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On a picket line in the Midlands, teachers spoke about the situation inside schools – something that alarmed them not just as teachers, but as parents too.
The teachers waving banners in the cold this morning were clear: this wasn’t just about pay. Forming a picket line outside a secondary school in Warwick shortly after sunrise, they spoke about the situation inside schools – something that alarmed them not just as teachers, but as parents too.
“The class sizes are getting bigger, they can’t recruit teachers, and the children are losing out. If we don’t do something now, what’s going to happen in the future?” said Claire, a social sciences teacher and mother of two primary-school-age children.
“We are here as parents as well,” she said, pointing out that schools were particularly struggling to support children with SEND issues, mental health issues, or any other extra needs.
More than 100,000 teachers in England and Wales are expected to strike today, the National Education Union (NEU) has said, the start of seven days of industrial action spread across the coming weeks. The UK’s waves of strikes have continued to build this year, with teachers, civil servants, and rail workers amongst those on strike today.
The NEU is calling for teachers to get an above-inflation pay increase that is not taken out of schools’ existing budgets. Most teachers are likely to see salaries fall by 5% in real terms this school year, according to analysis by the Institute of Fiscal Studies, and this comes on top of real-terms pay drops dating back to 2010.
Pay is a touchstone for the wider worries amongst teachers, three-quarters of whom are women. Those on the Warwick picket line spoke of working overtime everyday, having poor facilities, leading classes on subjects they weren’t qualified in, and growing staff shortages as teachers suffered burnout and left the profession.
For families, the strikes look set to be an unpredictable ride – some schools are fully closed today, while others are open just for certain year groups or for children with specific needs. Teachers are not bound to inform their headteachers if they plan to strike.
“More notice from the school would be welcome, we were told they couldn’t tell us if the school is open as the teachers don’t have to let them know they’ll be striking. We found out this afternoon!” a parent commented on Workingmums.co.uk’s Facebook page yesterday.
On the picket line, all the teachers fully sympathised with the disruption for families. “I am not doing this lightly,” said Mandy (pictured above), a secondary school Geography teacher and mother of two.
“But, as a parent myself, I want my children to go to a school that’s well-funded and where staff are valued. We can see what [the current situation] is doing to the students.”
Other teachers pointed out that many of their reasons for industrial action, such as schools constantly being over-stretched, were affecting parents too. They spoke of parents needing to pay for private SEND assessments and other support – or manage without that support. They also spoke about how high workloads cut into their time with their own children.
For teachers who have just started their careers, and who are perhaps yet to start families of their own, the current situation can be daunting. Nearly a third of teachers who qualified in the last decade have since left the profession, according to an analysis of official data by the Labour party.
“I can’t see how I would fit in a family. I’m marking until 6.30pm and taking more work home with me. If I had a child, how would I spend time with them?” said William, who has been teaching for a year. He says many new teachers complete their two-year stint as an Early Career Teacher and then leave, keeping the qualification as a “back-up plan”.
William teaches history, religious education, and PSHE. He typically has classes of 30-32 children, 6-7 of whom might need extra support. In most classes, he doesn’t have a Teaching Assistant to help him. If he prepares a one-hour lesson, he usually only gets to teach a fraction of it as he’s juggling so many other things.
“My job-title tells you the problem – I’m teaching three subjects, I’m only a specialist in one of them,” he said. “Kids aren’t getting the quality of education they need.”