Teachers hold first national strike in 20 years

|PIC1|More than 8,000 schools were forced to close on Thursday as teachers staged their first national strike in 20 years in a dispute over pay.

College lecturers and civil servants also walked out in separate but co-ordinated stoppages.

Up to 200,000 members of the National Union of Teachers (NUT) were taking part in the one-day action in protest at a three-year pay deal announced in January.

"Teachers do not take the decision to strike easily, or lightly, but their patience has been stretched to the limit," said Christine Blower, the NUT's acting General Secretary.

"This is not just a one year issue. After three years of below-inflation pay increases, the prospect for a further three years of the same is the last straw."

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The pay deal, recommended by the independent School Teachers' Review Body which included the NUT, would see salaries rise by 2.45 percent from September 2008, and by 2.3 percent in September 2009 and 2010.

"It is regrettable for pupils, it is regrettable for parents," Prime Minister Gordon Brown told Sky News.

"This a government that over 10 years has doubled expenditure on education."

The Local Government Association said estimates suggested that about 4,100 schools had shut and another 4,000 partially closed because of the strike. That meant about a third of all schools in England would be affected, it said.

It is the first time that teachers across the country have gone on strike for 21 years.

"We're tired of inflation going up and our salaries not meeting that rise," said Leanne Hahn, a primary school teacher from north London, one of the several thousand who marched through the capital's streets waving placards saying "No to paycuts" and "No extra unpaid hours".

"We're struggling to get mortgages and to get onto the housing ladder. We just can't afford to live," she told Reuters.

However, Councillor Ivan Ould, chairman of the National Employers' Organisation for School Teachers said children and their parents would suffer as a result of the NUT action.

"Children so close to their exams will lose out on invaluable study time and parents will lose out as they are forced to take unnecessary holiday to look after them," he said.

Some 100,000 civil servants including jobcentre workers were also staging 24-hour strikes on Thursday, as were 30,000 college lecturers and coastguard staff.

Millions of government workers have expressed disappointment at their latest pay awards, most notably police officers, thousands of whom marched through London in January to protest at a decision not to backdate their pay rise.