Only five Westminster schools stay open as strike action hits

Hundreds of Westminster teachers ditched their chalk, picked up protest banners and took to the streets for the largest strike in a generation yesterday.

Almost every secondary school in the borough was forced to shut as teachers joined millions of other public-sector workers to campaign against the government’s pension cuts.

Of the borough’s 52 schools, 47 were either closed or partially closed along with 13 of the 18 libraries, while minor operations were expected to be cancelled at St Mary’s Hospital.

Quintin Kynaston, St Augustine’s, St George’s, Westminster Academy and St Marylebone schools were all shut to pupils and Paddington Academy and King Solomon Academy imposed partial closures due to lack of staff.

Public-sector workers stood on picket lines at a number of schools throughout the borough, while other locations included Marylebone Town Hall and St Mary’s Hospital in Paddington.

Westminster Teachers Union secretary Michael Parker said the decision to go on strike was not one that had been taken lightly.

“We are upset that schools will have to close for the day,” he said. “It’s very much a last resort. We feel that the government’s proposal will not only affect us as individuals but also make it harder to recruit more teachers in the future, which will affect everyone for years to come.”

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Westminster Unison branch secretary Chris Smith added: “The government has decided to increase our pension contributions by three per cent which is a huge hit on all of our members.

“We have been given a pay freeze for the past two years so an increase would actually be like a pay cut. The strike is not against the people we serve.”

Libraries in Maida Vale, Little Venice, Church Street and Paddington were all set to close, along with dozens of the borough’s primary schools and nurseries.

North Westminster MP Karen Buck said she was disappointed that strike action was felt to be necessary.

“No one wants to see the disruption which strike action causes,” she said. “Both government and unions have to work together to resolve this issue.

“Rising life expectancy means we must all expect to work longer and contributions are rising, but there has to be an overall fairness for lower-paid public and private-sector workers who are seeing contributions go up and pensions cut.”

Prior to the strike, Westminster chief executive Mike More said that he expected schools to feel the “greatest impact” of strike action.