Shocked of the shires on the march

31st March 1995 at 01:00
Lots of pushchairs, plenty of pupils and a welter of unlikely converts to the Socialist Workers Party. True professionals when it comes to the street demonstration, the SWP had thoughtfully given out placards to the whole parade.

These were duly carried, albeit with the Socialist bit frustratingly obliterated by pre-prepared Fight Against Cuts in Education stickers.

Ten thousand parents, governors, children and teachers risked the bright but squally weather and the London traffic to make their point.

Allegations of left-wing leanings were a matter of some sensitivity; the leadership of the National Union of Teachers had shockingly claimed that the march was nothing more than a far-left stunt.

This was far from the case. The crowd was overwhelmingly respectable - middle-aged adults wheeling along with children too young to be difficult about their Saturday afternoons. Nose rings were in short supply, dogs on strings quite absent. Anoraks, spectacles and dayglo haversacks abounded. The obligatory melange of improbable journals failed to sell.

There were many impressive if surprising banners. The Oxford Quakers and the Pensioners Rights Campaign - Unity is Strength - both lent their weight. The Marxist Party West Midlands Region was followed at a distance of four feet by the banner for the Marxist Party Central Committee. The London Fire Brigade made an appearance, as did the Rotherham District Trade Union Council.

The chants were sadly muted by poll tax, criminal justice or mineworkers standards: "They say cut-backs, we say fight back" was rivalled only by a feeble "Major Major Major, Out Out Out".

"Middle England is angry," insisted Sharly Doukhan, a supply teacher on the march with her children, whose school in Brent was Pounds 30,000 short last year and Pounds 50,000 down this year.

"It's the first time I've been on a demonstration since I was a young person," said Sheridan James from Cambridge, whose three young children were also in attendance. She has found her own work in adult education under threat because of the cuts.

"We're first-time demonstrators," said the Brown family from Leyland in Lancashire. "Tory central government has forced the LEA to make cuts they did not want to make," said Simon Butler, a parent from the same contingent. "There are lots of things in poor repair in my child's school and it's going to mean job losses - two welfare workers, one secretary and a teacher."

"The Government has trampled all over education," said Jenny Purbrick, an educational psychologist from Wolverhampton. "It's becoming almost impossible for teachers to work effectively in the current climate. The education of the vast majority of children is just not one of the Government's priorities. They all send their children to private schools."

This was the first physical manifestation of the genie called parent power supposedly unleashed by the Government. A very disciplined genie it was too; off at 1.30pm on the dot, trailing along the Embankment, down Piccadilly to Hyde Park in what the police described as a well-behaved crowd. This was no surprise given the large number of teachers present and may account for a wholesale lack of coverage in the following day's papers.

The numbers were one third down on those predicted by the organisers; although the turn-out was impressive from Warwickshire, leading the march, Oxfordshire, Derbyshire and Shropshire ("Wombridge Parents Want a Fair Deal for Shropshire Children"; "Oswestry Cares"). Places where the cuts have bitten hard.

Elsewhere the response was patchy. There was only one coach from Leeds and one, half-full, from Birmingham. The metropolitan authorities tend not to have suffered cuts to the same extent, said Sue Lister, chairwoman of the Fight Against Cuts in Education. She hailed the day's work as "an overwhelming success" and promised a national conference in June.

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