THOUSANDS of youngsters were at home yesterday as a teachers’ strike closed all but three of the town’s schools.
A mass walk-out by unions in protest at the Government’s proposed changes to public sector workers’ pensions saw schools shut with the JobCentre Plus in London Road, St Leonards, Hastings Magistrate Court and the driving test centre also affected.
Only Sandown School, Sacred Heart and St Leonards Church of England Primary stayed open, although some school trips went ahead as planned. In a letter to parents, Fiona Calderbank, headteacher of The Grove, said ‘every effort’ had been made to keep the school open but that too many teachers were walking out and it wasn’t fair to have non-union staff covering unfamiliar subjects.
Rob Upton, headteacher of St Leonards C of E said: “I certainly didn’t put any pressure whatsoever on the staff - it was their decision not to strike. I suppose it does send a good message about the school but I understand the unions’ point of view as well.”
However Labour Councillor Michael Wincott, who is a governor at Sandown, did not send his children to school despite it being open. “I will not cross a picket line,” he said. “I am trying to bring my children up to respect their teachers and to cross that line is not respecting them. I sympathise with parents who needed to take time off but it’s the principle of the matter. You can’t blame the teachers, you should blame the Government for decimating their pensions.”
Dozens of people turned out for a public meeting and town centre rally to support the strikers with Sam Buckley of Hastings Against the Cuts saying the walk-out had received “unprecedented support.”
“People are determined to stand up for their pensions,” he said. “We are the people who do essential work for society, we paid to bail out the bankers and we pay the politicians’ salaries. We hope to send a message to the Government - we will not be victimised any more.”
And Mr Buckley slammed Labour leader Ed Miliband who has come out against the strikes. “It shows how out of touch he is with every day life and he needs to remember that he is accountable to us, we are not accountable to him,” Mr Buckley said.
Amber Rudd MP said she was ‘very disappointed’ that negotiations between the Government and the unions had broken down. “Nobody wants these strikes and I think it’s very hard on parents who will have to take a day off work. I regret that both sides were unable to come to an agreement and I just hope the strikes do not continue. I think we should all carry on talking but we have to face up to the cost and the fact people are living longer. The last Government put its head in the sand - we are determined not to do that.”