Hundreds of schools closed in Wales as teachers go on strike

Hundreds of schools in Wales are closed due to the first of a series of strikes planned by teachers protesting over pay, working conditions and the underfunding of the education sector.

Teachers said the cost-of-living crisis and heavy workloads were driving them out of the profession and they were striking to protect children’s futures.

Thousands of members of the National Education Union (NEU) across England and Wales were taking industrial action.

Lewis Miles, 38, a Year 6 teacher at Peter Lea Primary School in Fairwater, Cardiff, said: “One of the main reasons that I’m here is because of the children I teach and the underinvestment in schools.

Around 600 people joined a rally in Cardiff's Central Square in protest against harsher government restrictions on striking.
Around 600 people joined a rally in Cardiff’s Central Square (PA)

“Since lockdown, a lot of children have fallen behind, and there’s not the investment there to help them catch up.

“I just think a lot of people think it’s just about wanting more money and it is partly about that, but it’s also wanting more investment for schools and help for children.”

Mr Miles said he had heard reports from colleagues working in secondary schools that some teachers were being asked to teach subjects they were not qualified in.

“Art teachers are teaching maths and things like that, which is a huge concern, because they haven’t got the investment to recruit teachers,” he said.

“If my child was going into a senior school, I would be really concerned about that.”

“The reason why we’re striking is hopefully to get more money into schools, which will benefit the children in the long term,” he added.

“Short term they’re going to miss a few days, which is unfortunate, because it is a strike, it is meant to be disruptive.”

Bethan Howell, a diversity and inclusion officer at Treorchy Comprehensive School, said she was on strike because “education isn’t valued at all” and taking industrial action was not just about pay but also workloads and children’s futures.

“It’s not sustainable as it is and there’s so many teachers just walking away from jobs and jobs can’t be filled,” she said.

“This is about more than my pay packet, this is the education system as a whole.

“When head teachers are having to decide whether they employ a member of staff, or buy resources or put the heating on, it’s just not good enough.

“If we had more funding, more staff, more support, then a lot of the issues, we could overcome them.

“I just think that if things are not going to improve, we’ve got to make a bit of noise to try and make some change.”

Mass UK strike action
Protesters gather at a TUC rally in central Cardiff (Bronwen Weatherby/PA)

Speaking at the TUC Right to Strike rally in central Cardiff, Laura Doel, director of National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) Wales, said: “For too long, leaders and teachers have been blighted by continued below-inflation pay awards that have seen their pay eroded by over 22% in the last 10 years alone. We are, as a result, suffering from a recruitment and retention problem.

“I don’t know about you, but I think my kids deserve better than that.

“We cannot deliver the next generation of doctors, nurses, great thinkers, leaders and of course future trade unionists without a strong education workforce in place.

To parents concerned about disruption, she said: “Yes there’s disruption in our classrooms, but that disruption already exists because we don’t have what we need to run our schools, we don’t have the funding to employ the people we need.”

She added: “In a personal message to the UK Government, I’d like to say we’ve had previous governments that have tried to oppress the hard-working people of Wales and it didn’t work then, it’s not going to work now, don’t try it again, we’re ready for you.”

NEU representative Mairead Canavan told the rally: “We’ve been driven to be here, there is nothing else we can do.

“And we will carry on until we get what we want for our children.”

Welsh Government education minister Jeremy Miles told BBC Radio Wales: “I want to reassure pupils and their parents that we are working with our partners to resolve the dispute.

“We have held a number of constructive meetings with unions and local education authorities already and there are further meetings happening this week in an effort to resolve the dispute.

“We don’t want to see schools closed so we are doing absolutely everything we can to resolve the dispute.”

He said the Welsh Government had made an offer to the teaching unions of a one-off payment in this financial year, as well as a commitment to discuss workloads.

“There are very real constraints on the Welsh Government’s budget because of the frankly disgraceful position that the UK Government aren’t making enough funding available across the UK for public services,” he added.