GCSE and A-Level students could face disruption to classes on Tuesday as tens of thousands of teachers walk out in their latest strike over pay.
Mary Bousted, general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU), said she could not rule out disruption of some GCSE and A-level students as up to half of the 22,000 schools in England are expected to be partially closed or shut by the walkouts.
“I cannot say there won’t be any disruption. All I can say is that we are absolutely aiming to minimise disruption,” Ms Bousted told The Daily Telegraph.
The NEU has drawn up guidelines for members to cross the picket lines under local deals with head teachers to provide minimum staff levels so GCSE and A-level pupils can have supervised revision or exam practice.
These have, however, drawn criticism within government for requiring heads to pay teachers a full day’s wage if they turn up for only part of it, leaving it up to local negotiation and forcing other staff to provide cover.
It will be the second day of strike action this month in the run-up to the GCSE and A-level exams which 900,000 pupils will begin sitting in just two weeks’ time on May 15.
The NEU plans three more days of strikes before the end of the summer term but Ms Bousted said these would be from the end of June to mid-July, outside the exam period.
Without a resolution of the dispute, it is likely to be followed by a concerted campaign of strikes in the autumn by up to 400,000 teachers as all four unions – including the two representing heads – are balloting members after rejecting the Government’s 4.5 per cent pay offer for next year and £1,000 bonus for this year.
Government sources, however, suggested the NEU strikes were having less impact as more teachers remained in school potentially because of the effect of the action on pupils, the cost of lost pay and politicisation of the dispute.
“There are a significant proportion of teachers who are staying in school now,” said a government source. “It may not be disillusionment with the strike but they are putting their pupils first especially for their exam years.”
Figures this week are expected to show the proportion of schools that remained open or partially open has increased from 91 per cent during the first teachers’ strike on Feb 1 to 95 per cent on Thursday last week.
In London, which was the only region below 90 per cent, the proportion shut has halved to 12 per cent since the strike on February 1. Of those that remain open, about half have had to send some classes or groups of pupils home.
‘No let up’
Ms Bousted claimed there was “no let up” in the proportion of NEU members taking strike action which she acknowledged would have a “profound impact” on pupils’ education. “The vast majority of schools will stay open for GCSE and A-level pupils but the education of other pupils will be affected,” she said.
She said the resounding rejection of the Government’s offer by all four unions should have brought a “competent and responsible” government back to the negotiating table. “It’s unconscionable that they haven’t done that,” she said.
Senior Tory MPs, however, believe the dispute has shifted away from the headline pay rise to a row over whether the pay offer for 2023/24 is fully funded. One senior Tory MP suggested this meant it could be unlocked by extra funds from the Treasury.
But ministers are adamant it is fully funded and that the Treasury has already provided the extra £620 million needed to cover this year’s £1,000 bonus and to pay the salary increases that go above the funding they have already received.
They say the extra £2 billion for education in the autumn statement will take education funding to its highest level on record with Britain’s head teachers among the best paid in the developed world.
An education department spokesman said: “For unions to coordinate strike action with the aim of causing maximum disruption to schools is unreasonable and disproportionate, especially given the impact the pandemic has already had on their learning.
“Children’s education has always been our absolute priority and they should be in classrooms where they belong.”