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Schoolchildren could face return of 'lockdown-learning' on strike days

Warnings children will be plunged back into lockdown-style online lessons as teachers strike over pay – and Education Secretary Gillian Keegan admits she ‘can’t guarantee’ schools will remain open

  • National Education Union (NEU) has announced that strikes will go ahead
  • First day of strikes will be on February 1 with more than 23,000 schools affected 
  • Parents have warned a return to remote learning could be devastating for pupils

The Education Secretary has hit out at teachers in England and Wales who plan to go on strike as tens of thousands of pupils now face being plunged back into ‘lockdown-style learning’.

Leaders of the National Education Union (NEU), the country’s largest teaching union, confirmed they will launch industrial action starting next month after balloting its 300,000 members. 

As many as 23,400 schools could be affected by the decision, as Ms Keegan today admitted there are no guarantees that in-person learning will go ahead during the days teachers go on strike.

With fresh disruption on the horizon parents, experts and charities have raised fears that pupils’ education could slip further behind since the pandemic.

Education Secretary Gillian Keegan has hit out at teachers in England and Wales who plan to go on strike as tens of thousands of pupils now face being plunged back into ‘lockdown-style learning’

As many as 23,400 schools could be affected by the decision, as Ms Keegan (above) today admitted there are no guarantees that in-person learning will go ahead during the days teachers go on strike

 Members of the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) are pictured at a rally as striking teachers gathered outside the Corn Exchange in Haddington, East Lothian yesterday

The first day of strikes will be on February 1, with more than 23,000 schools in England and Wales expected to be affected. 

Further industrial action will take place on February 14, March 15 and March 16. Teachers in a number of regions will also walkout on February 28 and March 1 and 2.

Schools were yesterday told to prioritise opening for groups of vulnerable pupils, key workers’ children and those due to take exams and formal assessments on days where industrial action will take place.

Asked on ITV’s Good Morning Britain if she can assure parents that schools will open and children will be able to go to classes on strike days, the Education Secretary said: ‘I can’t guarantee that but we’ll be working with headteachers to make sure as many schools are open for as many children as possible.

‘What I don’t know at the moment is for that one union that is taking industrial action, where those teachers are and how it impacts various schools. So that’s something we’ll be working through with heads.’

Jo Coton, chief executive of Essex-based NET Academies Trust, said her primary schools will do ‘everything possible’ to keep classrooms open as normal for children. 

The Department for Education (DfE) has issued updated guidance to say agency staff and volunteers could be used to cover classes on strike days, with schools expected to remain open where possible, although remote learning is also an option and the most vulnerable pupils are to be given priority. 

It comes as industry leaders warned any return to remote learning could set back children’s education further after a series of tumultuous years impacted by the pandemic.

When and why are teachers in England and Wales going on strike? All your questions answered

 

Britons appear to be bitterly divided over the prospect of fresh teaching strikes, as a YouGov poll revealed half of the public (51%) back striking teachers, while two in five (41%) were opposed.

More of those polled appeared to agree with walkouts by nurses, as almost two thirds (63%) supported such a move.

In England, 90 per cent of NEU teacher members who voted in the ballot backed strikes, with a turnout of 53 per cent. In Wales, 92 per cent of NEU teacher members who voted in the ballot backed strikes, with a turnout of 58 per cent.

But the Children’s Commissioner has warned that a walkout would hurt vulnerable pupils still recovering from the impact of the pandemic.

Dame Rachel de Souza said children ‘cannot afford’ to have yet more class time distributed, just as they were getting back into school following Covid closures.

Education experts also fear a protracted industrial dispute between the government and teachers could severely impact pupils’ long-term learning. 

Natalie Perera, chief executive of the Education Policy Institute, said that both sides must ‘prioritise avoiding any further disruption to young people’.

Speaking to Times Radio, Ms Keegan said that pupils are still struggling to recover from the impact of the pandemic on their education.

Schools were yesterday told to prioritise opening for groups of vulnerable pupils, key workers’ children and those due to take exams and formal assessments on days where industrial action will take place

Industry leaders warned any return to remote learning could set back children’s education further after a series of tumultuous years impacted by the pandemic. [File image]

She said that she understood the pressures facing teachers, but warned that strike action was not the way to resolve it.

‘I’m extremely disappointed, and disappointed for the parents and children, mostly. Children have been through so much through the pandemic,’ she said.

‘It’s incredibly difficult. We’ve got inflationary pressures everywhere. So I get that and I do understand that and that’s why we’re really focused on halving inflation.

‘In terms of the recruitment and retention challenges, since the pandemic, there has been a disruption in our labour market, not just ours actually, all over the world

‘The way to resolve any of those issues, which I’m very committed to resolve with teachers and teacher unions and teachers’ heads, is not to go on strike. It does not resolve a single one of those issues.’

Mary Bousted and Kervin Courtney, joint NEU general secretaries, pictured leaving the Department for Education in Westminster last week

The first day of strikes will be on February 1, with more than 23,000 schools in England and Wales expected to be affected. Further industrial action will take place on February 14, March 15 and March 16. Teachers in a number of regions will also walkout on February 28 and March 1 and 2

The Department for Education (DfE) has offered a five per cent pay rise to most teachers for the current school year, but the NEU is demanding a fully-funded above inflation pay rise for teachers.

According to the Get into Teaching website, all qualified teachers earn a starting salary of at least £28,000 a year – slightly below the Government’s manifesto pledge for all teachers to receive a £30,000 starting salary by 2022/23.

Those who start work in London will receive a higher salary to subsidise the city’s high living costs. 

Thousands of teachers in England and Wales will go on strike in February and March in row over pay 

In Scotland, children are set to miss more days of school after a union announced 22 more days of strikes in the ongoing pay dispute

Outside of London, the maximum salary for qualified teachers is £38,810 a year but it is possible to earn more as a ‘established and exceptional’ teacher or practitioner. 

Downing Street has urged teachers not to strike and inflict ‘substantial damage’ to children’s education.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: ‘We would continue to call on teachers not to strike given we know what substantial damage was caused to children’s education during the pandemic and it’s certainly not something we want to see repeated.

‘We would hope they would continue to discuss with us their concerns rather than withdraw education from children.’

Mary Bousted and Kervin Courtney, joint NEU general secretaries, said: ‘We have continually raised our concerns with successive education secretaries about teacher and support staff pay, and its funding in schools and colleges, but instead of seeking to resolve the issue they have sat on their hands.

‘It is disappointing that the Government prefers to talk about yet more draconian anti-strike legislation, rather than work with us to address the causes of strike action.’

They added that historic real-terms pay cuts for teachers had created an ‘unsustainable situation’ in the midst of a cost-of-living crisis, adding that staff were leaving the profession ‘in droves’.

The statement continued: ‘This is a scandalous waste of talent and taxpayers’ money yet the Government seems unbothered about the conditions they are allowing schools and colleges to slide into.

‘It continues to be the aspiration of the NEU and its membership that this dispute can be resolved without recourse to strike action.

‘We regret having to take strike action, and are willing to enter into negotiations at any time, any place, but this situation cannot go on.

‘We met with Gillian Keegan last week and would be happy to do so again, but no concrete proposals on teacher or support staff pay were put forward.’

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