“Everyone tells me to play fair. Someone needs to tell this to the government”. The sign brandished by a child attending the rally in Cambridge organised by the NUT and NASUWT unions this morning was a pithy summary of the views of tens of thousands of teachers across the country who went out on strike today.
The first strike of the new school year has led thousands of schools in the Eastern, West Midlands, East Midlands, Yorkshire and Humberside regions being fully or partially closed.
Today’s main rallies took place in Birmingham, Sheffield and Cambridge, where an estimated 400 teachers from the East of England were in attendance.
While NASUWT general secretary Chris Keates insisted that the “overwhelming majority of teachers” in the affected regions would be on strike, the impact of the industrial action over pay, pensions and working conditions was mixed. In Cambridgeshire, for instance, 92 of the county’s 245 schools were known to be fully or partly closed.
Predictably, the Department for Education was less than impressed. “All strikes will do is disrupt parents' lives, hold back children's education and damage the reputation of the profession,” a spokeswoman said.
But teachers marching in Cambridge (pictured) told TES they felt they had no choice but to take action.
Simon Curran, a religious studies, citizenship and PSHE teacher at Newport Free Grammar School in Essex, said he was on strike for the first time in his 25-year teaching career.
“Looking at it nationally, you have in effect got the ripping up and destruction of the state education system,” he said. “That’s just being dismantled by a coalition government which hasn’t got any mandate to do it. There are issues to do with pay, issues to do with pensions, which not only affect individual teachers but, looking to the future, you’re wondering if it is really going attract high quality people into the teaching profession”
Geography teacher Tom McGovern, who works at Marshland High School in Norfolk, said he had been motivated to go on strike by the “general attack on our profession”.
“We’re annoyed about the employment of unqualified teachers and [the increase in mandatory contributions for teachers’] pensions,” he said. “I think 68 is too late, it’s not an enticing prospect to work for that long. I know a lot of teachers have made financial commitments based on their current salary and the amount they pay into their pensions, so if Gove doesn’t start talking to us, they might not be able to meet those financial commitments.”
However Mr McGovern said he was “not too worried” about the introduction of performance-related pay. “I think it’s something we’re going to have to get used to, to be honest,” he added.
Patrick Roach, deputy general secretary of the NASUWT, addressed the Cambridge rally alongside Kevin Courtney, his counterpart at the NUT.
Mr Courtney told TES teachers had demonstrated “very strong support” for the action, and said the “vast majority of children [in the affected regions] attend schools which are closed or affected by the strike”.
Mr Roach agreed that there had been a “very good turnout” by teachers in the two unions. “Our members are buoyant,” he said. “They are disappointed that it’s come to this, and that industrial action and strike action has been necessary, but we’ve been waiting for a constructive response from the secretary of state for almost 500 days now, since we first asked him to get round the table with the NASUWT and the NUT.”
Members of the two unions in other parts of England will have their opportunity to strike on 17 October, ahead of a one-day national strike planned to take place before the end of the autumn term.