What Wigan sixth form lecturers had to say about their strike action

Staff at a Wigan sixth form college headed for the picket line as part of a national strike against under-funding of the sector and pay.

Friday, 18th October 2019, 9:18 am
Law lecturer Chris Boyle, right, with other staff at St John Rigby College

More than 50 employees at St John Rigby College downed tools on Thursday as the National Education Union (NEU) staged its walkout at 25 institutions across England.

The dispute is about union members’ pay, conditions and employment, while NEU representatives also slammed nine years of austerity, saying it has had a disproportionate impact on stand-alone sixth form colleges.

The Orrell institution is the only one in the borough which took action as enough staff backed striking to go ahead.

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Staff at St John Rigby College, Orrell, joined by supporters and members of the National Education Union in a strike over poor pay in sixth form colleges.

Speaking from the picket line lecturers and union representatives spoke of feeling fed up with the cuts and reductions and feeling they had to stand up and make their frustration clear.

Chris Boyle, a law lecturer and NEU rep at St John Rigby, said: “Funding is a national issue, it’s got nothing to do with our college in particular.

“Funding nationally is down 22 per cent since 2010.

“Nobody wants to be out striking. It was a very difficult decision to make, but we need our voices to be heard.

Karen Parkin, Max Atkins and Bora Oktas from National Education Union North West,

“The student experience is suffering. Once you get to the 16-to-19 age group colleges are underfunded. It’s not about us getting more money, it’s about the sector.”

Max Atkins, joint secretary of the Wigan and District branch of the NEU, said: “This is a legitimate strike. We’ve had nine years of under-funding by government. They’ve offered £400m next year, which might not even materialise depending on what happens in the next couple of weeks, but it’s not enough.

“There has been chronic under-funding. Staff have been made redundant, class sizes have increased, there is less one-to-one support and there are fewer subjects to choose from and fewer enrichment activities.

“This is the privatisation of the sixth form sector.”

Mr Atkins admitted it is a good number of years since NEU members in the borough headed for the picket line in an industrial dispute.

Mr Boyle, meanwhile, underlined the importance of the sixth form college sector to Wigan.

He said: “There are only a couple of schools in the borough which have sixth forms and we have two outstanding colleges in the sector.

“With the extra funding they deserve they will go from strength to strength.”

Picket lines were established outside the Gathurst Road college on Friday morning, with drivers backing the strike honking their horns in support as they passed.

The college is now on its half-term break as it was shut on Thursday and an inset day has been brought forward to today.

Bosses declined to comment on the strike when asked by the Wigan Post.

The NEU is promising two more days of industrial action on November 5 and November 20 if the dispute is not resolved.

The union described pay rises for sixth form college teachers as inadequate and said increasing workloads to compensate for having fewer staff was having a detrimental impact on members’ ability to teach as well as they can.

The Department of Education had described the NEU’s industrial action in the run-up to the strike day as “disappointing”.