Striking teachers picket schools 

Downend School’s picket line. Picture: NEU South Gloucestershire

MORE than a thousand teachers in South Gloucestershire left their classrooms for the picket line as part of a national strike over pay and education funding.

Members of the National Education Union walked out on February 1, with many schools closing to all but vulnerable pupils or those in care.

Picket lines were set up outside many primary, secondary and special schools, with the union sharing pictures of protests at Soundwell Academy, Downend School and Stanbridge Primary School locally.

Many strikers then went to a regional rally in Bristol city centre, which was joined by other public sector workers and supporters. Organisers estimate it was attended by up to 6,000 people.

The strike left thousands of parents having to make arrangements to look after children given an unexpected day off school.

NEU South Gloucestershire representative Lee Everson said: “We understand parents are in a difficult position, because it’s particularly inconvenient to provide childcare, but many can see this is not just about teacher pay, it’s about providing enough resources for their children’s education.

“People who went out on the picket lines were surprised by the level of public support.”

He said many teachers were “at the end of their tether”, with pay not keeping up with the cost of living and “scarily high” rents facing younger teachers in the area.

Lee said the latest pay offer of 5% was not funded by the government, which meant it would have to come from school budgets already under pressure due to rising costs.

The Department for Education says offers of 8.9% for new teachers and 5% for experienced staff were made on the recommendation of an independent pay review body and are “the highest pay awards in 30 years” for teachers.

The government says it has answered union calls for increased funding, claiming that “by 2024-2025 schools will be funded in real terms at their highest level in history”.

A DFE spokesperson said Education Secretary Gillian Keegan and unions had recently discussed issues including workload reduction, recruitment and retention, adding: “The Education Secretary instructed officials to hold further detailed talks with unions and committed to more talks ahead of planned strike action.”

Further teachers’ strikes are planned on March 2, 15 and 16.

Staff at the University of the West of England, including administrators, cleaners, library, security and catering workers, walked out over three days in February over a 3% pay offer from the Universities and Colleges Employers Association.