Teachers across Greater Manchester are gearing up for a major day of strike action in the face of a 'massive crisis'. Members of the National Education Union (NEU) will walk out tomorrow (February 1) for the first of seven days of industrial action, with four affecting schools in the North West.
More than 12,000 teachers are expected to be on strike in Greater Manchester, with thousands of pupils set to stay at home while schools are either fully or partially closed. One of those teachers is Jeanette Bimpson, head of drama at Turton School in Bromley Cross, Bolton.
Ms Bimpson has taught for 26 years and believes her profession used to be the envy of others - but now it's a struggle to find the right people for certain roles. She told the Manchester Evening News: "A lot of people say we're striking for pay, but it's not the primary reason.
READ MORE: The Greater Manchester schools closed on Wednesday as strike action hits classrooms
"We're striking for education. We're striking to get back to where we should be. There's a massive crisis in recruitment and retention.
"I'm lucky, I'm at a really good school in a good area, we've got an excellent teacher training programme - but even we're struggling. If we're struggling I dread to think what other schools are going through."
© Google MapsTurton High School
The concerns raised by Ms Bimpson are shared by others in the teaching profession up and down the country. Tomorrow's strike action follows real-terms pay cuts over the past decade, according to the NEU, while the current 5 per cent pay rise offer is below inflation.
The union says this situation is contributing to teachers 'leaving in their droves', with around a third leaving the profession within five years. Ms Bimpson said: "Over the last seven years it's been a real difficulty get specialist teachers, especially in key areas.
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"It's what our students deserve - to be taught by the best people. In subjects like maths and science, those are key areas that people can earn a lot more in industry than they can in teaching. There are bursaries and incentives, but even then, you literally can't get the staff.
"That means you have non-specialist teachers that are being asked to take those lessons. They will do their very best, but it's not the same as having a specialist teacher that's passionate about the subject."
© Stefan Rousseau/PA WireMary Bousted and Kevin Courtney, joint general secretaries of the National Education Union
Talks between the Department for Education (DfE) and the NEU on Monday, made in an attempt to avert tomorrow's industrial action, were unsuccessful. The government says tomorrow's strike will be 'highly damaging to children’s education'.
A majority of schools throughout Greater Manchester will either be fully or partially closed, with certain year groups and vulnerable children prioritised for classroom teaching in line with DfE guidance across many schools. But there is support for striking teachers among many parts of the general public.
A YouGov poll for Sky News this week shows 49% of people support the industrial action, while 42% oppose the strike. Ms Bimpson believes teachers at Turton School are being 'very well supported' by parents ahead of tomorrow, receiving messages of support from some in recent days.
"Teaching used to be thought of really highly," added Ms Bimpson. "People would be envious of our job. I just don't feel that way now.
© Matthew Horwood/Getty ImagesMany children will stay at home tomorrow during the strike
"I feel completely undervalued by the government. Rishi Sunak has just put out his five priorities with no mention of education. If we aren't a priority, how are we supposed to feel?
"We love our jobs. Teaching is a vocation, not a job. We want to be in the classroom with our young people.
"I felt awful today having to say to people I teach that we are not in tomorrow, and trying to explain why. But we've got to take short-term action to get long-term benefit."
The education secretary says it is 'hugely disappointing' that the NEU is going ahead with tomorrow's strike. “These strikes will have a significant impact on children’s education, especially following the disruption of the past two years, and are creating huge uncertainly for parents,” Ms Keegan said.
© Education secretary Gillian KeeganEducation secretary Gillian Keegan
“With talks ongoing on a range of issues, including around future pay, workload, behaviour and recruitment and retention, it is clear that strikes are not being used as a last resort.”
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