On Wednesday 1 February, more than 300 striking teachers, lecturers, civil servants and their supporters marched through Weymouth.
They gathered at the clock tower. Motorists showed their support by tooting their car horns. The Dorset Red Choir sang songs urging solidarity, as did Dorset singer-songwriter Billy Bragg. There were banners, laughter, speeches – and a warm welcome was given to members of the public who joined the march.
Among those demonstrating were many teachers. Mark Chutter, Dorset president of the National Education Union, explained why he and his colleagues were on strike that day. Teachers from other Dorset schools echoed his words.
Mark spoke of the challenges faced daily by teachers in under-funded schools, of long hours spent in lesson preparation, pastoral care, marking and data collection – and of teachers’ wages falling in real terms.
In Swanage and Purbeck, our schools are at the heart of their communities. They go the extra mile – with breakfast clubs, after-school activities, pastoral support – all-round care given to all, freely and wholeheartedly.
Yet the School Cuts Website, validated by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), shows that 121 of 148 Dorset schools face cuts in 2023, with £5.8million needed to restore per pupil funding in real terms to its 2022-23 level.
The House of Commons Constituency Dashboard ranks South Dorset as 468th out of 533 English constituencies for funding per pupil, with funding falling in real terms since 2014-15.
Spending on education as a proportion of GDP has fallen every year from 2011-12 to 2018-19. An analysis by the OECD ranked the United Kingdom in 2018 as 19th out of its 37 members for this measure.
As a former headteacher of a secondary school in Bournemouth, my heart goes out to those teaching now. I can remember vividly the challenges of shrinking budgets, the need to repair buildings, to support pupils whose mums and dads were struggling to make ends meet, the relentless demands of Ofsted – every hour was one in which my staff more than showed their quality.
Teaching – as for all health specialists – is a vocation. It requires training, continued professional development and a degree of altruism which seems sadly missing from those pursuing careers in finance.
The Nuffield Foundation and the UCL Institute for Education in 2019 found that 25 per cent of teachers worked more than 60 hours a week. On average teachers worked eight hours more a week than those in comparable OECD countries.
The IFS calculates that with inflation running now at 10 per cent, most teachers will see a 5 per cent real terms fall in their salary this year. Combined with past real terms cuts dating back to 2010, more experienced teachers will have seen a 13 per cent real-terms drop in salaries between 2010-2022.
No wonder Professor Alice Roberts tweeted: “No-one makes the decision to go on strike lightly. Teachers are striking today because they, and our schools, are under-funded and under-valued. Failing to invest in education is future-discounting. It’s letting our children down.”
Chair, Swanage & Rural Purbeck Labour Party