cuts that are the worst in the country. Some of our members working in the kitchens disgracefully don’t even make a living wage, especially since they have been outsourced and privatised.
‘This makes it practically impossible to live in London with its Rackman-like house prices and gentrification. ‘We support the indicative ballot for industrial action and we are looking at how UNISON can also get our own indicative ballot campaign amongst support staff to stand shoulder to shoulder with you on picket lines.
‘If the Tories won’t listen to us, we should not only take industrial action, we really should be kicking the Tories out so we can end austerity. There is enough money in Britain, this is the 6th richest country in the world’.
School children from the Save our Schools campaign spoke at the rally about leaking roofs, loss of curriculum subjects and more. Nikki aged 12 was cheered when she said: ‘I’m here to talk about cuts. Most of the buildings in my school date from the 1950s and it is getting more and more run down. It leaks when it rains, it is bleak and depressing and looks more like a prison than a school.
‘We have virtually no outdoor space, and the little we have we can’t use because we can’t afford to restore it. It is so overcrowded we cannot run around at break or lunch and some of us get a red card or detention. ‘There is no room for lockers, and the school can’t afford them anyway, so we have to carry all our books and PE kit and coats with us everywhere go.
‘It gets so hot in summer you can’t concentrate but there is no budget to make any of these things better, money to repair it or do it up. That is ridiculous! ‘Everyone knows that your environment affects how you feel, learn and even behave. And everyone knows buildings need to be looked after otherwise they become unusable.
‘But if the building were to be fixed up. What would we have to give up? What would you choose? Teachers and staff, Equipment, text books, computers, subjects available to study? ‘Do you know that 1 in 10 schools can no longer offer art or music at GCSE? Imagine if this is you passion and talent. How disappointed, disaffected and disadvantaged would you be?
‘Close your eyes and imagine what the world would be like without music, without art, film. Imagine also the impact on the economy stemming from these subjects. In a country that has prided itself on these subjects, and from the governments own figures there is £92 billion that creative industries produce.
‘Everyone is always saying that a good education is so important. Well if this is so then why are the government making these cuts? What do they think the long term effect of these cuts will be? It’s people who make a country. It’s me and children like me who will be growing up, finding jobs, paying taxes and finding a place in the world and 92% of us are educated in the state sector. These cuts in education are cutting investment in the future. Why does the government think my friends and I are worthless?
‘The effects of their austerity measures are just beginning and will be felt deeply for generations to come and she appealed to those who are ‘suffering under the cuts’ to ‘make their voices heard’.
Maggie Browning, said: I am a Labour counsellor in Southwark and a teacher, and through the two roles I have seen the full impact of cuts to government funding on our schools and on our local authorities. The crippling cuts mean that £17.5 million pounds will be lost from Southwark schools between 2015 and 2020.
‘Philip Hammond’s £400 million for ‘little extras’, as we know, is a drop in the ocean and does nothing to address the long term shortfall in schools across the country. ‘As a teacher I see the direct impact of cuts to school funding. Since 2012 the number of teachers in my school has gone down by a third and the number of support staff has halved. Workload has increased, doing more and more with less and less and the recruitment of teachers is in crisis with nearly half of all teachers in London leaving teaching in the first five years.
‘This trend will only continue as long as the government fails to properly fund our schools and it is our students and our most vulnerable students who will lose out.’