DOZENS of primary and secondary schools across The News region are set to close or suffer major disruptions as teachers go on strike over changes to their pensions.
Teachers are preparing to walk out on Thursday – creating a major headache for parents and employers.
Many schools will not be able to confirm whether they will be able to open until next week – and possibly as late as the day of industrial action.
But early statistics gathered by The News and published in today’s paper suggest the impact will be huge.
In Leigh Park, every school but one will be shut. In Fareham, most secondary schools will close. And in Portsmouth, four out of 10 secondaries and several primaries have already declared plans to close.
Chris Anders is head of Park Community School in Leigh Park, which is closing as half his teaching staff plan to go on strike.
He said: ‘Many colleagues feel very upset about what the government is proposing. Their concern is that it means a loss of income now and every day up until the day they die.
‘Teachers who have never taken industrial action before are going on strike.’
He added: ‘The impact on children will be minimal as exams are over and it is coming to the end of term, but the real worry is if there are further strikes in the autumn.’
Next week’s unprecented level of industrial action is the result of two teaching unions – the National Union of Teachers and the moderate Association of Teachers and Lecturers – balloting in favour of a walkout because pension changes will leave them working longer, paying more and getting less when they retire.
Phil Munday, head of Henry Cort Community College in Fareham, which will close for the day, said: ‘There is a massive strength of feeling. My teachers have always accepted they wouldn’t get the best pay in the world but hoped for some security which is now being taken away.’
Iain Gilmour is head of Isambard Brunel Juniors in North End, Portsmouth, which will close as 80 per cent of teachers are NUT members.
He said: ‘The government is very keen on telling schools how they need to improve and how they are going to sort out the future of the country’s education. At the same time they seem to be cutting what was rightfully ours and yet to be proved to be unaffordable.
‘We are public servants, not public slaves and we can’t be taken for granted.’
Many parents say they are in favour of the strike despite the inconvenience it will cause.
Michelle Higgins, 30, whose son Liam, seven, and daughter Sharn, four, attend Morelands Primary in Crookhorn which is likely to close, said: ‘Teachers deserve better and I am 100 per cent behind them. They work so hard and do one of the most important jobs in the world.
‘Why should they be asked to do more for less? If the government gets its way, fewer talented people will go into teaching which would be disastrous for our children.’
Julian Wright, 44, whose youngest child Megan, 13, attends Priory School in Southsea that will close, added: ‘I totally support the strike. I believe teachers have to stand up for their rights.
‘If we want decent professionals we have to treat them as professionals. They do one of the hardest jobs and cuts will result in a poorer service for our children.’
Amanda Martin, secretary of Portsmouth NUT, which represents more than 50 per cent of the city’s teachers, said: ‘Nobody wants to go on strike but teachers’ pensions are affordable and essential. To take away teachers’ pensions rights will see many leave the pension scheme and also the profession, which would be disastrous.’
John Gawthorpe, president of the Hampshire Division of the NUT, added: ‘Teachers feel very strongly indeed. Teachers prefer to be teaching, they are not quick to take action.’
ATL general secretary Mary Bousted, whose union is striking for the first time, said: ‘This is a warning shot across the bows to the government. When even the least militant education union and teachers working in private schools vote to strike the government would be wrong to ignore it.’
A protest will take place on steps of Guildhall at midday next Thursday, with a planned walk to Commercial Road.