Staff seriously out in force

2nd May 2008 at 01:00
There was no celebrity glitz, just steely determination
There was no celebrity glitz, just steely determination

Critics who said the first national teachers' strike for 21 years was just an excuse for a day off couldn't have been more wrong.

More than 300 teachers rallied in Cardiff last week to support the National Union of Teachers' action over pay. They came from rural Powys to Rhondda Cynon Taff. Another 150 teachers descended on Wrexham.

Melvyn Bragg, life peer, TV and radio presenter, might have livened things up in London, but there was no celebrity presence in the Welsh capital last week.

Tucked away in a church hall, a mile from the city centre, the message of strikers was serious, but their actions were subdued. If there was a passion for the cause, it was hidden by a sense of duty.

This was a rally intended to get to the heart of grave concerns that led to the walk-out, closing more than 500 schools and affecting 900 others for the day.

Speaking in Cardiff David Evans, NUT Cymru secretary, said current salaries - about pound;20,000 for a newly qualified teacher - would not attract top graduates.

Martin Reed, NUT senior vice-president, said: "Teachers do care about children. But we have commitments to our families and ourselves that we must honour also."

Rob Owen, a supply teacher for eight years, said striking was not easy, but it was the right decision.

"In my time, I've seen things go downhill," he said. "My son is now in his first year of teaching and is already considering giving up."

Gerald Beaudette, former teacher and NUT divisional secretary in the Vale of Glamorgan, said: "After 30 years, I now have time to involve myself in union business. But young teachers don't have time to attend meetings, although some are passionate about being involved."

Many at the Cardiff rally brought their children with them. Liz Tiernan, a teacher at Llandrindod High School in Powys and mother of a 19-month-old son, said: "Our mortgage, food and fuel prices, and my son's nursery fees, are increasing. I'm the main earner, and we don't know if we can afford another child."

Responding to criticism from some parents over the disruption, Mr Evans said the interests of children and the community were at the heart of the NUT's campaigns.

He challenged the Government's argument that teachers' salaries had gone up by 19 per cent in real terms since 1997, claiming it did not take into account rising fuel and food bills.

Claire Bradford, a teacher at Albert Primary in Penarth, said: "I haven't got a house because I can't afford it."

The NUT has rejected the Government's offer of a 2.45 per cent pay increase, saying it is below inflation and will mean lower living standards. The union wants teachers' salaries to follow the retail price index.

More strike reports, pages 16-17.

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