Teachers who are not part of a union are able to join colleagues in strike action, it has emerged.
Under strike rules, teachers can support colleagues on the picket line even if they themselves are not part of a union provided they do not belong to a group which did not meet the threshold for industrial action.
On Wednesday and Thursday National Education Union (NEU) members will walk out as part of a nationwide strike. Union members are not obliged to tell their employers if they are planning to join the action, and schools may need to decide to close without knowing which of their staff will be taking part.
The action means that teachers will fail to teach GCSE and A-level pupils despite a union boss promising they would be “unharmed” during crucial learning time ahead of exams.
Schools have been asked to prioritise keeping classrooms open for pupils preparing to sit exams. Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the NEU, told LBC on Tuesday that “teachers losing a day’s pay will be ensuring that those children taking GCSEs and other exams are not harmed by this action”.
A-level pupils will miss lessons
However, some schools have told parents that GCSE and A-level pupils in Years 11, 12 and 13 will have to miss lessons and study at home or in the library because their teachers are expected to take part in strikes, The Telegraph has learnt.
Parents of Year 11 pupils at Heart of England School in Coventry were told last week that their children must stay at home on Wednesday and access online learning resources. At Chingford Foundation School in Waltham Forest, north-east London, pupils in Years 11, 12 and 13 have been told that lessons are cancelled but they can use the school library to study independently.
Elsewhere, at Chase Terrace Academy in Burntwood, Staffordshire, only a small number of A-level subjects will be taught on strike days. Pupils whose subjects are not being taught must study from home.
Arabella Skinner, director of the parents’ group UsforThem, said: “As students approach Easter knowing their exams are just around the corner, especially those taking A levels who have never taken public exams, they are likely to be nervous and concerned about how well prepared they are after three years of stop-start education.
“For those pupils, another two days at home with minimal teaching just adds to the strain they are under; as well as the threat of more strikes during the exam period.”
Gillian Keegan, the Education Secretary, wrote to teaching unions on Tuesday in a last-ditch plea for them to suspend “unnecessary” strikes and meet for talks instead.
Mrs Keegan has proposed no backdated pay for this year and a 3.5 per cent salary increase next year. The NEU said the offer failed to come close to its demand for pay rises to “at least match price increases, and for any pay rises to be fully funded in school budgets”.
In the last round of strike action in February, Mrs Keegan said “it was a surprise to some of us” that teachers could strike without notifying their employers, adding that she felt it was “unreasonable” that they could do so.
It has previously been reported that the Government is considering legal changes that would force teachers to tell school leaders if they are planning to strike in advance to allow for contingency planning and prevent disruption.
‘We know the challenges’
Conservative MP Robin Walker, chairman of the Commons education select committee who spoke to The Telegraph in a personal capacity, said that he had “some sympathy” with an idea that a legal change was something “for the Government to be looking into”.
Mr Walker said that “the vast majority of teachers… would recognise that children are better off in school”, adding: “After the pandemic, we all know the challenges of children being out of school for a long period of time.”
He said that any change “shouldn’t interfere with the right to strike – it’s important that is protected, but done in the context of schools working as safe spaces for vulnerable children”.
Dr Bousted told The Telegraph: “I am confident that the teachers working on the preparation for GCSEs and A-Levels will be making sure that those pupils are not harmed by this action. Teachers routinely work the longest unpaid overtime of any profession. Their commitment is beyond doubt.”
Responding to the ability of non-NEU members joining colleagues on strike, she added: “Government advice states that those who are not a member of a trade union and ‘who take part in legal, official industrial action have the same rights as union members not to be dismissed as a result of taking action’.”