TEACHERS from across Sunderland joined colleagues for a protest rally on strike day.
Groups of Wearside members of the NUT (National Union of Teachers) travelled to Newcastle to protest against changes to pay, pensions and working conditions.
Thousands of pupils across Sunderland and County Durham had their education disrupted by the teachers’ strike action yesterday.
More then two thirds of Wearside’s primary and secondary schools were either closed or partially closed because of the action by the NUT.
The strike was part of a long-running battle with the Government and education secretary Michael Gove.
Sarah Lake, branch secretary of Sunderland NUT, said: “It was an excellent march, there were a few guest speakers and a number of us went up from Sunderland.
Unlike previous recent strikes, the country’s other biggest teaching union, the NASUWT (National Association of Schoolmasters and Union of Women Teachers), decided not to officially join this week’s strike, but Sarah said there were people from several different unions, including the UCU (University and College Union) and Unison, who were there supporting the teachers.
Sarah, who is also a spokesman for the City of Sunderland Teachers’ Association, said the strike was part of a campaign to protect pay and pensions and to ensure a workload that means children receive the best possible teaching.
The strike follows a series of regional walk-outs in the autumn, which the NUT claims were very well supported by parents. Members of the NUT say Government changes, such as teachers working to 68 and over, increasing pension contributions by 50 per cent and introducing performance related pay, will all have a damaging effect on education.
Sarah said: “I do feel we have a lot of support from the general public.
“I think the feeling among parents is that they don’t like the Gove regime. They don’t like the rigorous testing and the threat that school hours may increase. It is an attack on childhood.
“Teachers’ workloads are increasing all the time, so children are being taught by people who are more and more tired and I do think most parents feel that at 68 teachers should have retired.”
The Wearside union leader said although Mr Gove has agreed to talks with union officials and dialogue is open, nothing seems to have changed.
She said: “Other teaching unions are also pushing forward with industrial action, we feel this is a fight we have to fight because there is no alternative. Teachers can’t go on working like this.”
Recent figures revealed that primary teachers are working almost 60 hours a week on average and secondary school teachers almost 56, but Sarah said it is not uncommon for teachers to work up to 80 hours each week.
She said: “Some teachers certainly feel that a lot of the work we have to do is pointless and does not contribute to the education of the children.
“I think what keeps people in the job is that they just love being in the classroom and doing whatever they can for the students.”
The NUT has also launched a campaign, Stand Up for Education, to ensure all classrooms have a qualified teacher, authorities can open schools where needed and changes to exams and curriculum are positive.