SCHOOLS were closed or disrupted across England and Wales on Wednesday as hundreds of thousands of angry teachers took part in a one-day strike called by the National Union of Teachers over pay, pensions and workload.
Pickets were out early morning before lively mass marches and rallies. ‘Gove out!’ was the common call as strikers expressed their hatred of the Education Secretary’s attacks on education.
At the Ackland Burghley School picket line in Tuffnell Park, north London, NUT member Julie told News Line: ‘We’re telling Gove to give our education back to the people who know how to educate.
‘We need more strike action. We need a general strike to bring this government down. It’s a shame the NASUWT pulled out, it would be good if all the education unions took action together.’
In London 11,000 marched to a rally in Westminster. Before the march set off, Hammersmith and Fulham NUT assistant branch secretary David Anderson said: ‘It’s just got too much, Gove has pushed teachers too far.
‘To win, we are standing up and striking – it’s not the best thing, it’s what’s necessary. All Gove has to do is go into proper negotiations. If he won’t,when election comes up we need them out.
‘We’ve got to keep stirring up discontent, keep raising the profile of everything the government’s doing – not just to teachers but all public sector workers. If we can get everyone working together, that’s good. I’m in favour of one teachers union so we can all get together for our causes.’
Lewisham NUT rep Hannah Plant said: ‘We’re striking over pay and conditions. For us young teachers, we’re facing having to work 40 years before being able to draw our pensions.
‘That is not acceptable as we’re barely able to cope with the workload now. Pay is just not good enough for what we do. We value ourselves higher than Gove is prepared to. We should have a plan for more action. All unions need to get on board. I would go along with a general strike to bring this government down and create a classless society.’
Hammersmith and Fulham NUT member Michael Diver added: ‘My feelings are that in my long experience of teaching, this is the worst education secretary we’ve ever had. The man is totally arrogant, he doesn’t consult anyone.
‘He’s like Billy Bunter in Greyfriars – he has no idea of the pulse of teenagers these days. I’m not a Tory but he’s completely discredited in his own party even. I’m opposed to what the government is doing. All the austerity measures are causing hardship, here and across Europe.
‘Every government should look at the needs of its own people. Instead of cutting jobs, they should be creating jobs. We should have a general strike to bring this government down. All the teachers unions, everyone should stand together.’
Enfield NUT member Rosie Pavely declared: ‘We’re standing up for teachers’ rights and the kids’ rights. If all the teachers are exhausted because of longer hours, the children don’t get the education they deserve. I’m upset about longer hours, loss of pensions and the changes the government is making to education with too much admin.
‘We’re shouting “Gove out!” because of what he is trying to do with education. Something needs to be done. We’re not going to be able to change Gove’s mind so there’ll have to be more action.
‘All the education unions should strike if they won’t make a change.’
Ex-Hounslow teacher Sue Buckley said: ‘I’ve been replaced by a teaching assistant because I’m too expensive. I’m an EAL (English Additional Language) teacher but they are making cuts to save money. The government wants every secondary school to be an academy.
‘I don’t see how Harris carpets can run a school as a business. Education should be run by teachers and academics, not people who don’t know what they are talking about. My main issue is the loss of national pay and conditions which teachers have fought for for decades.
‘Gove wants every school to set their own pay and conditions.
‘There will have to be more action. I’m for a general strike. My son is a paramedic for London Ambulance and they are trying to change all their conditions. We need to bring this government down, at least get rid of Gove, the worst education minister in living memory.’
Over one hundred schools in Cambridgeshire were wholly closed or severely affected.
Five hundred teachers from Cambridge and the east of England, joined by school children and students, marched through the centre of Cambridge.
A big crowd of teachers from the NUT and some parents assembled at the forum in the centre of Norwich.
The first speaker was Helen McGuinness, NUT Secretary in Norwich.
She said that she was so upset that for teachers now in her own high school are not sorry to leave, because education is no longer child-centred.
She said Gove did not want education to be ‘life changing’, adding that Gove’s view ‘does not fit with working class kids’ education encouraging problem-solving and creativity’.
She slammed performance-related pay, warning: ‘This could mean that certain test results could make a difference as to whether a teacher can pay for a mortgage or not.’
She said: ‘Gove is reforming education at breakneck speed and leaving no stone untouched. It’s academies and free schools. It’s the curriculum. It’s terms and conditions. Already, on average, primary school teachers work 60 hours a week and secondary school teachers 56 hours a week. This simply has to stop.
‘Two out of five teachers leave the profession in the first five years. Enough is enough. The NUT is right to escalate strike action and its high level public campaign. This could roll back the right wing.
‘In Chicago, there was a huge attack on teachers’ terms and conditions. They had huge public meetings and took indefinite strike action. The mayor was against them. They won in one week of action.
‘We’re at a time when 57% of the public are saying that Gove is doing a bad job, and 100 academics just wrote to the Independent about the primary school curriculum. Even Wilshaw (head of Ofsted inspectors) was attacked for saying that some academies are less than outstanding. Lets turn the UK into a Chicago.
