Teachers in England struck on Tuesday in a battle against Tory education policies and cuts. Thousands of schools were closed as the walkout made a big impact.
Big marches and rallies of striking teachers and supporters took place in many areas. In London 10,000 took to the streets. Junior doctors were among those who joined in solidarity.
In Nottingham over 1,000 people joined a lively and young march with strikers from the university in the UCU union. About 400 teachers, parents and children marched in Lancaster.
Hundreds marched in Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Durham and many more places.
In Coventry around 40 teachers picketed the Department for Education in the city and around 100 joined a rally. Many others headed to Birmingham for a rally.
Chris Denson is joint secretary of Coventry NUT. He told Socialist Worker, “It seems that a lot more primary schools are closed and lots of young teachers are out today too, compared to previous strikes. In terms of building the union the strike has been really good.”
The NUT said that 6,000 teachers have joined the union since the strike was announced—less than two weeks ago. Many parents support the action.
Audrey Glover is president of Morecambe and Lancaster NUT. She told Socialist Worker, “Over 50 parents have organised a coach to come and join our rally.”
She said some schools were closed that had been open during previous walkouts. And even if schools are open, that doesn’t mean teachers there aren’t on strike.
As Audrey explained, “Our big secondary schools are open. In some cases the head has said children will be ‘supervised’. Some are in halls watching films with a couple of teaching assistants. There isn’t teaching going on.”
Some London boroughs face education funding cuts of over 20 percent. Teachers are furious at the attacks—and the impact they will have on children.
Jackie Roberts was marching in London. She is head teacher at a school in west London but said she’s quitting because of Tory policies.
“I’ve been teaching for 28 years,” she told Socialist Worker. “But the attacks are being carried out to create an uneducated proletariat. It’s all to benefit the Tories. Music and arts are just for moneyed families now. The rest have a narrow curriculum.
“I hope the union continues with the strikes—and other unions come out too.”
Sam was picketing at Langdon Park School in Tower Hamlets, east London. She told Socialist Worker, “I’m angry about the cuts. A lot of children at this school have never been out of the area.
“We used to be able to take them on trips but there’s no money now. There’s a lack of value given to the service we provide.”
Shannon is a special needs teacher at the school. “Cuts to the budget means cuts for children and services they need,” she told Socialist Worker.
“We do things like travel training so they can be independent. We can’t do that without money—this affects our kids.”
“We pride ourselves on being a fully inclusive school,” added NUT chair Dawn.
“I don’t know how that will continue with the cuts. They will affect support staff and learning mentors—those people who make a real difference in the school.”
The school’s 30-strong picket line was buoyed by Unison union members at the school who came to show support.
“Cuts mean classes will be a lot larger,” Unison rep Diane said. “Teachers will be asked to teach subjects they haven’t been trained in. We have to stand together.”
Jane, another Unison member, agreed. “It’s all about the kids,” she told Socialist Worker. “It’s important to stand with teachers today as they’re doing this for everyone.”
In Cambridge, newly qualified teacher Rachel was picketing at her school. She told Socialist Worker, “I’ve spent the last two years training to be able to do this job properly.
“I paid £9,000 in tuition fees. And the government wants to replace me with people with no qualifications.” Rachel said this would harm education—in more ways than one.
“People who don’t know the theory or haven’t studied child development won’t have the ability to challenge whatever the government brings in,” she said.
“It’s an ideological attack.”
Teachers stressed that Tory education secretary Nicky Morgan still plans to force schools to become academies.
NUT members backed the strike by an overwhelming 92 percent in a recent ballot. The turnout was 25 percent—but many said that didn’t mean that teachers don’t want to fight.
“The problem is that teachers are utterly exhausted,” explained Kauser, an NUT rep in Leeds.
“People are working excessively, sometimes for 60 hours a week. Some didn’t get around to sending back the ballot paper.”
Others said that an apparent retreat by Morgan on forced academies had disorientated some workers. Fleur Patten, an NUT member in Cambridgeshire, said some felt it was a “done deal” that forced academisation would not go ahead.
And the testing agenda is linked to this plan for privatisation.
Sats tests aim to write off schools as “failing” and impose privatisation as the solution.
Kauser told Socialist Worker, “People come into teaching because they want to make a difference.
“But we have ridiculous policies in education now. Parents are saying, ‘my children are stressed and not sleeping because of tests’.
“Children and teachers are suffering mental health issues.”
Dawn from Langdon High school said, “The school is being turned into a factory. Kids are the input and the aim is to churn out GCSEs. The creative things are being cut. It’s taking the joy out of it—no wonder so many children are depressed.”
Diane, a school support worker from Unison said, “It would be better if everybody came out on strike.”
Another support worker, Ben, said, “I work in behaviour support and they want to cut our jobs.
“It would be unimaginable if that happened. We do invaluable work—without us kids with behaviour problems would just be excluded.
“That means they’re missing out on education and can just be left wandering the streets.”
Dave, who was picketing at Carlton Community High School in Pontefract, West Yorkshire, said, “Today’s strike is having a bigger impact than we anticipated. The roads are really quiet and lots of schools are closed.”
Sally Kincaid, secretary of Wakefield and District NUT, agreed. “It’s like a Sunday here it’s so quiet,” she said. “It is far, far better than previous strikes.”
Thousands gathered outside parliament for a rally after a 10,000-strong march through the centre of the capital. Acting general secretary of the NUT Kevin Courtney won huge cheers when he said people should blame the Tories, not migrants, for rising class sizes.
"This campaign is not over," he said.
Shadow chancellor John McDonnell told the crowd, "This campaign will grow. Whether on the picket line or in parliament, we will be with you in solidarity."
Delegates at this year’s NUT conference voted for the union to call further strikes in the autumn term.
Kevin Courtney previously said the union would name further dates—and the ballot was for discontinuous action.
The Unison union also voted for “national action and coordinated strikes in the autumn term” over school funding cuts at its local government conference last month.
Teachers said it was crucial that the union showed it was serious about the fight and names more strike days.
“I absolutely support more strikes,” said Rachel. “This strike is intended to build momentum for the future. We are passionate about this. We’re not going to be bullied—and we’re not backing down.”