At least seven million children have been forced to miss classes today in the biggest strike day in more than a decade.
An estimated 85 per cent of English and Welsh state schools – up to 20,000 in total – are expected to close for some or all pupils.
Parents were in the dark as the National Education Union urged teachers to refuse to say whether they would show up for work.
Downing Street led criticism of the tactic, while Tory MPs accused union leaders of ‘spoiling the lives’ of working people, many of whom will be forced to take unpaid leave to look after their children.
An estimated 85 per cent of English and Welsh state schools – up to 20,000 in total – are expected to close for some or all pupils
Parents were in limbo as the National Education Union urged teachers to refuse to say whether they would show up for work
On ‘Walkout Wednesday’, the striking teachers organize strike actions together with 100,000 civil servants, 70,000 university employees and thousands of train drivers.
A general strike in all but name is expected to cost the economy £200m and amount to a ‘mini-lockdown’.
Start negotiating in good faith
The TUC says up to 500,000 workers will leave, making it the biggest day of union action since 2011, when more than two million workers went on strike over pensions in a row. Ministers would be outraged by the NEU’s attempt to disrupt contingency plans to preserve education for children whose education has already been affected by the pandemic.
They are now looking into French laws requiring teachers to give 48 hours’ notice if they plan to walk away.
In other developments:
- 600 troops will be called up today to cover for striking public sector workers, including at airport passport counters;
- No 10 admitted that the strike action would be ‘very difficult’ for the public;
- Voters are split on the strikes: 40 percent support them and 38 percent against, an Ipsos poll found;
- The strikes will leave Britain in a ‘mini-lockdown’, directly costing the economy £94 million, with hospitality costing a further £100 million, according to the Center for Economics and Business Research;
- Unions representing 1.4 million city and school employees, including garbage collectors, librarians, teaching assistants, health care workers and cleaners, filed a claim yesterday for increases above inflation.
On ‘Walkout Wednesday’, the striking teachers join 100,000 civil servants, 70,000 university employees and thousands of train drivers to organize union action
It is required by law to give schools the number of members it calls for action in each workplace – but it does not have to name names
The Prime Minister’s spokesman said: ‘It is disappointing that school leaders do not have the clarity they need to plan well’
The number of schools forced to close by the strikes has risen sharply after about 40,000 additional teachers joined the NEU since the union action was announced two weeks ago.
Kevin Courtney, general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU), said ministers should be concerned because the vast majority join the union ‘because they want to be part of the action’.
He said, “That’s a very big conscious decision to join us at this time. If I were the government, I’d be concerned about that.’
It is required by law to give schools the number of members it calls for action in each workplace – but it is not required to provide names.
It means that many headteachers have been left in the dark about staff numbers, and some have been forced to close as a precaution.
And Jonathan Broadbery, policy director at the National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA), warned that the strike could have “a pretty serious knock-on effect” for nurseries as staff may struggle to find childcare.
The Prime Minister’s spokesman said: ‘It is disappointing that school leaders do not have the clarity they need to plan properly.
‘That gives parents the information they need about the level of care their children can expect, and whether they can send their children to school. It would help reduce disruption and help teachers and school leaders plan better to provide a certain level of education to their students.”
Jonathan Gullis, a former Tory minister for schools, demanded that NEU leaders Mary Bousted and Kevin Courtney quit, saying: ‘It’s unfair to the pupils. It’s unfair to parents and it harms the teaching profession.’
Tory former education minister Sir John Hayes added: ‘Working people have jobs to do, children to look after and houses to run and they deserve better than to have their routines ruined and lives ruined like this.’
Paul Long, a former teacher who will lose £250 in earnings to care for his two children, said teachers who walked out had ‘completely misunderstood their audience’.
He said: ‘There are real problems with the education system that need to be addressed. What I disagree with is the way they are going about this through strikes rather than exploring alternative forms of industrial action that would be more effective.”
Union leaders say teachers’ wages have fallen by 23 percent in real terms since 2010, forcing them to leave en masse. The NEU demands fully funded increases above inflation.
Gillian Keegan, Secretary of State for Education, arrives today at the cabinet meeting in Downing Street, London
TUC secretary-general Paul Nowak said: ‘Our message to ministers is this: stop attacking the right to strike and start negotiating wages with unions in good faith’
Dr. Bousted said today’s strikes would have a “serious impact” and warned ministers they had a month to come up with a pay deal.
Heads have been accused of refusing to make plans to deal with staff shortages, despite guidance from the Education Ministry. Ministers had urged them to prioritize vulnerable pupils and children of key workers by using volunteers where necessary.
Government sources insist Rishi Sunak is determined to stand his ground against “unreasonable” wage demands, which he fears will fuel inflation. The strikes have been timed to coincide with a TUC ‘day of action’ in protest against legislation designed to force unions in key sectors such as fire, ambulance and railway to provide ‘minimum levels of service’ during strikes.
TUC Secretary-General Paul Nowak said: “Our message to ministers is this: stop attacking the right to strike and start negotiating wages with unions in good faith.”
The striking teachers and university employees belong to the University and College Union.
Kevin Courtney (left) and Mary Bousted, Joint Secretaries General of the National Education Union (NEU) address the media outside the Department of Education in London
Abellio bus drivers in London and security guards are also taking action.
Teachers across Scotland have already gone on strike over wages.
And there will now be strikes every day except Wednesday in the NHS.
NHS advisers in England are also gearing up for possible strike action.
The British Medical Association (BMA) – the country’s largest doctors’ union – will hold an indicative vote among its advisory members in February in a dispute over pay and pensions.
The move comes after members of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) overwhelmingly voted for walkouts in a vote announced Monday.
It couldn’t happen in Germany
By Jason Groves, Political Editor
Teachers’ strikes are banned or restricted in many EU countries – but the TUC is holding a ‘day of action’ today to protest the government’s decision to legislate ‘minimum service levels’ in key sectors.
But a government source said last night that the laws in many European countries are “much more restrictive.”
In Germany, most teachers are classed as civil servants and are not allowed to strike.
In Italy, teachers can strike, but unions must ensure that at least 90 percent of class hours are taught each year. Schools are also required to provide basic facilities such as exams and canteens.
In France, primary schools must remain open if less than 25 percent of teachers are on strike. Teachers must give schools 48 hours notice of strikes, meaning unions cannot create the kind of disruption they are trying to impose in Britain.
A government source said the ‘minimum service levels’ legislation, which Labor opposed, was ‘reasonable and moderate’.
TUC Secretary General Paul Nowak said: ‘No one should lose their job if they take legal steps to get a better deal at work. It is undemocratic, unworkable and most likely illegal.’