Schools in England could be closed by strikes before the end of the summer term, after the National Union of Teachers backed industrial action over the education funding crisis at its annual conference.
The vote to strike came after delegates were told of children at one school who spent two weeks wearing hats and coats in their classroom this winter because of budget pressures.
The motion passed means the union will consider industrial action in the parts of the country hardest hit by funding cuts. The NUT general secretary, Kevin Courtney, said that any government moves to reduce funding further could lead to national strike.
Joanna Yurky, the co-founder of Fair Funding for All, a parent campaigning group, told the delegates in Cardiff that many schools in England were being severely affected by the crisis, with parents asked for regular contributions to meet core running costs and cover deficits.
“Schools are asking parents for regular payments to plug the funding shortfall, schools with £100k, £200k, £300k deficits begging parents for help,” she said in her speech.
“In one secondary school near me, the children were taught for the first two weeks of January with their coats and hats on because they’ve had to become a bit more careful about when they’ll turn the heating on to save money.”
Yurky added of a school in Haringey, north London: “That school can’t afford to buy the textbooks the pupils need, but they also can’t afford to photocopy them because that budget’s been cut too.”
Jackie Baker, a member of the NUT’s executive, told the conference of a school where a teacher was made to teach Spanish despite not speaking the language.
The conference passed a motion protesting against the effects of funding cuts on rising class sizes, the sacking of teaching assistants and other cuts for children with special educational needs. It also overwhelmingly backed an amendment calling for strike action in the worst affected areas.
Courtney said the union’s analysis showed that schools in England would be worse off in real terms by £3bn over the next three years. “There are places where the cuts are so bad and the degree of concern so big that strike action is a real possibility,” he said after the motion and amendments were passed.
“We will consult with colleagues in the regions about the readiness of members to do this. If Justine Greening [the education secretary] announces the funding formula is changing to make things even worse in some areas, that would be very likely to raise the level of anger in those areas to a point where action will take place.
“Already class sizes are increasing, school staff levels are being cut or jobs not being replaced, subjects are disappearing from the curriculum and materials and resources are scarce. This clearly cannot go on.”
A Department for Education spokesperson said the core schools budget in England has been protected in real terms since 2010, and will rise along with pupil numbers to £42bn by 2020.
“We recognise that schools are facing cost pressures, and we will continue to provide support to help them use their funding in the most cost effective ways, so that every pound of the investment we make in education has the greatest impact,” the spokesperson said.
Delegates at the NUT conference also narrowly rejected a call to affiliate the union to the Labour party.
A motion to officially affiliate the NUT to Labour for the first time was overturned by a whisker when just 50.6% backed an amendment that blocked the move.
Delegates at the NASUWT conference in Manchester passed a motion calling for the union to consider telling teachers not to hold revision classes or tutoring outside the school day.
Louis Kavanagh of Solihull, who proposed the motion, blamed “lazy students, pitiable parenting, ineffectual school discipline measures and structures putting all the burden on the class teacher”.