Thousands of schools in the UK were shut down or partially closed yesterday after a walkout by the nation’s largest teachers union over education funding.
Led by 330,000-member National Union of Teachers (NUT), the strike was called “unnecessary and harmful” by Tory Education Secretary Nicky Morgan. However, the union insists the government needs to listen to them and have not ruled out any further industrial action.
Data from the Department for Education suggests that of the 21,957 state-funded schools in England, 52.7% were open during the strike, with an additional 17.4% being partially open.
While one in ten schools (10.2%) were closed, it is unknown if the remaining 19.7% were open or not.
The union voted overwhelmingly in support of the strike last month, but only saw a turnout of 24.5%, writes Javier Espinoza for The Telegraph. The law is expected to change later in the year making it more difficult for teachers to strike, as 50% of union members who are able to vote will have to support the motion.
The law requires teachers to give their employers seven days notice before a strike. Schools were notified two weeks in advance for this strike, although they were told a month ahead of time during the previous national strike held in July of 2014.
The NUT said the strike was “solidly” supported by teachers and many parents who agreed with their arguments concerning school funding, pay, and conditions.
Union leaders say that as a result of cuts to school funding, teachers have larger workloads and bigger class sizes.
“The strike is about the underfunding of our schools and the negative impact it is having on children’s education and teachers’ terms and conditions. Schools are facing the worst cuts in funding since the 1970s. The decisions which head teachers have to make are damaging to our children and young people’s education. Class sizes going up, school trips reduced, materials and resources reduced, and subjects – particularly in the arts – are being removed from the curriculum. Teaching posts are being cut or not filled when staff leave. All of this just to balance the books,” said Kevin Courtney, NUT acting general secretary.
However, Morgan maintains that the funding claims are untrue and has accused the union of organizing a political strike.
She went on to say that fewer than 10% of teachers had supported the vote to walk-out, adding that the budget for schools is the highest it has ever been at around £40 billion, an increase of £4 billion since 2012.
Despite this, teachers gathering at a rally in Eastbourne, East Sussex discussed the impacts that budget cuts were having on their ability to teach as well as on the recruitment of new teachers.
Jake Lambert, a history teacher at Hailsham Community College, noted that schools are having to make decisions based on cost rather than the needs of their students. He went on to say that special education support is being hit especially hard due to the current recruitment crisis, adding that many teachers are leaving within the first five years on the job, which is causing the quality of education available to children to suffer.
An anonymous teacher from Hackney in South London added that teachers have witnessed a 10% loss of funding in the last year, and with that has come increased class sizes and fewer available opportunities for students, writes Mark Ellis for The Mirror.
While the government continues to say the education budget is being preserved while many other areas are seeing cuts made, the NUT noted an analysis by the Institute of Fiscal Studies which found that per student spending will have fallen by an estimated 8% in real terms by 2020.
A spokesperson for the Department for Education added that the average teacher in the nation is paid a salary of over £37,400. School workforce figures released this week suggest there are more teachers in the field than there have ever been, with an additional 15,000 since 2012.