Schools in north of England shut doors to pupils as teachers strike over pay
School pupils faced disruption to their lessons on Tuesday as teachers in the north of England staged strikes in the long-running dispute over pay.
Schools were forced to restrict access to some students while others closed fully during the latest walkouts by the National Education Union (NEU).
Years of underfunded pay increases have “pushed the profession to its limits”, NEU leaders warned as they called for “proper negotiations” with ministers.
The NEU has estimated that around 200,000 members will go on strike across three days of action this week, with the “majority of schools” expected to either restrict access to certain year groups or fully close.
Teacher members of the NEU are set to walk out in the Midlands and eastern regions in England on Wednesday, and further strikes will take place across Wales and the south of England on Thursday.
Picket lines were mounted outside schools in regions including the North West and Yorkshire and the Humber on Tuesday, and rallies took place in Manchester, Leeds and Newcastle.
Some parents will have been forced to take leave from work, or arrange alternative childcare, as a result of the regional walkouts.
Last week, Education Secretary Gillian Keegan invited the teaching unions to “formal talks on pay, conditions and reform” on the condition that NEU strikes were suspended.
Ms Keegan said the union’s decision not to suspend the strikes was “hugely disappointing” as she added that children deserve to be in school and further walkouts were “simply unforgivable”.
But the NEU has called on Ms Keegan to drop her “unnecessary pre-conditions and get around the negotiating table” to avert further national walkouts from taking place in England and Wales on March 15 and March 16.
Mary Bousted and Kevin Courtney, joint general secretaries of the NEU, said: “Our members have sent another strong message to government that burying its head in the sand is a tactic that will not work.
“It is with great regret that we are having to take strike action at all. However, years of underfunded pay increases have pushed the profession to its limits.
“Gillian Keegan needs to start proper negotiations with all education unions. Playing politics and offering nothing upon which to base talks, is not a serious approach to this dispute.”
They added: “We reiterate once again that we are willing to enter negotiations at any time. Teachers want to be in the classroom not the picket line.
“The Education Secretary needs to withdraw her unnecessary pre-conditions and get around the negotiating table.”
On February 1 – the first day of walkouts by NEU members – the majority of state schools in England were forced to shut their doors to some pupils.
Department for Education data suggested that 44.7% of schools in England were open but with restricted attendance on February 1 and 9.3% were closed.
Speaking on Tuesday, Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said: “School leaders have been managing today’s strike action as best they can.
“Their focus has been on provision for students, in many cases via a mixture of onsite and remote education according to what staffing levels have made feasible, whilst maintaining good relationships with all staff.
“The impact of this week’s strikes will likely be similar to that of the national strike on February 1, when the majority of schools were partially open but there was still significant disruption.”
He added: “There is an overwhelming sense of frustration among school leaders that so little progress has been made in the last month in terms of resolving the industrial dispute.
“The lack of urgency from the Westminster Government compared to the administration in Wales is notable and dispiriting.
“It’s time to dial down the rhetoric and engage in serious negotiations.”
In a statement on Monday evening, Ms Keegan said: “As a government, we have made a serious offer to the leaders of the National Education Union and Royal College of Nursing: pause this week’s strikes, get round the table and talk about pay and conditions and reforms.
“It is hugely disappointing the NEU has refused this serious offer and has not joined the Royal College of Nurses in calling off strikes. Instead of being sat round a table discussing serious offers over pay, strike action will once again cause disruption for children and families.
“Children deserve to be in school, and further strike action is simply unforgivable, especially after everything children have been through because of the pandemic.”
Many schools across Scotland shut on Tuesday as members of the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) and NASUWT unions began two days of national strike action over their long-running pay dispute.
Last week, the majority of teachers and school leaders in Northern Ireland took part in a 12-hour strike in a dispute over pay.
Amazon workers at one of the company’s warehouses in Coventry went on strike on Tuesday as the wave of industrial action continues to sweep the UK.
A further day of action is set for Thursday, and for one week between March 13 and 17.
The GMB said more than 350 staff at the centre were expected to take action in the pay dispute.