Following the failure of talks between the main teaching union, the National Education Union (NEU), and the education secretary Gillian Keegan, teacher strikes are set to go ahead. The first national strike day in England is on Wednesday 1st February.
Secondary and primary schools will both be affected.
Current predictions are that more than 23,000 schools are expected to have to close fully or partially.
Many parents, whether they are supportive of the teachers’ claims or not, are extremely worried about the impact of the strikes on children’s education, especially given the disruption of Coronavirus on learning over the last few years.
Who has called the strike?
The strike has been called by the largest teaching union, the NEU, jointly led by Mary Bousted and Kevin Courtney. Two other teaching unions the NASUT and the Head Teachers Union, NAHT, also balloted on strike action but narrowly missed reaching the 50% turnout threshold, so their members won’t be going on strike.
Why are the strikes happening?
When asked why teachers are striking, Mary Bousted replied that, ‘Teachers are at the end of their tether. They are undervalued, they feel underpaid, they are completely overworked.’
The NEU is asking for an above inflation pay rise that is fully funded by the government. Teachers were awarded a 5% pay rise in 2022. However, with inflation being so much higher, the union claims that this is effectively a pay cut.
The condition that any pay increase be fully funded by the government is to avoid more demands on already stretched school budgets.
The NEU argues that pay issues need to be addressed urgently due to the recruitment and retention crisis within teaching, which is damaging children’s education.
Currently not enough teachers are being recruited and 1/3 of teachers leave the profession within 5 years of qualifying.
The government has accused the NEU of damaging children’s education by going ahead with the strikes. The NEU argue that the damage will be greater if their issues aren’t addressed.
When are the strikes taking place?
For schools in England and Wales, there are seven days of strike action planned between 1st February and 16th March. As some of the strikes are regional, individual schools will only be affected on four days.
The dates for the teacher strikes are:
1st February – all schools in England and Wales
14th February – all schools in Wales
28th February – schools in North and North West England, Yorkshire and Humber
1st March – East Midlands, West Midlands and Eastern regions
2nd March – South East and South West England
15th / 16th March – all schools in England and Wales
In Scotland a rolling program of teachers’ strikes is already underway. Teachers in Northern Ireland have planned a strike for the 21st February.
Who will be on strike?
The NEU are calling for all their members in sixth form colleges and state funded schools and academies in England and Wales to strike. In Wales support staff will also be asked to strike. Support staff in England didn’t reach the threshold for strike action so won’t be joining the action.
Will teachers in private schools go on strike?
The arrangements are different for private schools as strike ballots and union recognition needs to be done at individual school level. However, the NASUWT union has successfully balloted for strike action in 125 private schools so there may be some disruption. Parents should contact schools directly for more information.
Will all schools be closed?
The decision about whether a school will need to be closed will be made by the Headteacher. If schools have a large number of staff who are members of the striking union, they are likely to have to close to some or all pupils. It is expected that nearly all schools will be affected in some way.
Where schools remain partially open, similar arrangements are expected to be put in place as during Covid closures. Schools are being asked to prioritise vulnerable pupils, key workers’ children and those in Years 11 and 13 who will be taking exams this summer. Schools should also support children on free school meals by providing meals, food parcels or funds.
Will parents and guardians be able to take time off work if their child’s school is closed?
Legally you are entitled to take time off to care for children, but it might have to be taken as annual leave or unpaid parental leave.
Do children have to attend school on a strike day?
Department of Education guidance says that children who don’t attend school when the school is officially open should be reported as absent. The situation is less clear for online learning.
Will breakfast clubs and after school clubs be affected?
This depends on whether the clubs are run by teachers or not and whether schools are open. Parents should contact the clubs directly for more information.
What do teachers do when they are on strike?
Teachers aren’t paid for strike days and aren’t supposed to perform any parts of their job. The NEU are encouraging striking teachers to take part in organised demonstrations.
Will children be given online work to do on strike days?
This is down to individual schools to decide. They can choose to offer online education, but it isn’t compulsory. Headteachers aren’t allowed to ask striking teachers to set work but some may choose to do so.
The Department for Education has also clarified that there is no legal requirement for schools to teach the curriculum on strike days but schools “should consider, where possible” providing remote education of the kind ther offered during the pandemic if attendance is restricted.
Why has there been so much 'will they/won't they close' uncertainty over planned strikes in schools?
The decision about whether a school will need to be closed will be made by the Headteacher. Frustratingly for Heads and parents, teachers don’t have to let their Head know if they are going to be striking or not. Heads will know how many of their staff are members of the striking union but not how many will actually strike, which makes judgements about whether it is safe to open very difficult. The situation is further complicated by more than 30,000 new members joining the NEU in recent weeks.
What do parents think of the strikes?
Some parents are supportive of the teachers’ reasons for striking. They appreciate that teachers are overworked and underpaid and are worried about the impact that is having on the quality of teaching. Some parents and children are expected to join protests on the strike day.
Other parents are frustrated at yet more disruption to children’s education and to their own lives. Some point out that many other employees are struggling with raises in the cost of living. They argue that as most teachers earn more than the average wage, they are in a better position than lots of other people.
Where can parents find out more information?
Your child’s school should have provided information to parents and guardians. Local authority websites will also have details of school closures.