‘The NASUWT was not out today. We need the support of other unions.’
Mark Hughes, the Secretary of the UCU at Norwich City College, said: ‘We are here to show our support in this struggle for ordinary workers.
‘The TUC has said that this country needs a pay rise. This country is in dire straits because ordinary working people do not have enough in their pockets to get the country going again. We are told the public services are a burden on the country. This country needs its public services.
‘This government is pushing people into poverty. Teachers are having to deal with social problems. This is a fight for living standards, for working people to have a happy life. It’s right to keep going. We want a prosperous society for our kids, not austerity. The top people are not hit. We are right, they are wrong. Keep it up.’
A teacher from Reepham, Jess, said: ‘I did not become a teacher primarily for pay, holidays and pensions. I wanted to make a difference to young people.
‘The main reason why I am striking is because of the workload. I have missed out on so many family occasions for the last 10 years. I have to work late just to have a weekend off. Teachers are at breaking point. What use is it teaching English, if there is no time to read a book. How happy can I be if there is barely time to be with the family.
‘The longer hours are not used for more quality for the pupils, but for after-school revision intervention, and more lessons to fit the latest performance measures. It’s just constant interference with the structure of our profession. What I most care about is our young people.’
The last speaker was from the ‘Save Cavell Community School’ campaign in Norwich, which is fighting against forced academy status.
Rachel Ward said: ‘Gove talks about democracy, but it is more like being sold into slavery. Our school is wonderful. There are fresh cooked meals. Children grow the food. There are good ethics and a buzzing atmosphere and pride. Staff know every child and they are safe. It is heartbreaking to think they are taking it away.
‘Last year it was put into special measures after the Ofsted inspection. There appears to be a dogma that market forces are everything. They are now looking for conscripts. Norfolk County Council (NCC) is appeasing the DofE. They have waged war instead of supporting it. They see us as pawns to save their own skins. We are being bullied by Gove, the DoE and NCC.
‘We found a better solution of our own, to have a cooperative trust with five other schools. NCC sacked the governors and imposed a new interim board with no parents or staff on it. So who is there to represent the community?
‘NCC have been used to do the dirty work for the DoE. Then Ofsted came back and took out the special measures. No one has the power to force Academy status on us. Gove is turning fast track academisation into punishment orders.
‘The remote and out-of-touch Secretary of State is supposed to know our schools better than us. How can an out-of-touch sponsor be better? What happens is that they give away the deeds and the land for 125 years. At the moment our school is ours. It becomes theirs – another arm of a business empire. We’re told that a co-op would not work. We going to have to get legal action and go for a judicial review to get there.
‘We call on the SoS to withdraw the order for the academy, before thousands more pounds are wasted on his market ideology. Will he accept democracy and the will of the people? Will he give parents genuine choice? We are on facebook and twitter and hold meetings and protests. If Cavell school is railroaded then no one is safe. We thank the NUT for your support. We will fight on.’
There were also speakers from the Norfolk Assembly and the PCS union.
Commenting on the day’s strike action, NUT General Secretary Christine Blower said: ‘Today has been a clear demonstration that teachers are thoroughly tired of the intolerable pressures they are being put under by the coalition government.
‘Despite being the only teachers’ union to be taking action, members still felt it was essential they made a stand. Teachers are voting with their feet and leaving the profession in droves and there is the real danger of a teacher shortage crisis. Yet the government continues to bury its head in the sand.
‘As a matter of urgency the government needs to address the real concerns of teachers by engaging seriously in the talks with the NUT and other teacher unions. The talks should not be about implementation of coalition policies. Issues of excessive workload, performance-related pay and unfair pension changes need to be discussed and we need to move forward constructively.
‘Teachers cannot and will not take any more of the diktats from government that are ruining teaching and education. We will be continuing with our campaign of engaging parents and the public and applying pressure to politicians. We are pleased that Schools Minister David Laws MP has said today that he is willing to talk to us and we will be following up on his offer.
‘Teachers love teaching but are crushed by the long hours and stifling accountability regime. If there isn’t movement in the talks there could well be further strike action this summer – perhaps David Laws can persuade Michael Gove to avoid that.’
Chairing the London rally NEC member Alex Kenny said: ‘I’d like to thank you all for the magnificent turn-out. This is the fifth time since this government has been elected we’ve had to take strike action.
‘It is the first time the NUT has been on strike on our own but we know we are not on our own in this campaign against Michael Gove and what he is doing to education. Our message to Gove is we will challenge you and we will defeat you.
‘Your deeds are driving thousands of teachers out of a job and we judge you as failing. We say: listen, talk and negotiate or there will be more strike action.’
Classroom teachers Jemila Haynes, Jo Hawkswell and Jennie Harper spoke and condemned the workload, the three-Rs approach, performance pay and the attack on pensions.
TUC assistant general secretary Kay Carberry brought greetings from the TUC and FBU general secretary Matt Wrack brought greetings from his union.
The rally was also addressed by Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn.