‘Vast majority’ of schools in England and Wales affected by teachers’ strike

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Nearly nine in 10 schools and sixth-form colleges in England and Wales with teachers on strike have shut their doors to some pupils, a survey suggests.

The majority of schools have been affected by the first day of walkouts by tens of thousands of National Education Union (NEU) members, according to a snapshot poll by a school leaders’ union.

Among the 920 schools and sixth-form colleges polled where teachers were on strike, 11% reported being fully open with all students on site.

Four in five (80%) said they were partially open with some students on site and 9% said they were completely shut during the strikes, the survey by the Association of School and College Leaders suggests.

The biggest strike in a decade is under way, with up to half a million workers walking out in increasingly bitter disputes over pay, jobs and conditions.

Teachers in England and Wales, who are members of the NEU, have been taking part in the first national strike since 2016.

Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the NEU, told the PA news agency that he believes “more than 200,000” members staged walkouts on Wednesday, adding that the strike has been “really effective”.

Some schools closed their doors to all pupils because of strike action while others opened for vulnerable students and children of critical workers.

(PA Graphics)

Civil servants, train and bus drivers and university staff also stopped work on the biggest single day of strikes in a decade.

Picket lines were mounted outside railway stations, schools, government departments and universities across the country, with unions saying they are receiving strong support from the public.

More than 100,000 members of the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union are on strike, including Border Agency staff at ports and airports.

The TUC held a series of protests against the Government’s controversial plans for a new law on minimum levels of service during strikes.

School leaders reported using support staff and supply agency staff to cover lessons for those pupils who were in, while others combined classes.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said: “The overwhelming feeling among school and college leaders and teachers today will be one of sadness that we have reached a point at which strike action has been taken as a last resort against a government that will not listen.

“This has clearly been a difficult day for everyone concerned, but the stark truth is that the erosion of teacher pay and conditions over the past decade, and resulting teacher shortages, mean every day in education is a difficult one.”

Mr Courtney and Mary Bousted, the joint general secretaries of the NEU, have called on her to “step up with concrete and meaningful proposals” on pay to prevent further strikes.

The NEU bosses said: “Today, we put the Education Secretary on notice. She has until our next strike day for England, February 28, to change her stance.

“NEU members do not want to go on strike again. They want constructive talks that deal directly with the long-standing concerns they experience in their schools and colleges every day. So that they can get back to doing what they do best, working with pupils in the classroom.

“However, be in no doubt that our members will do whatever it takes to stand up for education, including further strike action, if Gillian Keegan still fails to step up with concrete and meaningful proposals.”

Downing Street highlighted the Government’s wish to hold more talks with unions to avert further strike action.

Asked what Rishi Sunak is doing to sort out the industrial action, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “We want to have further talks with the unions. Some of those discussions have been constructive.

“We have to balance that against the need to be fair to all taxpayers, the majority of whom don’t work for the public sector.

“As we’ve seen from the IMF just this week, inflation is one of the biggest risks to people’s pay packets and the Government will continue to take responsible action to ensure public sector workers are paid fairly but that it’s also affordable for the taxpayer.”

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