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'We need funding': Educators walk out as strike action hits Black Country schools and university

Teachers across the region have walked out as the latest profession to take strike action.

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Hannah Capstick on the picket line at Bridgnorth Endowed School

Many schools were closed on Wednesday as staff took part in industrial action, with teachers joining picket lines outside schools including The Phoenix Collegiate in West Bromwich and Joseph Leckie Academy in Walsall.

Kelly Clarke, a teacher based in Cookley near Kidderminster, was among around 100 people representing numerous unions taking part in a march followed by a rally in Wolverhampton's Queen Square.

"There is a funding problem across the whole of education," she said.

"Teachers are struggling financially, but we're not striking just about pay. Schools are now struggling to finance everyday costs.

"We need money to ensure that children are assured of a great education but making sure there are enough support staff in post. Support staff do an amazing job and they don't get paid well for what they do. They help with lessons, with pupils with special education needs and with any interventions required.

"If we don't have the funding, children won't get the support they need. It is a crisis."

Wolverhampton local district and branch secretary for the National Education Union (NEU) Kay Cresswell-Green said: "School buildings are not being repaired due to lack of funding. We can't recruit enough teachers because other jobs are paying better.

"It's about ensuring there is enough money to support the young people in our care. In the last four or five years we have undergone a number of restructures in schools which is really frustrating.

"We should not be in that position."

Other educators gathered for a joint rally outside the New Art Gallery, in Walsall, on Wednesday, including lecturer Dr Catherine Lamond, who is the chair of the UCU negotiating committee at the University of Wolverhampton.

Dr Lamond said: "We took part in a picket outside the Walsall Campus in Gorway Road before moving on to a rally in Gallery Square. We had good support from students. The campus was noticeably very quiet.

"There were very few students milling about and the car park was virtually empty. There were only the bosses going in."

Members of the NEU on the picket line at Bridgnorth Endowed School

Headteacher at The Phoenix Collegiate in West Bromwich, Mike Smith, said the school was closed for the majority of students on Wednesday.

"As headteacher, I wanted to ensure that we had suitable supervision for our children, being the largest school in the West Midlands," he said.

"We had more than 58 union members that could have been striking, so the decision was made to close to pupils and move to our remote learning strategy, something that we become very adept to through Covid.

"Our staff excel in delivering live lessons online, however, it doesn't meet the face-to-face contact and delivery direct to students.

"It is disappointing that unions are striking because anything that impacts on the education of students has an impact.

"I have sympathy for the unions and while we don't have recruitment and retention issues at this large school, I know colleagues around the country that are struggling to recruit, and the government hasn't hit its targets for recruitment in the last 15 years.

"Over the last 13 years, the evidence shows that teacher pay is 20 per cent lower than it was then in real terms, so I can understand, but it puts myself as a headteacher in a difficult position, balancing off supporting union colleagues and we have very good relationships with unions, but the impact it has on families, parents, and, ultimately, the education of children.

"I would like the resolution to be no strikes and, you know, the strike isn't just about teacher pay.

"That's the important thing to remember is that it is about proper and fair funding for schools and for us to appoint and employ long term good teachers."

At Bridgnorth Endowed School around 16 teachers joined an early morning picket line.

Hannah Capstick, the NEU rep at Bridgnorth Endowed, and a design teacher, said they had been met with a positive response from parents and students.

Teachers were disappointed to have taken the action, she said, but added that without a Government-funded pay increase schools would be paying for wage rises out of their own budgets – taking away from resources for pupils.