Hundreds of teachers and staff went on strike in Reading and demonstrated in the town centre as part of a national day of action.
Teachers, staff and their supporters gathered in Broad Street and marched through the town centre this morning.
The demonstration culminated in speeches by teachers and union organisers inside St Laurence Church.
There were also protests staged in Wokingham town centre with crowds of supporters joining the action.
READ MORE: Teacher Strikes 2023: Details of schools closing due to strike action
Katie Grumbell, a primary school teacher and media officer of NEU Reading raised the alarm over teaching vacancies being unfulfilled.
She quipped: “I’m a rare breed, I’m an experienced teacher with no desire to leave!
“But I’m afraid because I’m a rare breed, teachers are leaving the profession, not for education roles elsewhere but for something else.”
She also called for an end to the ‘lazy teacher’ narrative, arguing that education is at ‘breaking point’, and said school staff should be valued as workers.
Miss Grumbell said: “I love teaching, I’m proud to be teacher and I’m very proud to be a member of the NEU today.”
She also argued that teachers are ‘plugging the gaps’ to provide mental health care for pupils, and closed her remarks by calling for ‘Rishi rich’ – Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to “do better.”
Richard Hand, the secretary of West Berkshire NEU, reflected on the strike in the context of miners strikes in the 1980s.
He said: “This movement is not doomed, they cannot close the schools.
“This moment is as important as the 80s.”
The strike was part of those announced by the National Education Union over pay and working conditions, with the first being on Wednesday, February 1.
The rally at St Laurence Church was also attended by other unions, such as the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), the Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen (ASLEF) and the University and College Union (UCU).
John Mooney, assistant general secretary of the PCS, said: “We have a common enemy which is the Conservative government.”
Meanwhile, Nat Willmott of the UCU told the crowd: “Keep union proud and union strong, victory to all of our unions, solidarity!”
UCU members of staff at the University of Reading are also on strike, with 18 days of strikes being announced.
Councillors Rachel Eden (Labour, Whitley) the Mayor of Reading, John Ennis (Labour, Southcote) and Rob White (Green, Park) the leader of the opposition, were spotted at the demonstration.
Cllr John Ennis told those gathered: “I think you will win, I think you’re winning by standing together.”
On the part of the government, education minister Gillian Keegan, Conservative MP for Chichester called the strikes “hugely disappointing.”
She said: “I have been clear that unions do not need to strike to meet with me.
“I will continue doing everything possible to protect children’s education.”
Further strikes are scheduled on March 2, 15 and 16.