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The great classroom walkout

PUBLISHED: 18:33 30 April 2008 | UPDATED: 15:47 16 August 2010

Strike action: Bromley college tutors

Strike action: Bromley college tutors

MILLIONS of parents were forced to take a day off work or had to find alternative childcare last week when teachers stopped work in the first national strike in 20 years. But the nightmare is far from over as members of the National Union of Teachers (NU

MILLIONS of parents were forced to take a day off work or had to find alternative childcare last week when teachers stopped work in the first national strike in 20 years.

But the nightmare is far from over as members of the National Union of Teachers (NUT) have threatened further strikes if the government fails to improve its pay offer.

The union has already agreed to meet this month to discuss its strategy despite criticism that the action has had a devastating effect on the economy.

In Bexley, seven schools were completely closed while 23 were partially shut.

Bexley NUT representative Jill Saunder said: "We don't feel valued at all. We were forced to strike but it was a last resort.

"Some of the teachers did it with a heavy heart. It's not an easy or nice thing to do but we suspect this will be repeated by other public sector workers after us."

Across Kent, 66 schools closed partially while 17 were fully shut. Shorne Church of England Primary School, in Shorne, Gravesend, was closed for the whole day. Parents had to find emergency care for children.

The school declined to comment on the industrial action or the disruption it had caused parents.

Christine Blower, acting general secretary of the NUT, Europe's largest teaching union, said it would "obviously" consider striking again if the government does not back down.

She added: "This is not just a one-year issue. After three years of below-inflation pay increases the prospect for a further three years of the same is the last straw.

"It saps morale and causes problems of recruitment, retention and teacher shortages, not to mention real financial difficulty for our members. It is time to call a halt."

Also joining the strike were members of the University and College Union (UCU). Bromley College branch chair Steve Collinson was among staff who picketed last Thursday.

He said: "Lecturers in further educational (FE) colleges are already paid less than schoolteachers, but teaching staff at Bromley College are also paid less than those in other colleges.

"Out of 40 FE colleges in London, only 10 colleges pay their staff less than Bromley College but only one college makes its tutors teach more hours. So we get paid less, but work more."

Mr Collinson claimed Bromley College, where 12 staff picketed, has still not brought in new pay scales agreed in 2004.

Lecturers at the college who are on band B earn, including London weighting, between £24,117 and £26,240 but because of the pay banding system staff can't earn more unless they move to higher-banded management jobs.

"People are demoralised, stressed and stretched," Mr Collinson said. "There is a level of discontent but it's not rock bottom yet. The workload seems to increase daily, especially the paperwork.

"We are overworked and underpaid. It's damaging recruitment levels, the teacher pool is diminishing."

Mr Collinson said there would definitely be more action if the government did not back down.

He added: "We need to think about our next steps. We need to think about taking more action. If the message doesn't get through this time, then we would consider two and three-day strikes until it does."

But the strike, which cost the economy millions in lost revenue, was slammed by business leaders who called it "particularly untimely and costly" as the country braces itself for the full force of the credit crunch.

A spokesman from the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) said: "The teachers' strike is estimated to have cost London up to £44 million in lost revenue and staff hours.

"This is based on figures from a survey we conducted in partnership with pollsters ComRes, which estimated how much the capital's companies lost as a direct result of the strike."

LCCI chief executive Colin Stanbridge said: "Businesses in the capital have seen tangible losses to their own firms and the London economy due to this strike.

"In the current economic climate, London's businesses have to work harder than ever to remain profitable, making this strike particularly untimely and costly to the capital's economy."

Schools Secretary Ed Balls said the government believed teachers should be paid properly, but pointed out that their pay had already risen by 19 per cent since 1997. Average teacher pay is now £34,000.

Schools Minister Jim Knight claimed the offered pay deal was crucial in keeping the economy afloat. He said: "It is because teachers have mortgages too that I know they understand the need for a pay deal that helps deliver low inflation, low interest rates, and a stable economy."

Katherine.nelson@archant.co.uk

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