Striking teachers bring capital to halt

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The Independent Online

Thousands of teachers brought central London to a virtual standstill today as they came out on strike over cost of living allowances.

An estimated 3,000 to 5,000 members of the National Union of Teachers as they marched through the centre of the capital in support of demands for a 33% increase in London allowances.

Organisers said schools across the capital have been forced to close, with estimates before the strike suggesting as many as 1,000 may have been disrupted or forced to shut. Up to 100,000 pupils were affected.

But the Education Secretary Estelle Morris, herself an NUT member, condemned the strike, saying: "Striking will damage and disrupt children's education in London and undermine the status of teachers.

"We will continue to deliver on pay, not just because of strikes but because I value the work teachers do.

"A new teacher in London starting in 1997 has seen his or her pay go up 63%. Striking will achieve nothing but damage to pupils, parents and teachers themselves."

The chief NUT steward of the march Alex Kenny, an English teacher from Tower Hamlets in the east of the capital, said the majority of schools in his borough were closed. He estimated that up to 5,000 people had joined the march, while the Metropolitan Police estimated at least 3,000.

Among those who joined the march from Lincoln's Inn Fields to Camden town hall were several teachers from St George's School in Maida Vale, where the head teacher Philip Lawrence was murdered outside the gates by a pupil from another comprehensive in 1995.

John McDonald, a technology teacher, said: "We've come out on strike because we have to make clear to Tony Blair and Estelle Morris to pay London teachers a liveable wage."

He said that 22 out of 36 teachers at the school were NUT members and had joined the strike, forcing the school to close.

"We take no pleasure in having to do this but we must call on the general public and Mr Blair in particular to take notice that for the first time in 30 years teachers are having to take this action."

Last week, the union voted overwhelmingly in favour of the one-day stoppage, called in protest at the Government's decision to increase London allowances by 3.5%.

The union has demanded an increase of a third, which would take the inner London payments to £4,000, pointing to the fact that Metropolitan Police officers get £6,000.

NUT general secretary Doug McAvoy said the high cost of living in the capital meant schools were struggling to recruit enough teachers and a bigger allowance would help to alleviate this problem.

Mr McAvoy said the fact that so many schools were being forced to close "sends a very clear message to the Government that London's allowances aren't good enough."