MORE than half of schools in Bolton will close tomorrow (WED) as teachers walk out in protest against the coalition government’s “attack” on education.
Striking teachers will gather outside Bolton Sixth Form College tomorrow morning before members of the National Union of Teachers (NUT) make their way to a mass rally in Manchester.
Julia Simpkins, secretary of Bolton NUT, said teachers were taking this action to “stand up for education”.
The union says government policies “threaten the standard of education” in schools.
She added: “We were in town on Saturday distributing leaflets to parents explaining why we are taking this action.
“The vast majority of people we spoke to were really supportive.”
In Bolton 43 school will be shut with another 29 partially closed.
Ms Simpkins said: “It is very hard for teachers to take this action, teaching is a vocation and the people who come into teaching do it because they want to make a difference.
“The message we want to send out is to the government to enter into meaningful talks.
“The workload of teachers is increasing but it is nothing to do with teaching, they are having to complete paperwork for Ofsted and compile statistics.
”Teachers are being pitted against other teachers, unqualified teachers are being allowed to teach, which is teaching on the cheap. We have always had a two tier education system and now they want to run it down and have it on the cheap.
”The message is — our children deserve better.”
Headteachers say the decision to close or partially shut a school is made in the interests of children’s well-being and not in sympathy with the strike — and stressed the action was not against schools but a dispute with the government.
Letters outlining a school’s decision to open, shut or partially open have been sent out to parents.
Headteacher at Harper Green School in Farnworth, Andrew Foster, said: “Parents want their children — and pupils want — to be in school learning and achieving.
“Headteachers have a responsibility to health and safety and well-being of their young people and it is this which decides whether a school is open or shut.”
Some schools, such as Harper Green, will be able to open just for final year students.
Mr Foster said: “This is a critically important time for them leading up to exams and we are able to support them — but I cannot look after 1,350 children.”
There are about 1,646 teachers who are members of the NUT in Bolton.
Bolton’s education chief Cllr Kevin McKeon, who teaches Religious Studies part-time at a secondary school in Liverpool, will be joining colleagues for the Manchester rally.
Cllr McKeon, Bolton Council’s cabinet member for schools, said: “As teachers we come to do the very best for our students, to strike is a last resort but we feel as a body that the government are imposing unnecessary changes in terms and condition and are also imposing oppressive changes to the curriculum and to accountability, which we feel ultimately will damage our children.
“The strike is to draw the government’s attention to our concerns and the government not having meaningful dialogue.”
Cllr Martyn Cox, vice-chairman of Bolton Council’s children’s services scrutiny committee, said teachers risked damaging their reputation by taking strike action.
He added: “I have a lot of respect for teachers and do not want to see that happen, but there seems to be no clear reason for this action, they seem to be very general reasons.
“The action will make no difference on pay, the Labour Party has said that they will not be raising public sector pay, and there are a lot of people in the different industries whose earnings are not going up.
“If it is about Ofsted needing fundamental reform, then I agree with them but they should go through the process and lobby for reform.”
Cllr Cox said that public sector pensions as they stood were unsustainable and were placing an “unfair” burden on the tax payer and needed reform — but added that teachers’ pensions “remain generous and better” than anything available in the private sector.