Brent teachers stage an orderly strike
Richard Garner has been Education Editor of The Independent for 12 years and writing about the subject for 34 years. Before becoming a journalist, he worked as a disc jockey in London pubs and clubs and for a hospital radio station. His main hobbies are cricket (watching these days) and theatre. On his days off, he is most likelt to be found at Lord’s or the King’s Head Theatre Club.
Wednesday 30 November 2011
The day started shortly after 7.30am for the dedicated band of pickets.
The teachers had chosen to picket Brentfield primary school, in Brent, north-west London, for their action.
It was open for one thing and most of the schools in the borough were closed. No point in standing in the freezing cold in front of an already empty building.
Also, they accused the headteacher of putting pressure on staff to withdraw their names from a list of those planning to go on strike today – though the school was not responding to calls about that today.
The scene was largely peaceful - and the pickets polite.
They did not persuade any staff to join the strike although Jean Roberts, an executive member of the moderate Association of Teachers and Lecturers who teaches in the neighbouring borough of Hammersmith and Fulham, insisted the idea behind it was just to draw attention to teachers at the school that there was a strike.
No repeat of 1980's-style militancy there, then.
According to Shane Johnschwager, a secondary school teacher in Brent, Brentfield was not typical of elsewhere.
“It is a very well-supported strike,” he said. “The vast majority of schools have been shut.”
It ended just as peacefully as it began shortly after 8.45am with all the staff and children in school and the teachers off to the pub. For a rally rather than a drink.
Teachers being teachers, it was an orderly occasion. They were told upon arrival by the organiser that “tea and coffee is free - you have to pay for alcohol”. There were few takers for the hard stuff.
It led to Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, claiming a first. “This is the earliest I have ever been in a pub and it’s nice to have a new experience,” she told the assembled troops.
Next it was an opportunity for teachers of an artistic bent to shine. “”There are banners and pens in the corner if you want to make placards,” said the organiser.
Then came the speeches.
“When headteachers and college principals and senior civil servants go out on strike, you really have a problem,” said Peter Pendle, deputy general Secretary of the ATL, whose members have never taken strike action in their 127-year period.
Chris Lines, president of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, attempted to put his feelings over the pensions issue in perspective.
“It took a few years for my visceral hatred of the Thatcher government to kick in. Cameron’s done in it just a year.”
With that, they were off either to a bigger rally in central London or just to go their own way.
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