TEACHERS are planning further walkouts next month following a strike last week that saw thousands of students in Tunbridge Wells impacted by the action.
A second strike is set to take place on March 2 after members of the National Education Union (NEU) took to the streets of Tunbridge Wells last Wednesday (February 1) to demand better pay and conditions.
The strike is estimated to have affected over 7,000 students from secondary and primary schools across Tunbridge Wells.
Liz Hawker, an educator for children with Special Educational Needs and a parent, said: “I am 100 percent behind the teachers striking. What parents experience during the strikes is a drop in the ocean in comparison to what the teachers face every day.
“My son goes to Tunbridge Wells Boys Grammar School and had classes from home and the day went very smoothly.”
Around 200 teachers marched from Calverley Grounds, up Mount Pleasant Road and through the town centre holding placards and chanting ‘No ifs, No buts, No education cuts’.
There were members from secondary schools Tunbridge Wells Girls’ Grammar School, Tunbridge Wells Grammar School for Boys, Skinner’s School, St Gregory’s and Bennett Memorial Diocesan as well as Claremont, St Marks, St Matthews and Holwood primary schools.
Members from Tonbridge and East Sussex schools travelled to join the rally.
Tom Hoskins, NEU Joint Secretary for West Kent told the Times: “Teachers pay has risen a little bit but it’s coming out of the school budget which the government is not increasing. We think this is unacceptable. Teacher recruitment levels have fallen off a cliff.
“We are asking for an investment for our future because our kids are our future. You invest in the kids, you will have better educated, better chances, better monetary value to the future economy.”
He added: “We are contracted to work 31.5 hours a week, that’s what we earn our money for, but the average secondary school teacher works 50 hours a week, with primary school teachers working 60 hours a week, so we are putting in a lot of overtime and not getting any more pay.”
Members of the NEU union voted overwhelmingly in favour of strike action.
The NEU has said that teachers were offered on average a five percent pay rise, seven percent behind inflation, which is why it’s asking the government for a fully-funded, above inflation pay rise that is not coming out of the school budget.
The next day of strike action for schools in the town is expected to go ahead on March 2 with more strikes planned for March 15 and 16.
WHY WE ARE ON THE MARCH…
The Times talked to a random selection of teachers about why they were on the protest march. Here’s what they said:
‘We have had to put off having another child’
Will Downing, English Teacher earning £34,000.
“I have a young family and we are financially breaking even at the moment, but I can see it getting worse and wanted to deal with this now by coming on strike, rather than in five years when we really are in trouble.
“One impact already is that me and my partner have decided that we are not going to have another a child because we can’t afford it.
“I hope the strike resolves the issues but in reality it will hopefully get the ball rolling and get the government to plan better, think ahead and hopefully the next government will act on it.”
‘We are struggling to pay for our wedding’
Nathan Von Fraunhofer, History Teacher at Bennett Memorial on £29,800.
“I am a new teacher and despite having a degree am making considerably less than my friends who are not teachers and some that don’t have a degree.
“I am trying to get married this year and am struggling to find the money to pay for it.
“I get paid from 9 to 4 but in reality, I start my day at 8am and leave at 5.30pm, maybe even 7pm and I am not paid for those extra hours.
“Teachers will work at the weekends and on holiday to get ahead of marking and make lesson plans.
“Our wages are no longer competitive and as a result no one wants to become teachers anymore, that means teachers are having to work harder and we can’t provide good education for our children.”
‘Morally corrupt pay taken from school budgets’
Mercedes Davis, Drama and English teacher at Tunbridge Wells Girls Grammar School.
“Education is at a crisis point, and I feel like the Government needs to pay attention, they need to listen to teachers and kids and parents and they not doing that.
“I want a more sustainable plan for the future because schools are currently struggling to recruit and retain staff, so we have to think much more strategically to safeguard education.
“It is morally corrupt that wages are taken from school budgets and its unsustainable for the future of education. For me it’s about how we think of and value education.”
‘Workload forced experienced teacher to quit’
Primary School Teacher, Tunbridge Wells, who asked not to be named.
“For me it’s the long working hours with little to no compensation, I’m working till 8pm at night then I come home put the kids to bed and go to sleep and then I’m working on the weekends so I’m not seeing my family.
“Yes, you get holidays, but you have to work during the holidays too.
“There have been highly experienced teachers who have left because they can’t deal with the workload.”