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BBC staff strike to protect their service

BBC Education staff staged a one-day strike this week in protest at what they see as the corporation's attempt to slim down its service for schools and colleges.

Although not affecting programme transmissions, Wednesday's strike highlighted anxieties among some BBC Education staff that their work was being undermined by unsympathetic senior management.

BECTU, the broadcasting union which organised the strike, accused the BBC of running down its services for schools and colleges - with 40 redundancies, fewer new programmes and the end of day-time school radio.

It says the BBC is spending its education budget on mainstream-style programmes, such as the chat show Esther and business series My Brilliant Career. Gerry Morrissey, BECTU's national officer, says: "The BBC's commitment to education is disappearing."

The protesters also presented their case in a lobby of Parliament, in which they urged MPs and peers to protect education in debates on the Broadcasting Bill and the renewal of the BBC's Charter.

BBC Education has denied the claims, saying that the 40 redundancies are a consequence of the policy to commission more programmes from the regions - a process which, it says, has meant job losses among education staff in London, but no loss of service to viewers.

Jane Drabble, BBC director of education, countered suggestions of downgrading the service, saying that she was "very sorry that some of our staff voted for this action. The BBC is very proud of its commitment to educational programme-making - a commitment underlined by that fact that both funding and broadcasting hours are being increased next year."

BBC Education points to last year's decision to devote the night hours on BBC2 to The Learning Zone, a service for schools, further and adult education, as an example of expansion. However, its critics say that the time devoted to new schools programmes for next year has been cut.

It is unusual for an individual BBC department to take strike action and the protest reflects a long-running concern about the future. And in a bid to boost morale and to emphasise its commitment to an in-house production unit, BBC Education is now promising to bring more of its staff from temporary on to permanent contracts.

BECTU says that further action is planned for February 22.

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