Tens of thousands of teachers struck on Thursday of last week. The action shut schools in London, the North East, South East and South West of England.
It was the third walkout in the NUT and NASUWT unions’ campaign to defend workers’ pay, pensions and conditions. But the key thing driving teachers to take action is deep fury at Tory education secretary Michael Gove’s attacks on schools.
NASUWT member Gill McDonald joined a 15,000-strong march in central London on the strike day. She told Socialist Worker, “I’m a primary school teacher, my husband teaches in a secondary school and I have teenage children.
“I can see the rapid changes the government is making to education at every level. It’s almost as if they are without thought. It’s not good for children.”
Katie, a primary school teacher, was on strike in Devon. She said the atmosphere of testing and continuous observation in schools meant “you can’t concentrate on the children”.
Stacey Macsorley joined a picket line at Acton High School in west London. She told Socialist Worker, “Gove’s changes assume there’s one type of learning. But you can’t measure a child’s success in learning in just A-C grades.”
Sam, an NUT member from east London, agreed. “It’s as though if you’re not academic, you’re not worth anything,” she said. “It makes children feel devalued.”
Along with these attacks, Gove wants to trash teachers’ pensions, make them work until they’re 68 and bring in performance-related pay. All of this will harm children’s education.
As one headteacher put it, “It’s really hard to recruit experienced teachers because teaching is demoralising. Good teachers are leaving the profession.”
Sam added, “I’m 41 and I’m tired. I won’t make it teaching until I’m 68. I’m going to die in my classroom.”
Tash is a newly qualified teacher. She told Socialist Worker, “It’s not a nice time to come into education. There are so many negative media stories about teachers.”
Up to 4,000 joined a march in Bristol, along with thousands in Durham and hundreds more in Portsmouth, Southampton, Gosport, Oxford and elsewhere.
Around 200 rallied in Southampton. Glyn Oliver, an NUT member there, told Socialist Worker, “It was clear that the teachers were proud to be on strike.
“A call for a joint public sector unions strike was loudly applauded.”
Some 400 marched in Portsmouth. Jon Woods reported, “The size, militancy and feeling of solidarity exceeded all expectations. The march was bigger than the one on 30 June 2011.”
The turnouts and the anger show a determination to fight.
Teachers chanted, “Get Gove out!” and sang Solidarity Forever as they marched through the capital. There were deafening boos as the march passed the Department for Education.
But the action won’t be enough to force Gove back. Unions must build on this momentum and escalate the action. But union leaders have, so far, failed to call the national strike they promised would take place before Christmas.
NUT general secretary Christine Blower told a mass rally of teachers in London that “children’s lives will be ruined” by Gove. “We cannot let it happen,” she added. But she didn’t mention any future action.
Hundreds of teachers have signed a petition, initiated by teachers in Hackney, east London, demanding that unions name the day for a national walkout.
Hannah Jackson, an NUT member in London, said, “People in my primary school are definitely up for more strikes—and maybe more than just one day.” Tash added, “This is my first strike. I’d definitely strike again if nothing changes.”
As Sam put it, “We should be on national strike now. Get on with it!”