Workers in 34 sixth form colleges took their sixth day of strikes on Tuesday, in a battle to win more funding and pay.
NEU union members want an end to cuts that have meant rising class sizes, fewer subjects taught, less support for students and soaring workloads.
Art and design technician Hilary was on the picket line at Newham Sixth Form College in east London. “In the art department our budget has gone down year on year,” she told Socialist Worker.
“The number of staff has gone down. I used to run an enrichment programme that was cut.
“We don’t do music, textiles or graphics A-Levels anymore. And years one and two in fine art A-Level are now being taught together by one teacher.”
Maths teacher David said the impact of cuts on students “saddens” him. “I’ve seen class sizes going up,” he told Socialist Worker.
“I can’t take students on trips anymore. The amount of support students get is going down.”
Jean Evanson is the post-16 national executive committee member for the union and was on strike at the Shrewsbury Colleges Group. She told Socialist Worker, “We had three picket lines as usual, and a lot of lessons were cancelled due to the strike.
“People are resolute. They can see strikes are necessary in getting the government to listen about the impact of the funding cuts.”
The union says the sector has a funding shortfall of £700 million. And workers have suffered years of real-terms pay cuts.
Newham striker Jas said the cuts “are unfair on us and unfair on students”.
“We are constantly being told we need to cut back on this and that,” he told Socialist Worker.
“There used to be materials in braille. Now it’s almost like they just want us to use Google Classroom app.”
In many places sixth form strikers joined workers in the UCU who are also on strike.
A UCU striker from Birmingham addressed sixth form workers on the picket line. “They talked about the overlap in our disputes,” said Jean. “In both sectors we have the marketisation of education. It means money isn’t spent on students and staff.
“Higher education seems to be further down the line in terms of casual contracts and attacks on pay. But we need to stop the direction of travel towards these things.”
A striker from the University of East London (UEL) visited the Newham pickets. Later the sixth form strikers went to the UEL picket line—and donated £200.
Newham NEU rep Rob said UCU and NEU strikers in east London were “really happy” to support each other on the picket lines.
“It’s really important to demonstrate solidarity with each other,” he said. “The attacks that they are facing in their sector are the same as the ones we are facing.
“The more we recognise this and work with each other, the stronger our movement becomes.”
The union has now begun balloting for strikes in 50 sixth form colleges. The ballot is aggregated, which means all colleges can legally strike if the average turnout is over 50 percent.
Indicative ballots showed there is a mood to keep fighting. The ballots end on 6 April, and activists need to fight to get the maximum turnout and yes vote in each one.
“We talked about the reballots in our meeting after the picket lines,” said Jean. “Lots of people confirmed they have already voted and voted yes to continue the strikes. Now got to make sure we meet the threshold.
“The key is communication.”
Rob said his branch “will get a vote for strikes and will definitely pass the 50 percent threshold”.
He added, “The aim is to try and raise the game and put more pressure on the government.”
Two schools hail victory in Catholic academy battle
NEU union members at St Michael’s and St Bonaventure’s schools in Newham, east London, have proved that workers can win against academisation.
The Brentwood Diocese wants to make the Catholic schools part of its huge Multi-Academy Trust (Mat).
But the school’s governing bodies caved in to workers last week after a series of strikes.
At a meeting for parents, St Bonaventure’s teachers explained their reasons for striking.
One said, “I’m a child of the 1980s when teachers fought for terms and conditions we all benefit from. I wasn’t about to let them be taken away.”
Another teacher told parents that they were picking up students from a nearby academy. “They do not know how to learn independently,” she said.
“They’ve been fed too much on exam answers.”
The teacher added, “We wanted to keep a school that offers so much more.”
Opposition to the Catholic Mat’s plans will now focus on St Bede’s in the neighbouring borough of Redbridge and other schools where the Diocese has already applied for academy orders.