Teachers gear up for strike action

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THOUSANDS of children in schools across the area look set to be disrupted as teachers prepare to go on strike in a row over pay and pensions.

The NUT and the NASUWT have announced a one-day strike locally for Thursday, October 17.

Striking teachers in Birmingham yesterday

Striking teachers in Birmingham yesterday

And many schools could be forced to partially or fully close as teachers get ready to take to the streets to fight against changes being introduced by the education secretary, Michael Gove.

Teachers are angry about increased workloads, pension changes and plans to bring in performance-related pay.

Industrial action took place in various parts of the country yesterday, with a strike now planned for other areas, including the south coast, later this month.

That is set to cause huge disruptions in both primary and secondary schools in the area.

Sion Reynolds, local association secretary for the Portsmouth branch of the NASUWT, said: ‘The government education policy has been detrimental to children and young people.

‘It’s not just about protecting ourselves, it’s about protecting the quality of education we are providing.

‘Given that we are on strike together with the NUT representing 90 per cent of teachers, we would imagine there will be a lot of school closures. If the schools do stay open it will be with skeletal staff.

‘This is a real indication of how desperate things have become. We don’t take strike action lightly. We feel we have been forced into it.’

The strike on October 17 is set to affect schools in London, the north east, south east and south west.

It’s expected that local teachers will hold a rally in Portsmouth’s Guildhall Square, similar to the one staged in 2011.

Councillor Rob Wood, cabinet member for children and education for Portsmouth City Council, said: ‘I think we are preparing for significant disruption.

‘I’m hoping it won’t be because at the end of the day the children suffer from this.

‘From my point of view I wish there was a better way that people could talk to each other but I can understand that a lot of teachers feel pushed into this situation.

‘I can understand that Michael Gove has been very controversial but we should try and find a way forward that doesn’t affect children.’

Amanda Martin, secretary of the Portsmouth NUT, said: ‘Michael Gove is trying to rush too many things through too quickly resulting in teachers working until they’re 68 and various other things.

‘He’s rushing through a brand new national curriculum without advising teachers. He’s creating chaos for parents by allowing neighbouring schools to have different dates for school holidays.

‘We have done everything that we possibly can. We have had discussions.

‘I think people have had enough. They need to be making a stand.

‘I think there could be a lot of disruption. It’s time to stand up for education.’

Councillor Peter Edgar, executive member for education for Hampshire County Council, said: ‘Our number one interest is the children and it’s sad when things happen that disrupt children’s education. They only get one chance in our schools.

‘It’s regrettable that we’ve reached this stage.’

Mike Smith is headteacher of the City of Portsmouth Boys School in Hilsea and chair of Portsmouth Secondary Heads.

He said: ‘I would expect that a significant number of staff will take action and it will significantly disrupt the school on that day.

‘It does make it exceptionally difficult for parents.

‘But parents also need to understand the desperate situation that teachers have been pushed into.

‘I’ve been teaching for 32 years and I don’t think I’ve ever seen the teaching profession so under attack from the government and the department.

‘It’s relentless. These are desperate times to be working in education.’

Joy Squibb is headteacher at St John’s CofE Primary School in Gosport.

She said: ‘It’s hard enough to get good teachers into the classroom and their conditions need to be maintained.

‘But it’s also difficult to manage a school when teachers are going on strike.

‘It makes it difficult to maintain relationships with parents.’

If more than half of St John’s’ 23 teachers strike, the school is likely to close.

Mark Wildman, headteacher at Wicor Primary School in Portchester, was unclear if his school will be affected.

He said: ‘My own view is that whatever action teachers are called on to take by their unions has to be a personal choice.

‘In my experience, teachers I work with always put the needs of the children first and base decisions on this judgment and I therefore respect whatever decisions are made.’

Colin Harris, headteacher at Warren Park Primary School in Leigh Park, said of Michael Gove: ‘I’m sure his intentions are on the ball.

‘But the number of U-turns that this government have made over education policy in the last three years would suggest that someone doesn’t understand the issues that we have.

‘It’s an issue that’s affecting a lot of areas at the moment not just education.

‘The public sector bear the brunt of a lot of the austerity measures.’

PARENTS have mixed views about the impact the planned teachers’ strike could have on their child’s education.

For many, it means having to find childcare for the day.

Paul Benet, 43, from Queens Road, sends his daughter Georgia, eight, to Copnor Junior School.

He said: ‘These teachers get enough time off school, don’t they?

‘It’s costing everybody money. We need to get childcare. It’s ridiculous.

‘I won’t be able to do a lot of things. I won’t be able to go to meetings.

‘Everything will come to a grinding halt. I will have to look after my child.’

Mr Benet also expressed concern about his daughter missing school.

‘How are they supposed to catch up?’ he said.

‘The children are going to fall behind in their education. It’s really bad.

‘When you want to take your child out of school for a holiday you get a fine for it. But they can go on strike whenever they want to.’

Hannah Cobb, 30, from Stamshaw Road, will also have to find childcare for her daughter Millie, five, if Northern Parade Infant School closes.

She said: ‘If they do close I will have to sort childcare. It’s an unplanned holiday. It’s a hassle for parents.

‘I can understand why they are arguing about it.

‘I can understand why they are doing it because they want to put their point across but it affects children’s education.’

Christina Goodred, 28, from Wymering, has two children who attend Highbury Primary School – Leah, six, and Archie, four.

She said: ‘I think the teachers do get a lot of holiday during the year. Everyone is struggling at the moment.

‘There have got to be cutbacks. Our main focus should be keeping the NHS and the police force, then the teachers further down the line.

‘Just for a day I don’t think it’s going to do them any harm but if it’s three or four days then I think the children start to suffer.’

But Sarah Sadler, headteacher at Highbury Primary, said she thinks it is unlikely the teachers at the school will opt for industrial action.

‘I don’t think they will strike,’ she said.

‘Whatever happens we will keep open any part of the school where there are members of staff who wish to come to work.

‘That’s what happened last time – we closed certain classes.’

THE IMPACT of strike action was highlighted yesterday as teachers chose to protest in other parts of the country.

The walk out affected schools in 49 authorities in the east of England, the midlands, Yorkshire and the Humber.

It saw the full or partial closure of around 2,500 schools across the area.

Teachers have been gathering for a series of marches and rallies in support of the strike.

Thousands of people marched through cities, including Birmingham, Sheffield and Cambridge, holding placards to convey their anger about changes that are being made to education.

Many called for education secretary Michael Gove to step down from his post.

NUT general secretary Christine Blower said: ‘Strike action is never a step that teachers take lightly and we are very aware and concerned about the inconvenience it causes parents.

‘Unfortunately we are faced with a coalition government that is refusing to listen to the reasonable demands of the profession.’

Plans for a national one-day walk out before Christmas have also been announced.

Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT, said: ‘Strike action is a last resort, teachers have been left with no choice but to demonstrate their anger and frustration in the face of their genuine concerns being dismissed and trivialised.

‘Teachers of course deeply regret any disruption to children and families.’

A Department for Education spokesman said: ‘It is disappointing that the NUT and NASUWT are striking over the government’s measures to allow heads to pay good teachers more.

‘Industrial action will disrupt pupils’ education, hugely inconvenience parents and damage the profession’s reputation in the eyes of the public at a time when our reforms are driving up standards across the country.

‘In a recent poll, 61 per cent of respondents supported linking teachers’ pay to performance and 70 per cent either opposed the strikes or believed that teachers should not be allowed to strike at all.’

Meanwhile, planned teaching strikes in Wales were called off after negotiations began with the local government.