Teacher strikes

‘It’s more than just pay’: School teachers on why they are striking

On the picket lines: Schools Week reporters spoke to teachers about why they are taking industrial action - here's what they had to say ...

On the picket lines: Schools Week reporters spoke to teachers about why they are taking industrial action - here's what they had to say ...

Schools Week reporters spoke to striking teachers across England today to find out why they had taken industrial action.

Despite pay being a big issue, it was not the only reason teachers were striking. One teacher said working eight hours on a Sunday to get up to speed on lesson planning was “not unusual”.

Others are worried about recruitment struggles, with schools having to increasingly rely on non-specialist teachers for some shortage subjects.

And general funding shortages – meaning textbooks are “falling apart” and teachers have to pay for basic things like pens – was another big concern raised on picket lines.

Here’s what striking teachers told reporters Freddie Whittaker, Amy Walker and Tom Belger…

‘We’re having to work longer and do more’

Fiona Stuart, science teacher, Archway School, Stroud

“One of the main reasons we’re striking is because of the impact [underfunding and pay] is having on the education of students. Because there aren’t enough teachers in terms of retention and recruitment. That’s then directly affecting the education of kids.

“The recent pay rise that did go through had to be funded by schools, which again, then directly impacted on the kids because that was coming out of school budgets. I’ve been in education for 25 years, and I’ve seen the increase in workload, I’ve seen the lack of life outside the school. People are having to work longer and longer hours and are having to do more.

“And we’re often not having fully qualified members of staff. Staff are having to teach outside their specialism more and more. Again, it all leads back to the impact on the education of children.”

‘Not unusual to spend 8 hours marking on a Sunday

Jeremy Taylor, head of history, Bishop Thomas Grant school, Streatham

“It would not be unusual for me to spend the best part of seven or eight hours on a Sunday afternoon, Sunday evening marking students work – that’d be fairly standard. 

“It would not be unusual for me to be still in my office at 6.30pm on a Friday night, when the school finishes at 3.15pm because I’m trying to get Monday and Tuesday lessons all planned as head of department, I’ll be catching up with admin and paperwork.

“But there’s a bigger picture here as well, which is that schools are really struggling to recruit stuff. So when I started teaching in 1999, it was not unusual for 100 history teachers to apply for a job and you’d shortlist six.

“Now, if a history job gets advertised, you won’t even get six people applying for it, let alone six on a shortlist. You might be lucky to get a shortlist of two or three. One will get a job before the interview, one will drop out and then you’re in a position where you can’t even hold a competitive interview.”

‘I’m getting more money working in retail’

Sandrine Baker, art teacher, Bishop Thomas Grant school, Streatham

“As a newly qualified teacher, obviously I’m in the classroom by myself. It’s a lot, and especially with the whole marking and everything you don’t get – there’s just so much. And I’m going home and I’m still working. 

“I can understand why so many newly qualified teachers leave. I’m a very resilient person, and very well supported in my department. If you didn’t have that, I could have left too.

“I know some of my ECT [early career teacher] cohort from other schools in Birmingham, the level of stress they’re under, some of them are still considering [the job] because they’ve done part-time jobs in retail before and they were like ‘I’m getting more money doing retail’.”

‘It’s hard to do a hard job when you’re also worrying about money’

Antonia Debbonaire (left), primary school teacher, Bristol 

“The pay rise is coming out of schools’ budgets so it’s squeezing schools even further. And it’s not in line with inflation, so it’s not a pay rise, it’s a pay cut, and it’s really affecting lots of teachers.

“Teachers are using food banks. And it’s really hard to do a really hard job when you’re worrying about money and how you’re going to survive and all of that. So there needs to be some respect given to teachers and dignity. We should be paid properly. 

“Lots of people are struggling, and we’re seeing it with the children that we teach and we’re not being able to give them what they need.”

‘We’re using textbooks that are falling apart’

Alyson Knight, maths teacher, Archway School, Stroud

“We’re using textbooks that are falling apart, and you can’t attract people into the profession anymore. So that means we can’t get specialist teachers into the department, and that creates problems particularly for the children.

“There’s a reason why teachers aren’t coming into the profession, and they’re not staying there. People forget it’s actually quite strenuous teaching 32 15 to 16-year-olds.

“And it’s not just about teaching a subject. It’s about helping them with their special needs, their anxiety, making sure you’re doing it at different levels. And yet your pay isn’t reflecting that.

“And people are coming out of university and looking at teaching or something else, where they can earn half as much again, get private health insurance, and don’t need to drive to work.”

‘I’m having to buy basic things like pens for pupils’

Sam Davis, (pictured left), textiles teacher, Bishop Thomas Grant, Streatham

“Me and my colleague art teachers are actually buying materials regularly, so that we can give kids what they need.

“I’m a textiles teacher so it’s fabric or buying threads. I’m buying pens. It’s just absolutely basic things that we do not have the funding for.

“A lot of people might say we only work so many weeks a year and we have so many hours a day, but the reality is that we’re taking work home with us or we’re staying late.

“I think what all of these strikes are raising is that there is something that has gone fundamentally wrong with the way things are being funded generally. And the cost-of-living crisis is real and it is affecting people’s lives. It’s affecting people across the board.”

‘Using non-specialist teachers is short-changing kids’

Mark Richards, history teacher, Archway School, Stroud

“My biggest concern is recruitment of young teachers. Also, the scarcity of new science teachers and maths teachers is a big concern, because a lot of non-specialist teachers are teaching maths and science, which is definitely short-changing the kids.”

‘We need to retain staff and make sure no services are lost’

Daniel Hapgood (right), maths teacher in Greenford, west London

“For me it’s about pay to retain staff and making sure no services are lost – the offer is unfunded so schools are reducing them.

“You can see those most worried about losing pay striking are ECTs – they’re most likely to leave. That’s a huge issue, and about workload too. I’m thinking about future year groups, not just current ones.”

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