NUT strike: warning of further walk out in summer termPosted: March 26, 2014
This article originally appeared in the Daily Telegraph, March 26, 2014
By Graeme Paton and Ben Lazarus
The NUT raises the prospect of more teachers’ strikes in the summer term, despite Government claims that a national walk out on Wednesday failed to muster popular support
Schools are facing fresh disruption over the summer exam season amid warnings of further strikes by teachers in coming months.
The National Union of Teachers warned of a “really high chance” of walk outs after Easter unless the Government agrees to more “meaningful” talks.
It was claimed that the other major classroom – the NASUWT – could join industrial action next term in a move that would significantly increase the impact on schools.
The comments were made as the NUT staged a one-day strike across England and Wales on Wednesday amid complaints over reforms to teachers’ pay, cuts to pensions and mounting workload.
In some towns and cities, almost all schools were forced to close or operate on a reduced timetable – causing chaos for parents who have to take the day off work or arrange for emergency childcare.
Areas badly hit included Cardiff, Newcastle, Bolton, Manchester, Leeds, Leicester, Brighton, Southampton and the London boroughs of Hackney, Lambeth, Newham and Croydon.
But the Department for Education insisted just 12 per cent of schools – around one-in-eight – had been forced to completely shut. Many more are likely to have partially closed.
A spokesman said: “While the impact in many schools has been negligible, it has disrupted parents’ lives, held back children’s education and damaged the reputation of the profession.”
The NUT wants ministers to take part in direct talks over the Government’s reform programme.
But the union claimed that weekly talks are being led by civil servants, with strict restrictions on the discussion of key education policies.
Kevin Courtney, NUT deputy general secretary, said the union would open talks with the NASUWT after Easter – when both unions stage annual conferences – with a view to launching joint action in the summer term.
It comes despite the NASUWT’s refusal to join Wednesday’s strike.
Any action could cause disruption to GCSEs, A-levels and SATs tests which are typically taken over May and June.
He said: “I think there’s a really high chance that there will be further joint industrial action – strike action – between the NUT and NASUWT in the summer term… Unless Michael Gove [the Education Secretary] changes his direction in these talks, there isn’t going to be a good outcome. I think there is a very high possibility of joint action between our two unions.”
Despite the low number of school closures, Christine Blower, general secretary of the NUT, said the turn out was a “clear demonstration that teachers are thoroughly tired of the intolerable pressures they are being put under by the Coalition Government”.
“If there isn’t movement in the talks there could well be further strike action this summer,” she said.
The NUT strike on Wednesday followed a series of regional walk outs by both the NUT and NASUWT in the autumn term.
They are protesting over a series of recent reforms, including rules giving heads more powers to observe lessons and changes to pensions that will see teachers work for longer and pay more into their retirement fund.
Activists have been particularly angered by the introduction of a system of performance-related pay from this September that will see salary hikes limited to teachers who raise pupils’ results and impose high standards of discipline.
Turn out for the industrial action was hugely varied, with some areas reporting large numbers of school closures, while others were barely affected.
Research by the Telegraph showed that 94 schools closed or partially shut in Cardiff – the vast majority of those in the city. Some 128 out of 167 schools in Manchester were affected, while 146 were partially or fully closed in Leeds.
The London borough of Hackney 51 out of 71 schools were affected.
Across Wales, the BBC reported 472 partial closures and 297 full closures from a total of more than 1,700 schools.
Turn out was lower in rural areas, but some counties still reported widespread disruption. In Nottinghamshire, 97 out of 338 schools were affected, while 104 out of 306 were closed or partially shut in Essex.
The DfE spokesman insisted that the 12 per cent national closure rate represented “by far the lowest level of support for any national teachers’ strike since 2010”, although previous walk outs involved more than one union.
He added: “Parents will struggle to understand why the NUT is striking over the Government’s measures to let heads pay good teachers more.
“They called for talks to avoid industrial action, we agreed to their request, and talks have been taking place weekly.
“Despite this – and without the support of any of the other six unions engaged in the talks – the NUT has taken industrial action.”