Education Minister Peter Collier has released a video address to parents to defend the State Government's funding changes after more than 12,000 angry education staff condemned him and the Premier at a rally at Gloucester Park today.
Mr Collier, who was criticised at the rally for failing to attend, says in the video "there is a lot of misinformation about the changes taking place in our schools".
He says it is not true that education funding has been cut.
"Total education funding has not been cut, it has been increased by $300m this financial year," he says.
Mr Collier says teacher numbers will not be cut, with the same number in 2014 as now. Changes have been introduced to put teachers where they are most needed.
"We cannot continue to have classes with just six students."
Mr Collier said that for many schools the changes would mean more teachers next year and for the remainer "there will be some reductions with teachers moved to where they are most needed".
"The changes also mean that all schools will have to tighten their belts.
"Claims of huge cuts to school are simply not correct."
At a press conference this afternoon he said the rally was unnecessary and “really could have been avoided”.
He defended his decision not to address the rally, saying he was needed in parliament and had been willing to address a recent rally held on the steps of Parliament House.
He said WA was experiencing tough economic times so changes were necessary.
“The current funding level and the current funding increases are simply unsustainable,” Mr Collier said.
“We simply, as a State, cannot afford to fund education at that level. All schools have to tighten their belts but we are going to provide a much more sustainable education system.”
Mr Collier said he believe this morning’s large turnout meant the message on how the new system would operate “simply isn’t out there yet”.
Education unions threatened the Premier with more strikes.
The alliance of unions that called the unprecedented strike expected 10,000 would turn up for a rally at Gloucester Park racecourse.
They initially estimated 12,000 had attended and later put the number at 15,000.
More than 60 schools across the state closed for the morning, with 23 rallies across WA adding their voices to the mass protest in Perth.
About 5000 people attended rallies in regional areas.
Teachers had been threatened with having their pay docked for attending, but it didn't deter thousands from showing their dissent.
The alliance of unions wants the Barnett government to abandon proposed cuts to 500 jobs, including 350 education assistants and support staff, and budget reforms.
And with Mr Barnett already saying his mind won't be changed, Anne Gisborne of the State School Teacher's Union says they are also ready to enter a drawn-out battle to protect jobs and funding.
“This is unprecedented in terms of calling the community to join with us,” Ms Gisborne said.
“This is a very clear message to Mr Barnett to stop and reconsider the errors of this Government.
“We will not go away, and we will be there every single day.”
Parents, education assistants, as well as State Opposition Leader Mark McGowan addressed the mass rally.
Mr McGowan says it appeared the Government had picked on the wrong people.
“I congratulate all of those teachers who have stood up to the threats and intimidation,” Mr McGowan said.
“These are not reforms, these are cuts.”
While Mr Collie was booed for not attending the rally, Mr Barnett has agreed to meet the unions on Monday.
Mr Collier said he would meet with one of them, the SSTU, on Monday.
There are so many teachers, education assistants and their families at Gloucester Park this morning that they are spilling out onto the track.
Rain did not deter the protesters, who came in their ponchos and huddled under umbrellas holding banners saying "Cuts to Schools Hurt Children" and "Cut the Quay, Not Our Kids" as the rally pushed on.
When United Voice secretary Carolyn Smith asked the teachers whether they agreed with Mr Barnett that they were for the sake of a rally, thousands yelled 'No'.
Ms Smith said today's rally was just the beginning and they had a long fight ahead of them.
"If we go away from here today thinking our job is done we are fooling ourselves," Ms Smith said.
"We have Avery big job ahead of us."
Education Department director-general Sharyn O'Neill said she authorised 62 schools to shut for the morning because they would not have enough staff for adequate student supervision.
Just 35 schools were closed as a result of the 2008 teachers' strike.
The SSTU have joined United Voice and the Community and Public Sector Union at Gloucester Park for a half-day strike against job losses and a restructure of education funding.
Mothers of young students gathered at Parliament yesterday to pledge full support for the workers and contradict claims by Premier Colin Barnett that the strike had little community support.
Paula Chivers, who has two sons at Willetton Primary School, said she was not usually politically active but feared academic extension programs that she moved her children from Bunbury to take part in were at risk. "I've had that confirmed quite high up in the Education Department," she said.
"It's quite distressing."
Cassie Levitzke, a mother of two children at Comet Bay Primary School in Secret Harbour, said it would be devastating for her daughter to lose time with education assistants, who are to be redeployed.
She said the workers were not striking for higher wages but for education standards.
"It's totally selfless on their part," Ms Levitzke said. "They will lose money to support our kids."
Yesterday Ms Gisborne said she was disappointed Education Minister Peter Collier said he would not attend the rally because of parliamentary commitments.
Ms O'Neill believed most schools would reopen in the afternoon.
She said a new funding model would be introduced in 2015 but schools would have to tighten their belts next year.
"We have extra money coming into the public school system but we've had unprecedented growth," she said. "So right across the system we have the same number of teachers but we have more students to spread that funding around."Opposition Leader Mark McGowan criticised Mr Barnett for insinuating the strike was not justified because teachers were well paid.