School students turned out in large numbers to support their teachers. Photograph Feyzi Ismail School students turned out in large numbers to support their teachers. Photograph Feyzi Ismail

Teachers unite to fight against the cuts and unreasonable work loads. Ellen Graubart reports

Yesterday teachers from the NUT came out onto the streets in their thousands – 11,000 according to police reports, so think 15,000 – to protest Education Minister Michael Gove’s destructive policies for running our schools which are resulting in huge numbers of teachers leaving the profession. No teacher goes on strike on a mere whim – yesterday’s strike was the fifth since this Con-Dem government came into power.

The protesters assembled behind the BBC Headquarters at Portland Place – a brilliant move on the part of the organisers noted by Christine Blower later in her speech at the rally. Thousands of teachers and the general public, including many young children and babies in pushchairs, started off soon after noon down Regent St., through Piccadilly, Trafalgar Square, down Whitehall, to Westminster and ending up at Central Hall for the rally.

Speeches at Central Hall were introduced by Alex Kenny   (Tower Hamlets NUT), and included contributions by three young school teachers, Matt Wrack (FBU), Jeremy Corbyn MP and Christine Blower, (NUT General Secretary). Alex Kenny said that the government is failing and if it does not agree to negotiate with the teachers the government will face more strikes and that as fallen comrades Bob Crow and Tony Benn both knew, change wasn’t given to us but was demanded from below.

Jamila Haines, a secondary school science teacher, said that targets forced onto teachers and students were creating too much pressure, leading to high stress levels. Individuals progress at different rates and Gove’s system does not put children’s interests at heart, she argued. Teachers were suffering from not having enough sleep, and were feeling totally deflated. Jamila said Gove should “trust my judgment, respect my profession and hear my voice”.

Teacher Kate Hardry said that teachers were feeling demoralised, that more bureaucracy was divisive and would not improve education, which was being ideologically led despite evidence these schemes don’t work.  She argues that privatisation is taking money away from children’s education and that children deserve professionally qualified teachers: education should not be dictated by profiteers and hedge fund managers. Gove should LISTEN, she said, and stop putting politics before education.

Matt Wrack, General Secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, gave his full support to the teachers, adding that the cuts were affecting all sectors, imppemented by a government that has no idea of the concerns of ordinary people, who are being blamed for the problems caused by the City of London.  Our society is a wealthy society, he told the rally, but wealth is in the wrong hands.  He said teacher’s should stand up, organise and fight back!

Jeremy Corbyn MP stressed the importance of solidarity in fighting for a decent education for all and acused the government of promoting academies and free schools at the expense of families, creating competition rather than partnership.  Teaching is one of the hardest of professions, he said- teachers have to deal with the knock-on effects of homelessness, housing and poverty.  Instead of supporting the teaching profession, the government is blaming teachers for all the ills of society.  He argued that Gove should thank the teachers, end the free school  system, defend welfare and attend to needs, not greed.

The final speech was given by Christine Blower, who has been described as ‘Bob Crow with pencils). Her powerful speech lambasted Gove for his retrograde policies. She stressed that children need good teachers who are not ground down, who are listened to and have a right to strike against unreasonable work loads, devaluation and low pay.  Teachers want to work together, receive a proper salary and not be subjected to counterproductive performance related pay. Blower urged the rally to attend the People’s Assembly demonstration against austerity – The People United – on 21 June, which is backed by the NUT. She finished by paying her respects to Bob Crow and Tony Benn, closing with a simple but powerful message: “Don’t mourn, organise!”

Ellen Graubart

Ellen Graubart was born in India of American parents and came to London from Virginia as a teenager to study art. She lives and works as an artist in Hackney. She is a member of Counterfire, Stop the War and Hackney Palestine Solidarity Campaign.

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