The crowd, teachers were told, was one of the biggest the Oval cricket ground had seen.
An estimated 8,000 striking teachers and support staff made their way to the ground in south London yesterday lunchtime to demonstrate in support of their claim for a 100 per cent increase in their London living allowance.
Their action affected 5,000 schools in London and the Home Counties – 1,000 closed for the day and many had to send some classes home.
And there may be further strike action in the new year, according to the leaders of the two teachers' unions organising the strike – Doug McAvoy, the general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, and Eamonn O'Kane, the general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers.
The teachers are seeking parity with the Metropolitan police, whose members get a London allowance of just over £6,000 a year, compared with £3,000 for teachers.
In March, thousands of teachers brought central London to a virtual standstill in a one-day strike – the first for more than 30 years.
Deborah Morano, a newly qualified teacher at Park Primary School in Stratford, east London, said: "I'd be prepared to come out for two, three or four days of action. It's the only way to make Tony Blair sit up and listen."
Mr McAvoy made clear yesterday's strike "had nothing to do with the modernisation and remodelling agenda". He said: "Without this increase, we will not attract teachers to work in our schools. It is a very simple campaign and one which hopes to ensure we can deliver the standards of education and effectiveness of teaching that our children enjoy. Our campaign may have to go on and the action may have to go on with further one-day strikes and greater action and different expressions of your anger and the anger of your colleagues."
As speakers were addressing the rally, the e-mail address of Charles Clarke, the Secretary of State for Education, flashed up on the Oval's electronic scoreboard. Teachers and their support staff were urged to write to him to say how difficult it was to live in London on a teacher's salary.
Stuart Allen, a secondary school teacher from Ealing, west London, told the rally he was quitting London after four years of teaching in the capital and going back to Wales because he could not survive on a teacher's salary.
The teachers' action was criticised by Mr Clarke, who said: "Striking is simply not the answer and serves only to damage pupils' education and undermine the teaching profession. It does not help the argument in any way at all."
He added that those who started teaching in London in 1997 had already had a pay rise of 50 per cent, and that the profession's independent pay review body was looking at further ways to recruit and retain teachers in the capital.
Alex Kenny, a teacher from Tower Hamlets, east London, said: "Tomorrow we will all be back in school, but thousands of children going into school won't know their supply teachers. It could be the fifth or sixth supply teacher they've had this year because of shortages."
As the protesters filed past posters of the beaming England wicket-keeper Alec Stewart proclaiming, "We'll bring the Ashes back this winter", you could be forgiven for thinking the teachers might put up a more determined show to get what they want.
PAY AND ALLOWANCES WHO GETS WHAT
By Sam Peters
Police in London receive two extra pay elements, London weighting and London allowance. Two years ago, the London Weighting figure rose to £1,713. Officers appointed after 1 September, 1994, and not in receipt of housing allowance are paid London allowance of £4,338. Officers in service before 1994 and who receive housing allowance of approximately £5,000 are paid a London allowance of £1,011.
Police officers also have free travel to work by public transport from up to 70 miles away. That means a new London constable earns a £25,953 a year, including extra for working in the capital.
NURSES AND AMBULANCE WORKERS
A qualified G-grade nurse at the top of the range earns £30,405. That includes a total of £4,115 extra for working in London, a cost of living adjustment of £1,750 and an inner London Allowance of £2,365. An ambulance worker in London can expect to earn £19,002 plus £2,135 in London weighting. London weighting also applies to members of the Surrey Ambulance Service.
TEACHERS AND UNIVERSITY LECTURERS
The estimated 100,000 teachers in London and the Home Counties earn allowances of £3,105 if they live in inner London, £2,043 in outer London and £792 in the Home Counties. The teachers want £6,000 for inner London, parity with the Metropolitan police, £4,500 for outer and £2,500 for the Home Counties. The teachers' independent pay review body will rule on the claim in January. The starting salary for a university lecturer is £19,575. There are three levels of London weighting: inner £2,353; outer £1,543; and fringe £602.
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