PARENTS, teachers, headteachers, governors and members of the public from across the East Midlands and Greater London gathered on Saturday for the latest in the programme of militant Rallies for Education.
Held under the slogan Protecting Teachers, Defending Education, they are part of the NASUWT and NUT build-up to regional strikes and a national one-day strike over pay, conditions and pensions and to defend the education of children and young people.
The Rallies for Education are organised jointly by the NASUWT and the NUT teachers’ unions, which together represent nine out of ten classroom teachers across the country.
News Line attended the over 500-strong London rally on Saturday and spoke to several teachers and their supporters.
Parent Geoff Gill, one of the invited speakers, told News Line: ‘I’m concerned about the privatisation of education, following on from the rationalisation of the Post Office and the NHS.
‘Free Schools and Academies are privatisation by the back door.
‘There’s a leak from the top civil service that a full-blown Tory government would have introduced for-profit schools by now.’
Hounslow NUT branch secretary and NUT national executive member, Marilyn Bater said: ‘It’s important that the people of Britain understand what’s happening in education.
‘It’s time for all of us to stand up for state education in Britain.
‘Schools are target-driven and we have been forced by the government to forget about individual children and go for targets and league tables.
‘Finally, we’ve got to stop privatisation.
‘We’d rather not have strike action, but (Education Secretary Michael) Gove’s refusal to have meaningful talks with the unions make strike action necessary.’
NASUWT rep Ruth Duncan said angrily: ‘I’m a teacher who faces voluntary redundancy at 50 after teaching design and technology for 14 years at my current school in Middlesex.
‘I’ve been more or less forced out because of the expanded curriculum offer, which is encouraged by Gove.
‘This has a dramatic effect on the traditional curriculum offer such as design and technology, and there are cuts all around the London Borough of Harrow.
‘I have been fighting but when decisions are made out of our control it’s very difficult.
‘We need to continue to battle for our pay and conditions and our rights.
‘It will need national strike action.
‘We had a ballot for action short of strike action and strike action, now we can step up our fight.
‘We have to push forward.
‘All unions should come out and let the government know we are serious.
‘There’s privatisation and every school becomes a business. We have to stop that.’
NUT member Max Fisher from Bromley added: ‘I’ve been a teacher for 35 years. I’m absolutely appalled at Michael Gove and the arbitrary nature of changing our pay and conditions without meaningful consultation.
‘I’m furious at his constant demonisation of the profession.
‘There will have to be national strike action, definitely.
‘No teacher wants to strike but we’ve been forced into this position by Gove’s intransigence.
‘I would like to add this is not for myself so much. I’m for the young teachers coming into the profession.’
Newham NUT rep Miriam Scharf told News Line: ‘We hope this rally is a successful launch of a campaign of concerted action against the government who seem intent on destroying the quality of state education and teachers’ lives.
‘I know teachers who are committed, hardworking, brilliant at their jobs who are so tired, so over-exploited, demoralised, and even frightened now, because of performance-related pay.
‘Teachers are angry and I think they will all be out in the official industrial action.’
Andrew Livingstone, who was holding the Newham NUT banner with Miriam, added: ‘We’re saying no to too much change too fast to the detriment of pupil outcomes.
‘Teachers can’t put pupils first when Gove puts teachers last.’
Miriam continued: ‘We need all the unions out together. The TUC keep saying they are going to go for co-ordinated action – and most of us keep waiting for that lead.
‘And I don’t think we can wait for a Labour government.’
NUT member, Angela Boyce from Westminster, said: ‘I’m concerned about the curriculum, and protecting teachers’ pay and conditions.
‘I object to longer school days and shorter holidays.
‘I don’t believe in Free Schools or Academies, it’s not the way to go.
‘I want to keep state education.
‘There will have to be strike action.
‘It would be a good idea if all the unions came out together.’
Bethnal Green NUT member Claire Harmer said: ‘I want to find out what the government is doing about pay.
‘I don’t agree with performance-related pay.
‘I don’t want schools to be run like businesses.
‘We have to take action. If you have the power to take action, you should use it.
‘The government are doing a lot of bad things I don’t like.
‘All the unions should come out together in a general strike. We need something big.
‘I want to see the end of capitalism.’
NASUWT deputy general secretary Patrick Roach told the rally: ‘Our world class education system is being put in danger as a result of changes to schools by this government.’
Hitting out against Free Schools and Academies, he added: ‘For the government to remove the right of children to be taught by a qualified teachers is a disgrace.’
He said angrily: ‘Gove is continually criticising and denigrating the teaching profession – nobody in the world expects to get the best out of teachers by attacking them.’
Roach warned that because of student debt and fear of not getting a job: ‘We have fewer going into teacher training. Together with larger class sizes this is leading to a crisis in our schools.’
On performance-related pay, he added to applause: ‘These changes are not about paying teachers more, they are about paying more teachers less, in order to maximise the opportunity for companies to profit out of education.’
He concluded by slamming the government’s ‘work ’til you drop’ attacks on teachers’ pensions, saying: ‘Stop picking a fight with teachers.’
Tower Hamlets teacher Caroline Ezzat told the rally: ‘Gove is true to his word when he said he declared war on us.
‘I feel more empowered when I know the NASUWT and the NUT are in this together.
‘In the face of adversity, schools ar doing better, yet we are constantly under attack.
‘Performance-related pay is wrong. Teachers face unattainable targets. If schools get into financial difficulties they face being deemed failing.’
Slamming an increasing workload, she asked to applause: ‘Wouldn’t it be better if we could just concentrate on teaching?’
On pensions, she added: ‘I couldn’t sustain this pressure until I’m 68.’
She concluded: ‘Many parents are shocked at the changes – they are our biggest allies.’
Year 13 student Suraya Miah said: ‘The trebling of tuition fees caused a massive ripple in our society.
‘I, myself, had doubted my decision to pursue medicine, simply because of the huge debt I would leave with, up to £54,000, and the strain it would put on my family if I was to study away from home due to the raised cost of living.
‘So many others are in the same position. It seems like our dreams are too expensive.’
She added: ‘I’m aware that teachers get criticised a lot when they choose to go on strike, but it is for a just cause.’
Sussex school governor Denise Madden said: ‘I value qualified teachers. They come in and do a good job.
‘We encourage and support them, that is good leadership and management, not harassment,’ she added to applause.
She continued: ‘Some worthies came to look at our playing fields as a site for Free School. We saw that off,’ she concluded to more applause.
Barking and Dagenham Labour councillor Rocky Gill warned of a crisis of school place shortages.
He said: ‘We have a fantastic relationship with our teachers, we’re a family of schools.’
However, he added: ‘We’ve been chronically underfunded by the coalition government.
‘Why are young people paying the price for austerity?’ he asked to applause.
He concluded: ‘We’ve got enough money for intervention in Syria, yet we haven’t got enough money for school places.
‘I hope the coalition change course before it’s too late.’
NUT general secretary Christine Blower told the rally: ‘There is mounting anger at what the government is doing, and Michael Gove in particular.’
She stressed: ‘This government is doing damage to education.
‘We need good teaching, not the tyranny of Ofsted inspections.’
She added: ‘Privatisation is about driving down cost. The government is holding down public sector pay and attacking benefits.
‘A lot of children in our schools are worried that their parents will lose their homes because of the hated Bedroom Tax.
‘We say no Free Schools but a school place free for every child.’
Blower concluded: ‘Our demand to the Secretary of State is simple – leave teachers alone and talk to us.
‘We will defend national pay. There are more rallies in Cambridge and Exeter this month.
‘In London we’ll take strike action on October 17,’ she concluded to big applause.