STRIKING 6th Form College National Union of Teachers (NUT) members from around England took part in a national demonstration on Tuesday to defend their colleges, jobs and teenagers’ education in the face of cuts and the threat of privatisation.
On Monday, the NUT had successfully rebuffed in the High Court an attempt by Tory education secretary Nicky Morgan to have Tuesday’s strike banned as being illegal on the grounds it was political and not a legal trade dispute.
Teachers travelled from Tuesday morning picket lines to an indoor rally at the Camden Centre, northwest London, before going on to a mass photo call outside parliament. After a short, lively protest chanting ‘No ifs, no buts! No education cuts’. Education strikers marched to the nearby Department of Education to hand in a letter to Education Secretary Nicky Morgan demanding investment, not cuts.
News Line spoke to several strikers as they arrived for the Camden Centre rally.
‘London teacher Jane Berwick said: ‘We’re striking today to protect our funding and make sure our students have a decent education. We’ve got larger classes and courses are being cut.
‘Our 6th Form Colleges are having to pay VAT, whereas schools do not. Because I’ve got large classes, I’ve more work – more students means more marking and more preparation. It’s extremely stressful. The government’s taking our union to court was a waste of taxpayers’ money.
‘It was a very serious case. If successful it would have removed the right to strike. That would affect all unions, not just the NUT and other teaching unions. Saying our strike was political and trying to ban it in the court was a waste of taxpayers’ money.”
South London teacher Andy Stone from St Francis Xavier College, Clapham, said: ‘We had a good turnout on the picket line this morning. Our general secretary Christine Blower came to see us. Lots of students took information about the strike and were very supportive.
‘We also leafleted the public at the Tube last night, which went well. I feel strongly over the year on year cuts we face in the 6th form. Since 2010, there’s been 14% real term cuts with 8% more cuts projected. In the vast majority of colleges, class sizes are now so much bigger.
‘Teachers have more teaching hours and therefore a greater workload. There are less resources, including books. This is massively increasing teacher turnover, with many good teachers retiring early or going to teach abroad or leaving the profession entirely. Those that remain are more stressed and less able to have autonomy within the classroom.
‘To compound all this, the government’s area reviews of post-16 education are seeking to close or merge colleges for not being financially efficient. There was great anger over the government’s attempt in the High Court on Monday to ban the strike.
‘Even under the Thatcherite anti-union laws, this was a dangerous precedent to say teachers couldn’t strike in defence of education because it was political. We’re glad the judge has recognised our democratic mandate to take action. I hope the government will now respond to the substance of our dispute.’
Richard Challacombe from Leicester 6th Form College declared: ‘I’m here to represent our teaching colleagues. We need to get the message across that cutting funding to 6th form colleges will do lasting damage. We need investment, not cuts. The government lost the court attempt to ban today’s strike because it fundamentally misunderstood what it’s about.
‘It’s not a political strike. We are protesting against further damaging cuts to the 6th Form sector which can only erode the quality of our provision to 16-19-year-olds. If there are reductions in funding it means larger class sizes and longer contact hours with students. This, consequently, will be an impact on achievement. It makes the conditions of teachers more stressful, less satisfactory and will continue to haemorrhage more teachers from the profession. The High Court attempt to ban today”s strike was outrageous and justifiably thrown out.’
Hannah Williams from Peter Simmonds Winchester 6th Form College said: ‘We’re here today to protect colleges. Sixth form education is vital to our youth. That generation has taken the biggest hit in the cuts and we’ve got to support them. We have to support all actions – the junior doctors, the nurses and other teachers to protect our country’s future.
‘It’s fabulous that the High Court ruled in our favour. It was mud in the eye to the government. If the verdict had gone against us, it would have been a sad day for all unions and the right to defend ourselves. A general strike might be needed, it”s getting to that. It might be the only way – everyone standing together.’
City & Islington College, north London, art teacher Eileen Murphy said: ‘Today is a celebration of what 6th form colleges offer young people. It’s apparent from the rhetoric that we are under attack from this Tory government, through spending cuts, increased class sizes and the forced merger of colleges to stay afloat financially.
‘Mergers will see redundancies and cuts in subjects. Our High Court victory was an intelligent decision. It showed up Nicky Morgan’s prejudice against working class education. The attempt threatened the right to strike.’
Eileen concluded defiantly: ”We would have gone on strike, anyway, whether it was legal or illegal. It’s only made us more determined.’
NUT general secretary Christine Blower told the rally: ‘We had loads of teachers out.
‘There were brilliant picket lines this morning. Wasn’t it brilliant that we won in the court yesterday!’
She read out messages of support from the NUJ, RMT and TUC and shadow chancellor John McDonnell. Jamie Duff, NUT rep for B Six College Hackney said: ‘The government is not interested in the future of young people. They want to soften us up for privatisation. What stand in the way is us. They are trying to ban strikes because they believe teachers can stop them.’
Shropshire NUT rep Jean Robinson told the rally: ‘In Shrewsbury and Telford, the NUT, ATL and Unison are looking at a merger that is being proposed for us. Shrewsbury and Telford are 15 miles apart. The restricted financial help available to students means they will have to take on travel costs. That is not on.
‘The area reviews only talk about finance. The government have leapt towards the business model for education with enthusiasm. Teachers are already being made redundant at our college in preparation for the merger.’
Calling for an end to area reviews, she concluded: ‘Education is not a business.’ Tania Ziegler from Peter Symonds College, Hampshire, said: ‘It isn’t because we did too much teaching that caused the financial crisis.
‘It isn’t because we got more students into university that caused the financial crisis. The government has made it quite clear who they are targeting to make up for the financial crisis. They are targeting the sick and the vulnerable. The government is bribing colleges to become academies, offering them not to pay VAT if they become academies.
‘They are desperate to prop up their failed free school and academy experiment. The NUT stands in the way. We are not going to stand for these cuts, enough is enough.’