Voices from strike day: how the nation's teachers reached their verdict

1st July 2011 at 01:00
As angry professionals prepared to join picket lines yesterday, believing action was their only option, others argued walkouts were futile and premature

Tensions reached boiling point this week as the bitter row over proposed changes to teachers' pensions reached its climax with a national strike.

As The TES went to print, thousands of members of the ATL and NUT classroom unions across the country were preparing for yesterday's industrial action, and thousands of schools were expected to completely or partially close for the day.

The teaching profession was split, with teachers making vociferous arguments for and against taking to the picket lines.

Education secretary Michael Gove ratcheted up the war of words by writing to heads, urging them to "consider the full range of local resources available to them, both from within the school staff and the wider school community, to ensure that wherever possible they remain open".

He told the BBC that he did not want to "get into a pitched battle" with the unions, but added: "I do want to emphasise that the public have a very low tolerance for anything that disrupts their hard-working lifestyles."

But when the latest round of talks between the Government and the TUC on Monday failed to resolve the dispute, which centres on controversial proposals to change public-sector pensions, action became inevitable.

If the plans get the go-ahead, teachers will see their contributions increase by 50 per cent, with the retirement age also gradually rising to 68. Pensions will no longer be based on final salary, but on career-average salary.

Here, The TES talks to teachers about their opinions on the first combined union walk-out in a generation.

For strikes

Julia Neal, 55 Member of the ATL since 1978, and a teacher at a Torquay secondary school.

"It has been a very difficult decision. I have never been on strike in my life before, and I never thought I would have to. The strength of feeling among members is huge. I am very angry about the way we have been treated. Taking private-sector financial problems out on the public sector isn't fair. It's not a gold-plated pension, it's a decent pension, and now they are just moving the goalposts. It's going to damage recruitment in the teaching sector. The majority of our members are striking with a heavy heart; it's their last resort to try to make themselves heard."

Amy Lassman, 36 NUT member who has taught at a primary school in north-west London for six years. She will lose around #163;100 a month under the proposed changes.

"The Government is riding roughshod over our terms and conditions. When I became a teacher I was aware I was going to have a lower salary, but I made a responsible financial decision on the basis that the pension was in effect a deferred salary - money in the future for what I am not getting now. The Government is showing a lack of respect towards the profession. Schools are not creches; we have to educate children, not babysit them. Yes, children are losing a day in school, but every teacher I know will make that time up in different ways."

Stephen Baker, 58 Teacher at a Worcestershire secondary school. He joined the ATL when he started teaching in 1981.

"I have never taken strike action. I joined the ATL because it's not a militant union, and I have had to reflect hard on what to do. We have had a lot of conversations about it in the staffroom; we feel like we have been left with no option. We are going to have to pay far, far more for our pensions - around #163;120 a month more for me - and they will be worth less. The extra money we pay will go towards the deficit caused by the banking crisis. The Government is not willing to talk to us and negotiate."

Olly Fayers, 23 NQT at a primary school in Camden, north London. He is a member of the NUT.

"I am going on strike. I have used the NUT's pension calculator and I stand to lose #163;276,000 under the changes over the course of my career. As an NQT with a heavy workload of 70 hours a week, this seems like another Government policy which serves to undermine the profession. Having started work with #163;20,000 of student debt already, it's hard to stomach another policy that shows it doesn't think we are worth what we are doing. There has not been any kind of backlash from parents. A lot of them understand what is happening and we haven't had any objections raised."

Against strikes

Andrew Broadhurst, 47 Teacher at a secondary school in Sleaford, Lincolnshire, and a member of Voice.

"I am not going on strike. I don't ever remember a teachers' strike producing results. I don't think it is going to make the Government change its mind. If anything, it will be teachers talking and explaining why these changes are wrong. I think the impact of this strike will be relatively minimal, but if the NASUWT joins in (in possible further strikes this autumn), it would mean just about every school in the country would be forced to shut. I understand the anger - I am very angry about it myself - but I don't think striking will solve the problem."

Margaret*, 55 Teacher at a secondary school in Derby. She joined Voice a year ago, and was previously a NASUWT member.

"I am of the age where I have to think about my pension, so I have to take a pragmatic point of view. The pension contributions I have made over the years have been significant. I have worked hard and deliberately accumulated a decent pension, and that could be swept away. If you have voted to strike then I believe you should, but I joined Voice knowing that they do not take part in strikes. You can't just think about yourself or one class which might be affected. You have to look at the big picture: the well-being of your school in the local community, and the children you will not be teaching."

* Name has been changed

Geoff Fewtrell, 60 NASUWT member and teacher at a Cambridgeshire secondary school. He is due to retire this year.

"To take on the Coalition before the talks have been completed is playing into its hands. It is not going to say it has changed its mind, because then it would appear the actions of the NUT and the ATL had influenced it. But if we don't see a change in the Government's position, I think we will see a second 'winter of discontent'."

From the forums

Fighting it out

Tangit - "I totally agree about us not just rolling over and taking the pounding. But, rather than a one-day strike, we need to be more militant, in my opinion. Either we all walk out for a longer period of time or individual days over the year, or we simply work to rule. Come in at 8.30am, leave at 3.30pm, and only do the 35 hours we are paid to do. No clubs, no residentials, no bleeding bake sales or fetes on Saturday mornings!"

highschooler - "The strike will achieve nothing, except to give us an even worse image in the eye of the public. The pathetic turnout for the vote (40 per cent NUT, 32 per cent ATL) tells the whole story."

Dorset - "If teachers are serious about this and really wanted to 'put up a fight', as one suggested, then only striking for one day is a bit pathetic. It makes us look more like wimps than seriously disgruntled workers. Even the timing of the strike is ridiculous. Expect to be publicly humiliated on Thursday by the press, the Government and the public."

glynmanton - "I hope the one thing to come out of this is understanding in our nation about pensions. My fear is the Government will hope the public will turn on the public-sector workers."

chrisoakey - "The point of the strike is not to gain public support - I don't think we have a cat in hell's chance of getting the general public to like teachers. No, the point of the strike is to draw a line in the sand so that the Government knows we will not be walked over. Shame on any NUTATL members not prepared to strike and fight for the hard-won professional conditions we now have."

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