Teachers set for further strikes

Teacher strike
Teacher strike

Sheffield schools are bracing themselves for further strike action before Christmas as teaching unions look to step up the pressure on Education Secretary Michael Gove.

Most primaries, secondaries and special schools across the city were badly hit by Tuesday’s one day stoppage, with at least 46 shut completely and only a few able to operate normally.

Teachers are angry about a range of proposed changes to their working lives, including the introduction of performance related pay, increased pension contributions, tougher workloads and later retirement ages.

A city centre rally and march in Barker’s Pool and Ponds Forge was attended by hundreds of teachers, many of whom came from across the region including Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire.

Unions the NUT and NASUWT are co-ordinating a rolling programme of one day industrial action across the country, but are committed to a nationwide strike later this term.

NUT general secretary Christine Blower, who addressed the Ponds Forge meeting, said the day had highlighted issues teachers felt very strongly about.

“The turnout today here in Sheffield shows the levels of anger felt by teachers. Strike action is never a step that teachers take lightly and we are very aware and concerned about the inconvenience it causes parents,” she said.

“Unfortunately we are faced with a Government that is refusing to listen to the reasonable demands of the profession. Changes to pay, pensions and workload will make teaching a far less attractive profession, which is not in the long-term interests of teachers and children.”

But a leading city employer warned repeated strikes by teachers and other public sector workers could be counter-productive.

Alan Chalmers, a partner at legal firm DLA Piper, said parents had been left to make last minute alternative childcare arrangements, including taking the day off work to look after their children, causing disruption to employers.

“The potential impact of short term strike action should not be under-estimated.

Should strikes threaten to damage the economic recovery, the pressure on Government to make changes to the law on industrial action will increase,” he said.

“The Government has previously considered whether there is a need to revisit the balloting requirements for industrial action so that a greater overall majority of votes in favour of action is required. Calls for tighter controls over industrial action are likely to increase if the private sector faces significant disruption as a result of public sector action. This may be the impetus which the Government needs.”

But teachers at the rally said anger in staff rooms was growing.

Joel Rigler, aged 32, a teacher at Walkley Primary School, said staff felt it was time they took a stand. “The majority of teachers in our school are taking action today – people are angry at attacks on the profession and I think we will be willing to take further action.”

Colleague Rachel Baron, 29, said it was moves to take away lesson preparation time that she felt strongly about. “We fought for a long time to get that much-needed time outside the classroom and to lose it just makes the job more stressful.”

Natasha Semp, 40, who teaches languages at Meadowhead School, said: There has been a lot of focus on plans to introduce performance related pay – which we believe is incompatible to teachers working as a team – but in our staff room that’s low down on the list of priorities. Right at the top is the strain we are feeling as individuals, and the consequences to our health if we are to work till we are 68.”