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UK students speak out in support of striking teachers

Teachers and children on a picket line Wednesday outside Woodhouse College, a London-area high school. (Anjola Fashawe/YJI)

LONDON – Teenagers attending schools across the UK weighed in on today’s teachers’ strike, with many of them supporting their educators.

“Kids can’t learn if staff can’t teach, and staff can’t teach if they can’t live,” said 16-year-old Josh White, a student at The Skinners’ School, a grammar school in Kent.

“It is a disgrace that a profession that was once held in such esteem by the public has been reduced to the status of free childcare,” White added.

The striking teachers are from more than 23,000 schools in England and Wales, according to the National Education Union.

Today marked the first teachers’ strike of 2023. Six more are planned during February and March, the union said.

“If pay doesn’t increase in line with inflation, then I think any workforce is justified to strike,’’ said Lauren Robinson, 18, from Whickham School in Newcastle upon Tyne.

Robinson isn’t alone.

 “Teachers are justified into going on strike as they work overtime almost, if not every, day and are paid a small amount for the workload they have,” said Mary Adenigbagbe, 16, who attends St Claudine’s Catholic School for Girls in London.

Olly Wcislo, 16, who attends Seven Kings School in Essex, said, ‘’If such a collective force has formed to oppose their current circumstances, then yes – there must be something unjust going on.’’

Wcislo added, ‘’With the cost of living rising, and inflation still remaining high, the increase of pay by 5% that a lot of teachers got was just objectively useless.’’

Oscar James, 17, who studies at Harris Westminster in London, said many teachers cannot afford to live “a nice life” due to the paycuts.

“I’m glad to see them standing up for themselves and pushing to get what they deserve,” said James.

Striking teachers on Wednesday outside Woodhouse College in greater London. (Anjola Fashawe/YJI)

The teachers’ strikes are part of an “ongoing campaign for a fully-funded, above inflation pay rise” as stated on the National Education Union’s website.

“Teachers do a job that is essential to our society and they do it brilliantly. We’re clear that their pay should reflect that which is why the pay rise teachers are receiving this year is the highest in a generation,” countered the UK Department for Education on its website.

“This is not about a pay rise but correcting historic real-terms pay cuts,” said Mary Bousted and Kevin Courtney, joint general secretaries of the National Education Union, said on the union’s website. “The average 5% pay rise for teachers this year is some 7% behind inflation. In the midst of a cost of living crisis, that is an unsustainable situation.”

Not all students were completely sympathetic.

“If they want to strike, they should be going out to protest instead of staying at home, effectively achieving nothing,” said Cate Harvey, 15, of Bedfordshire. “Their core priority should be the education of students, and if striking is taking away from that, it shouldn’t be done.”

But White said teachers who are standing up to national leadership are “fighting for the existence of satisfactory education” in the UK.

“Teachers at my affluent school who want to strike but can’t because a few days deducted pay means they wouldn’t be able to feed their young children is proof enough that teachers deserve better compensation,” said White.

White added that the teachers’ strike has him thinking more deeply about the role of teachers, the politics in education and the trade union action more generally.

“I’m now more aware of situations surrounding other current strikes, such as those by nurses and rail workers,” White said.

Gabriella Bedford, 16, who attends Giles Academy in England, said teachers “do an amazing job” and don’t get paid enough for it.

“I’m slightly concerned about the impact on my lessons, but I can fully understand why they’re doing it,” Bedford said.

Robinson said the days without teachers won’t require more of her than she can handle.

“I realize my A-Levels rely on independence and self-discipline, so if I’m unable to work independently for a couple of days, I’m not suited to go into higher education next year,” she said.

Kieran Cottam, a 16-year-old at Wordsley School in England, said “Teachers are the backbone of the future of our generation. They deserve to be paid fairly given the outstanding importance they hold to our country.”

Anjola Fashawe is a Reporter with Youth Journalism International.

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