Northumberland County Council's treatment of striking teachers branded 'disgraceful'

NASUWT members on a second day of strike action over school closures in the Berwick area. Photo: NASUWT
-Credit: (Image: Copyright Unknown)

Northumberland County Council has come under fire over its handling of three school closures in the north of the county.

Staff at Glendale, Tweedmouth and Berwick middle schools have been undertaking strike action in response to council plans to close the schools amid a restructure of schools in the area. The Berwick partnership is moving to a two-tier system from the 2026/27 school year - but there are fears teachers at the middle school could be left without a job.

Speaking at a meeting of the county council, Berwick East councillor Georgina Hill branded the council's treatment of school staff "disgraceful" and asked whether the Conservative administration felt they had "legitimate grievances". Coun Guy Renner Thompson, the council's cabinet member for children's services, defended the council's actions.

He said: "There are six unions operating in the Berwick partnership and two are on strike. Wooler's middle school has requested its own closure while the two in Berwick were opposed.

"School governing bodies and employers, with support from the local authority, are working with staff to find appropriate employment for all by 2026. Following this process anyone without a position other options including voluntary redundancy will be explored.

"We meet with the two unions weekly. The most recent meeting has led to strike action being suspended, recognising the progress that has been made."

Coun Hill replied: "Do you accept that last May staff were given assurances about jobs, and what has transpired is that they were misled? There has been a spectacular failure to have a meaningful engagement.

"These staff have lost four days of pay so far because they haven't been involved in the consultation. They have been treated disgracefully."

Coun Renner Thompson added: "There were two grounds given for strike action - one was possible redundancies, the other was a lack of consultation. We at the council do not agree that there was a lack of consultation, there has been a huge amount.

"This particular round of consultation started in 2021. There has been huge amounts of consultation.

"The unions have been involved in every aspect of that. We do not accept that there has been a lack of consultation."

Union officials confirmed that strike action on July 3 and July 10 was called off ahead of a crunch meeting with the council on Wednesday. However, further strike action in the autumn was not ruled out if progress was not made.