Schools have been told to bring in volunteers and use remote learning after seven days of strike action were announced by the country’s biggest teaching union.
A mass walkout of National Education Union (NEU) members is scheduled to begin on February 1, to coincide with a “national right to strike day” of protests around the country led by the Trades Union Congress in response to new Government legislation.
Further national teaching strikes are planned for February 14 in Wales and March 15 and 16 in England and Wales, while regional strikes in England have been scheduled for three dates between February 28 and March 2.
Only 48 per cent of all NEU members in England voted for strike action. However, the union narrowly passed the legal threshold for industrial action of a 50 per cent turnout, with 40 per cent of eligible members voting “yes” to strikes.
On Monday the Department of Education published guidance which urges schools to consider bringing in volunteers to help look after children and keep classrooms open during the walkouts, if they have relevant checks and are supervised by another member of staff or volunteer with a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check.
Schools were reminded that legislation introduced last year means that supply staff could be brought in to cover during strike action.
It also points to examples where schools introduced larger class sizes, pooled resources across schools and brought in temporary workers during strikes to ensure education continued.
It showcased examples of where schools asked a theatre company to deliver performances and workshops, or asked a local football coaching company to come in for the day to deliver coaching to the whole school.
The guidance also states that if schools are forced to restrict attendance, they should consider providing remote education where possible – despite warnings from parents, MPs and education leaders that it is not an adequate substitute for face-to-face teaching.
Schools are under pressure to make efforts to limit any disruption for pupils, and it is unclear how many of the NEU’s 300,000 members will choose to walk out.
Rachel de Souza, the Children’s Commissioner for England, asked “those choosing to take industrial action to take all possible steps to minimise the impact on children and families.”
Education Secretary Gillian Keegan said it was “deeply disappointing for children and parents that NEU teacher members have voted in favour of walking out.”
She said: “Talks with union leaders are ongoing and any strike action from one union will have a damaging impact on pupils’ education and wellbeing, particularly following the disruption experienced over the past two years.”
Tory MPs raised the alarm about the possible economic damage of teacher strikes. Jonathan Gullis, a former education minister, said: “Parents not going into work, not earning money, not helping increase productivity, not helping businesses in day to day operations – this will not only harm us economically but will also harm the young people.”
‘The knock on impact is enormous’
Greg Smith, Conservative MP for Buckingham, said: “The knock on impact to families, to parents, to carers, is enormous. The expectation that people can suddenly drop their jobs when they have a valid and good expectation that their children will be in school which – it will take significant money out of the economy.”
The National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), another teaching union, vowed to consider re-running its ballot for industrial action in England on Monday after blaming the impact of postal strikes for failing to secure the minimum turnout of 50 per cent.
However, NAHT members in Wales are set to take strike action. NAHT Cymru secured a 55 per cent turnout, with 75 per cent of those voting “yes” to strike action.
The NEU also saw more support for strikes among teachers in Wales, where 54 per cent of union members voted for industrial action. A 92 per cent majority voted “yes” on a turnout of 58 per cent.