Teachers stage 24-hour walkout in Comet Country

Schools in Comet country face disruption and possible closure when three teaching unions plan their first coordinated walkout in 25 years over pension reforms.

Members of the National Union of Teachers, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers and the University and College Union will stage a 24-hour walkout on June 30 which will affect most state schools, colleges and some independent schools in the area.

Members of the Public and Commercial Services Union working at Stevenage Tax Office in Danesgate have also voted to take strike action.

The action is in protest at Government proposals to extend the retirement age for civil and public servants and increase pension contributions.

Hilary Bucky, eastern region secretary of the NUT, said: “We’re calling for all our members in all schools to come out and strike. We can’t say how many members will come out but we’re hoping and expecting they all will.”

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Jonathan Block, headteacher at Thomas Alleyne School in Stevenage, said: “The school will be open but we have to make provisions. We will see if we can safely and viably run the school depending on the number of staff that are going on strike. It is down to individual teachers. We can’t ask other members of staff to cover for them as it goes against employment laws.”

Mr Block added that personally he did not agree with the Government’s proposals.

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“When I joined the teaching profession I understood my pay, holidays and pensions structure so I knew the terms and conditions. To suddenly have the rules changed seems a little unfair.

“It will not encourage top graduates to go into the profession. For our children’s future we need the best people we can get. If we don’t have an attractive package they will go somewhere else.”

Pixmore Primary School in Letchworth GC has already made plans to close.

Parent of a student at the school, James Kelly, said: “I think this is unfair as it is the children that are being punished for something that is nothing to do with them.

“The Government has already said it will not be held to ransom by the unions so why disrupt the lives of others when they are not going to gain anything by striking.

“If I was to take my child out of school for a day I would be called to the school to explain why. Surely there are other ways to deal with this issue.”

Jed Whelan, headteacher of Fearnhill School in Letchworth GC, said: “What we are anticipating is keeping part of the school open but every school is going to be different.”

A spokesman for Hertfordshire County Council said the council expects all schools to remain open, although any decision to close will be taken by individual headteachers.

Stevenage Borough Council executive member for resources, Joan Lloyd, said: “As some of our staff with parental or carer responsibilities may be impacted by potential strike action taken on June 30, our council managers are planning now for how we will to continue to provide all our services for the Stevenage community.

“We do not expect any significant disruptions to those services. We urge the Government to continue negotiations with the trade unions on behalf of their members so that the public sector can continue its vital contribution to making a difference in today’s society. It is essential therefore they provide these workers with fair pay and pensions.”

Some staff are expected to take industrial action at North Hertfordshire College, but a spokesman said exams and lessons will continue and there should be no effect.

A spokesman for HM Revenue and Customs said staff at Stevenage Tax Office will strike and added: “We are disappointed at the decison to strike and will do everything possible to maintain services to the public.”

Other unions are still to ballot their members over strike action for later in the year.

Lynda Needham, Leader of North Herts District Council, said: “Like all local authorities we plan for possible disruptions to our services, many of which can be vital to our residents. This includes plans to minimise disruption in the event of any industrial action.

“We will be liaising with the unions to ensure that any critical services can continue should strikes be confirmed.”

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