Fighting talk from protesters

12th March 2010 at 00:00
Some 8,000 teachers, parents, lecturers and students join EIS rally against education cuts

"They say cutback - we say fight back," they chanted. "Cut, cut - fight, fight," came the reprise, in time with stamping feet.

Yet the march, organised by the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) was a sedate affair. Even the police looked relaxed as they helped steward the 8,000 teachers, parents, lecturers and students protesting against education cuts. Clearly, they were not expecting trouble from people used to keeping order.

They gathered in Glasgow's Kelvingrove Park, to the bemusement of the Saturday joggers. Balloons bearing the rallying cry "Why must our children pay?" fluttered in the breeze. Banners from EIS branches across Scotland swayed, many not unfurled since the last rally, 14 years ago, also over education cuts.

One veteran, recalling committees of inquiry on teachers' earlier grievances, knew a thing or two about marches: "Clegg, Main, you name it, I've been there."

But, as her eyes swept over the gathering throng, she smiled at the turnout. It was, if anything, better than expected, helped no doubt by blue skies and early hints of spring.

Alongside the veterans were the virgin marchers, moved to stand up and be counted for the first time. For many, the most obvious impact of education cuts was the scarcity of resources for their classrooms. Time and again, they talked of having to spend their own money on basics such as colouring pencils, felt-tip pens, paper, laminating materials.

One probationer, teaching an early years class and trying to do as much active learning as possible using learning games, estimated he had spent pound;2,000 of his money by Christmas on classroom materials.

A group of science teachers bemoaned the lack of basic equipment. In the past, they would always have had a spare set of test-tubes, said one: no longer. Recently, he had had to buy the equipment for his pupils to carry out an experiment for a national science test.

A couple of nursery heads explained they were close to retirement but were marching for those who would come after them.

Their concern? Teachers being removed from early years classes.

There were other worries, too: the axeing of classroom and support assistants, lack of job security, inability of headteachers to find supply cover, and classes being covered by non-subject specialists.

Some were not even sure who to blame - although others thought they knew. It was the UK Government's fault, proclaimed a flurry of SNP banners; cut Trident and spending on the Afghanistan war. A contingent from Glasgow had a local take on the situation - their council was spending too much on bringing the Commonwealth Games to the city.

The culmination of the rally was at the Clyde auditorium in the SECC, where STUC general secretary Grahame Smith had no doubts about who should shoulder the blame for public service cuts - "a bunch of fat cats" whose recklessness had been "fuelled by greed".

EIS president Helen Connor sent a question to the Education Secretary, Michael Russell: "Why must our children pay for the problems between national and local government and for a concordat that seems to have gone wrong? We are giving notice to Mike Russell, and the Scottish and Westminster governments - this is the fight back."

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