Schools out as teachers strike

THOUSANDS of Suffolk students were turned away from school today after fed-up teachers went on strike in a row over pay.

Neil Puffett

THOUSANDS of Suffolk students were turned away from school today after fed-up teachers went on strike in a row over pay.

More than 120 of the county's schools were forced to close or abandon certain classes as the National Union of Teachers (NUT) staged its first nationwide walk-out in 21 years.

Around a third of UK schools have been hit by the strike, with up to 2,000 closing and a similar number partially closing.

Suffolk has been particularly affected, although only a handful of schools - including Holywells High, East Bergholt High, Combs Middle and Stowmarket Middle - shut their doors completely.

The strike comes as thousands of the county's students prepare for crucial exams.

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The action follows a bitter pay dispute after the NUT rejected government proposals for a three-year deal of salary increases. Teachers have been offered a 2.45 per cent rise this year followed by two rises of 2.3pc.

The NUT is seeking a 10pc - or £3,000 - increase this year, followed by inflation-matching increases in subsequent years.

Graham White, an association secretary with the Suffolk branch of the NUT, said the industrial action had not been taken lightly.

“We want to get into proper negotiations and not just where we are told this is how much you are getting, take it or leave it,” he said.

“Teachers don't take strike action without good reason, it is not a decision taken lightly.”

Gordon Brown said the teachers' strike was “very regrettable”, telling MPs during prime minister's question time yesterday that he hoped teachers would reconsider any further industrial action.

“I think it is very regrettable the teachers are going on strike,” he said. “This is an independent award, independently adjudicated, one the teachers should be prepared to accept.”

The British Chambers of Commerce today warned the strike could cost UK businesses up to £68million in lost working hours because parents would have to take time off work or pay for extra childcare.

Schools minister Jim Knight said the three-year pay deal was “fair and reasonable”.

“Parents feel increasingly frustrated and inconvenienced at the loss of education to their children and I share their feelings.

“Given that the average teacher's salary is £34,000 and pay has increased by 19pc since 1997, I would urge teachers to teach.”

NUT acting general secretary Christine Blower said the strike was a “last resort”, adding teachers had received three years of below-inflation pay increases.

“Despite the committed and professional work of teachers, teacher shortages, excessive workload and falling teacher morale are damaging our education system,” said the union.

Today's actions follow similar unrest among police officers, who are unhappy with the terms of a new pay deal.

Do you support the teachers' strike? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or e-mail eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk

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