Harlow’s striking teachers ‘rationing paper and turning off heating’

Education / Thu 16th Mar 2023 am31 08:23am

“WE don’t have enough money for resources, we are literally rationing paper here,” says Faye Curran, a science teacher at Burnt Mill Academy in Harlow reports the Local Democracy Reporter.

“We didn’t turn the heating on for longer than we usually would and we know schools that are trying not to turn it on at all, trying to keep the lights off, mad levels of having to ration resources.”

Raising banners in First Avenue, teachers from the Ofsted-rated outstanding secondary school are among many taking part in nationwide industrial action over February and March. Across the country, the National Education Union is demanding an inflation-equal pay rise, funded by the government.

Teachers say year-on-year below-inflation pay rises have put enormous pressure on schools and their employees, resulting in many being unable to afford to stay in the profession.

In an open letter to parents published yesterday, Education Secretary Gillian Keegan said she was “disappointed” students will be disrupted by the latest round of strikes and that she had offered to get round the negotiating table on the condition industrial action was paused. She said in a statement: “The NEU instead seems focused on strikes and all the needless disruption that brings.”

Speaking to the LDRS, local teachers in Harlow say they have dedicated their lives to students and that there will be huge consequences for UK education if they don’t get the funding they need.

Teachers are not staying in the profession’
“There physically just are not the number of teachers that there needs to be,” Ms Curran said.

She told the LDRS half of people who go into teaching leave within five years. According to Census data published at the end of 2022, the Department for Education missed its target for recruitment of new secondary school teachers by over 40 per cent that year.

Ms Curran says unfair pay and consequent tough conditions are behind the staffing problems. She said: “The wider impact that it has is that teachers are not staying in the profession. They’re not being paid what they would be elsewhere and it’s very hard conditions to work in.”

Currently, pay rises are expected to be funded by individual schools, according to Ms Curran. With school budgets already stretched, financial burdens are having a knock-on effect on resources. Besides finding their workloads increasing, teachers at Burnt Mill Academy do not have enough tables, chairs or even pens for their students, and often have to pay for these out of their own pockets.

The teachers acknowledge there will be disruption to students, some of whom are months away from important GCSE exams. But they say there is no other choice.

“It’s a huge decision for teachers, who are dedicating their lives to education and to students, to choose to disrupt it,” said Ms Curran.

“The reason that we’re here is because there literally isn’t another option. It’s weighing up the sacrifice of this day’s learning against all of the consequences there’s going to be for education if we don’t get the funding that we need.”

‘Demoralised and devalued’
Teresa Keane’s Year 11 English Literature class is taking an exam today, in preparation for their GCSEs. But the English teacher told them she could not cross the picket line.

“They understand why I’m doing what I’m doing but it just makes things more complex, it’s not what we would want to be doing but it’s absolutely essential,” she said. “I love the school, but hate what we have to do at the moment.”

She told the LDRS some teachers are fearful of going on strike, while others are reluctant to take a stand. “This is something that if we don’t stand together, we’re not going to be able to make a change in any way, we’re not going to get the government to listen to us and you see our schools and our teachers just becoming demoralised and devalued,” she said.

Ms Keane continues to claim shrinking salaries and increasing hours are having a “degrading” effect on teachers’ health. Part of their holidays are spent recovering from illness, worn out from stressful terms.

Despite this being a national dispute, the relationship between the union and management at a local level can become strained, she told the LDRS. Burnt Mill Academy is open today, but Ms Keane said she would have liked to have seen it closed as a show of support. She said: “With the best will in the world and respect to my managers, it would have been really supportive of the union if they said we’re going to close today.”

If the teachers win, we all win’
Teachers are not the only workers angry about pay and conditions. Elsewhere in Harlow, junior doctors at Princess Alexandra Hospital are taking part in a national dispute over real term pay cuts and their effect on staffing. Only two weeks ago, Harlow’s street cleaners, gardeners and council house repair workers took industrial action, with some of them saying they have been forced to use food banks. After rail, postal workers, nurses and university staff, the UK has experienced wave after wave of strikes as the cost of living continues to spiral

Former branch chair at Writtle College Michael Szpakowski, now semi-retired, turned up to this morning’s picket line to support colleagues at Burnt Mill Academy.

He told the LDRS: “Solidarity, it’s a word which hasn’t been heard perhaps so much in the last 25 years, but it’s in our bones in the trade union movement.”

Mr Szpakowski claimed public support is behind the strikes, not just from the likes of junior doctors and rail workers who are involved in their own disputes, but from the wider public. Indeed, such sentiment appears to be backed by current polling. For example, Ipsos put support for teaching strikes among parents and guardians at 60 per cent earlier this month, against 21 per cent opposing.

“You can also see it in the number of people who are hooting as they go past,” he said. “They’re hitting that horn because they feel if the teachers win, they all win.”

Mr Szpakowski says there is anger across the public who, being asked to tighten their own belts, can sympathise with the plight of workers such as teachers taking the step to down tools. Mixed in with the anger, however, is also hope that, as the strikes gain momentum, working conditions will eventually improve.

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3 Comments for Harlow’s striking teachers ‘rationing paper and turning off heating’:

David Forman
2023-03-16 09:33:49

The key paragraph for me in this worthwhile news item is: "half of people who go into teaching leave within five years. According to Census data published at the end of 2022, the Department for Education missed its target for recruitment of new secondary school teachers by over 40 per cent that year." But don't worry, most members of Rishi Sunak's cabinet went to posh private schools: https://www.itv.com/news/2022-10-26/majority-of-rishi-sunaks-new-cabinet-went-to-private-school

Edward Vine
2023-03-16 10:40:17

Teachers leaving the profession shortly after qualifying has been an issue for decades. Many of them join full of enthusiasm and innovative ideas. They then find that more and more duties, responsibilities and tasks are layered down on them, their expertise is questioned as government ministers, secretaries of state and the dfe shower down dictats of how and what to teach in minute detail suppressing creativity and sustaining a system based on a Victorian factory batch production model not fit for the 20th and now 21st Century, whilst pushing an inadequate and inappropriate application of IT that further increases work load. (IT that could be used to reduce workload and tailor learning to the individual needs to students). The new recruits leave for pastures new with better working conditions their teaching qualifications in their "'back pockets " to fall temporarily back on to infill income any peroids of employment. The poor resources, facilities and equipment highlighted in the report are unfortunately typical, children get a second rate deal unless their parents can afford to "go private ": somewhat reminiscent of the situation with the nhs.

Darren Franklin
2023-03-16 10:53:18

Edward Vine, my thoughts exactly. You hit the nail on the head there :)

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