Striking teachers show united front

HUNDREDS of teachers across Suffolk and Essex staged marches yesterday to show a united front in a national dispute over pay.

HUNDREDS of teachers across Suffolk and Essex staged marches yesterday to show a united front in a national dispute over pay.

More than 120 schools in Suffolk closed their doors or cut classes as the National Union of Teachers (NUT) staged its first walkout in 21 years. In Essex the number of schools affected was at least 127.

Teachers from across the region made their feelings heard in demonstrations and meetings as the NUT called for the Government's 2.45% pay offer for teachers to be increased to at least above inflation.

The official measure of inflation, the Consumer Prices Index, remained at 2.5% last month.

But last night education bosses criticised the timing of the strike, disrupting students weeks before the exam season gets under way.

In Ipswich more than 100 teachers from the east Suffolk area marched from the Cornhill to the Ipswich Borough Social Club in Black Horse Lane where a rally was held to voice their anger at an “unfair deal” for teachers.

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Margaret Bulaitis, the secretary of the Ipswich association of the NUT, who organised the rally, said there was a “fantastic response” to the action in Suffolk, with representatives from other public sectors also lending their support.

She told the rally: “We have seen year-on-year erosion of our pay and young teachers are finding it impossible to get on the housing ladder or pay rent and some are taking up second jobs.

“Today's strike is not just about pay it is about wanting to feel valued and recognised.

“It does not take a genius to recognise we are facing a huge crisis over recruitment. One fifth of all teachers are over 50 and I think it is much higher in Suffolk.”

Keith Bunting, an officer for the Eastern Region NUT, said graduates were now “voting with their feet” and not applying for jobs.

Janet Parsons, 56, a special needs teacher at Sidegate Primary in Ipswich, defended the timing of the strike, saying children are encouraged much more now to do individual study and revision.

She said she thought the job had becoming more pressurised and demanding since she entered the profession.

In west Suffolk, NUT members met at the Athenaeum in Bury St Edmunds.

Sandra Hindon, of Great Cornard Upper School near Sudbury, said: “Most of us feel very uncomfortable about doing this. Everybody here would prefer not to have to do this.”

Her fellow teacher Helen Yapp, from Sudbury Upper School, said: “We're taking this action because teachers are undervalued and under-respected. We are a profession and we deserve to be treated as any other profession.”

Suffolk secretary of the NUT, Martin Goold, said young teachers in particular were struggling to pay of the loans they had taken out during university and teaching training.

Kelly Mullen, a teacher at Chilton Primary in Stowmarket, only started in the profession last September. She said: “You don't go into teaching for the money but because you love what you do. At the same time, I am trying to get on the housing ladder and I can't. People always think you get brilliant holidays and work when the children are at school. That is not how it is - we work in the evenings and during the holidays.”

In Essex at least 43 schools were closed and 84 had to partially shut. More than 100 teachers gathered at a union rally at the County Hotel in Chelmsford.

Jerry Glazier, the NUT's national executive member for Essex, said: “People should not be getting year-on-year pay cuts as a result of government policy, but more importantly it is about future supply and security of teachers in the country, especially Essex which needs at least 800 newly qualified teachers each year.”

Simon Walsh, the Essex county councillor in charge of schools, children and families, said: “There is absolutely no doubt that children's education will suffer as a result of the strike action and, given how close we are to the summer exams, the severity of that damage should not be underestimated.”

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