A letter from a striking North East teacher has become an unlikely online hit.
When Lee Williscroft-Ferris decided to defend the position of teachers taking part in last week’s day of action - which saw the closure of more than 300 schools across the North East - he had no idea that his post would be viewed by around 116,000 people, from the UK to New Zealand, and shared more than 95,000 times on Facebook.
“It’s just amazing,” said the 34-year-old from Hexham, Northumberland, who is head of languages at Belmont Community School in Durham, where on Thursday he joined striking colleagues on a march in protest over pay, pensions and curriculum changes.
“People think it’s about demanding more money but most teachers are frustrated because nobody demanded a pay rise,” he says.
“That’s not what it’s about at all. It’s about what’s happening in the classroom.”
His post to parents says: “I’ve taken some time out to write this open letter to you because I believe it’s important to let you know why I am striking with my fellow teachers.”
He apologises for child care problems the strike might cause but not for standing up for rights over pay and pensions, pointing out: “I see it as part of my role to encourage your children to know their own rights”.
But the real heart of the action, it said, is the change to the education system which, claims Lee, is being destroyed, with a narrow curriculum replacing a wide spectrum of learning under Education Secretary Michael Gove’s policies.
The response of those reading his letter was evenly split, says Lee, between those who support his point of view and those of the opinion it’s wrong on principle for teachers to strike.
“A split is good because in the past it’s been heavily weighted towards ‘teachers are terrible’,” he said.
Lee, who’s been teaching for 10 years, said the number of views for his post “was very high on the day of the strike and the day after” and is now tailing off a bit. But he feels encouraged by the interest shown and by the reaction to the strike action by passers-by in Durham, where many listened to speakers from Kingsgate Bridge.
Prime Minister David Cameron has condemned the strikes, saying it was bad for children’s education and inconvenienced parents. He said teachers’ pension and pay arrangements had been decided by an independent review.