A number of primary and secondary schools across Essex are closed this morning after local union leaders called a last-minute strike over dangerous equipment. According to Nigel Pickett of the teachers’ union UKTU, budget cuts have led to hundreds of schools buying whiteboard pens that contain ‘unacceptable’ levels of chemicals in them, and there have already been three separate reports of teachers being taken ill his week.
Speaking to our Chief Reporter this morning, Mr Pickett said: ‘We know that budgets are being slashed across the education sector, and government meddling has now effectively forced a number of headteachers to purchase whiteboard pens that haven’t been certified by the National Stationery Commission. One brand in particular works out at just 11p per pen, but according to our team of researchers they contain enough chloroform hydrachlorasodaphosphate to ‘paralyse a blue whale.’ How can we expect our teachers to use these? Even more worryingly is what would happen if a teacher with a history of substance abuse problems gets hold of one of these pens.’
Adam Bandana is secretary of the senior teaching group HEAD, and he said that the cheaper pens were a risk that his members have been forced to take. He said: ‘The Department of Education needs to carefully reconsider its funding policy for all schools. Nobody wants to be in a position where they are having to purchase lethal supplies, but with whiteboard pen thefts at an all-time high they have been left with no alternative. We have considered reverting to the cheaper option of blackboards and chalk, but with so many manufacturers cutting their writing chalks with anthrax to boost profitability we have decided that this simply won’t work.
We tried to contact a number of local schools for their official position about strike action, but premises that have already bought the pens were having difficulties putting a coherent email together. Gerbil Park Primary Academy in Westcliff responded with a brief email that said: ‘We have no problem with toxic equipment, the local authority leprechauns keep a very close eye on these matters, and this keeps the squirrel people of Garons Park happy.’