Teachers could strike during exams as union fails to rule out disruption

Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the NEU: ‘We will plan more strike dates’ - Victoria Jones/PA Wire
Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the NEU: ‘We will plan more strike dates’ - Victoria Jones/PA Wire

Teachers could disrupt GCSE and A-Level exams in a fresh round of strikes next term.

But GCSE and A-Level pupils who miss lessons during summer-term strikes are not expected to be given special consideration by exam boards.

The National Education Union (NEU) has not ruled out industrial action that would impact exams and exam preparation if members reject a pay offer from the Government.

Teachers have been offered a £1,000 bonus this year and an average 4.5 per cent pay rise next year.

Union leaders have advised teachers to reject the “insulting” offer and commit to more strike dates starting with April 27 and May 2, only weeks before the start of exams.

Education Secretary Gillian Keegan: ‘I think we have gone as far as we can’ - Daniel Leal/Getty
Education Secretary Gillian Keegan: ‘I think we have gone as far as we can’ - Daniel Leal/Getty

The NEU executive has agreed to seek “local agreements” with head teachers to protect exam preparation for Years 11 and 13.

However, it refused to rule out any disruption.

Asked about whether strikes will disrupt exams, Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the NEU, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We will plan more strike dates. We don’t want to disrupt exams and we will try to ensure that we do reopen negotiations.”

Pressed on the issue again, she said: “We have [the NEU] conference next week, and conference will decide the plan of action, but no teacher wants to disrupt exam dates at all, so it’s up to the Government.”

Guidance from the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ), which represents the UK's eight biggest exam boards, does not make any provisions for industrial action.

It states that candidates will not be eligible for extra marks if their exam preparation or performance is impacted by “staff shortages”.

Contingency plans

A JCQ spokesperson said: “As in any year, schools and colleges have contingency plans in place to ensure the effective delivery of exams and assessments during periods of significant disruption.”

A spokesperson for Ofqual, the exam watchdog, said: “Special consideration applies to incidents that happen immediately before or during an exam that have an effect on a student’s ability to take that exam, or on how they perform.

“For example, where a student suffers a bereavement in the lead-up to an exam, or where an exam itself is disrupted by a fire alarm.

“Schools should have contingency arrangements for a range of potential circumstances and the Department for Education guidance recommends schools should prioritise the running of exams and assessments on any strike days.”

Arabella Skinner, of parents’ group UsForThem, said: “Exam students whose secondary school experience has been marred by the stop-start education of the pandemic years, have now had their preparation this term disrupted and still face the unsettling prospect of not knowing how their exams will be impacted. It is wrong that once again children are suffering due to adults’ actions and the least the JCQ can do is to recognise how this could impact their exam preparation.”

NEU members have until Sunday to vote on whether to accept the Government’s offer.

Education Secretary Gillian Keegan said on Tuesday that the Government will not improve its pay offer. She said that if teachers reject it, they will lose out on the £1,000 bonus. They would also lose the guarantee of a 4.5 per cent pay rise next year. Mrs Keegan said: “This is an offer which is specifically to avoid strikes and avoid disruption to children… I think we have gone as far as we can.”

In a speech at the Bett conference in London on Wednesday, she will say that teachers’ workload will be cut in the future as artificial intelligence (AI) technology is used to write lesson plans and mark homework.

She is expected to say: “AI will have the power to transform a teacher’s day-to-day work. We’ve seen people using it to write lesson plans, and some interesting experiments around marking too.

“Can it do those things now, to the standard we need? No. Should the time it saves ever come at the cost of the quality produced by a skilled teacher? Absolutely not.

“But could we get to a point where the tasks that really drain teachers’ time are significantly reduced? I think we will.”