Teachers' strike could shut down thousands of schools
Walkout over pension changes could lead to closure of up to 20,000 primary and secondary schools in England,
Monday 27 June 2011
Teachers' strike could lead to mass school closures in England affecting millions of children. Photograph: Geoffrey Swaine / Rex Features
About 17,000 schools in England could be affected by the planned strike by teachers protesting against changes to pensions.
The National Union of Teachers estimates that up to 85% of England's 20,000 primary and secondary schools will be either closed or partly closed on Thursday, sending millions of children home.
Some councils have also indicated that they are expecting high numbers of closures.
In Sefton, Merseyside, about 60 schools will be closed, or shut to certain classes, while in Warrington the same number will be shut or partly shut. In Knowsley, about 27 schools are closing their doors, while a further 31 will be partly closed.
Almost half of schools in Southampton are expected to be closed, the city council said. In Barnsley the council said that 53 out of 80 schools were due to close.
The University and College Union (UCU) said it is expecting "significant disruption" at around 350 colleges and 75 universities.
The UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: "Staff in further education colleges and universities will be walking out on Thursday because they recognise the unfairness of the government's proposals.
"This is a government that has already presided over an increase in the income of the richest 1,000 people by 18%, yet still has the nerve to call hard-working teachers' pensions gold-plated."
Teachers and lecturers are protesting against proposed pension changes, which they say will lead to them working longer, paying in more and receiving less when they retire.
They are due to be joined on the picket line by other public sector workers striking against cuts to jobs and services.
A suggestion by Michael Gove, the education secretary, that parents could volunteer to keep schools open has been attacked by a headteachers' union.
The National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), which is balloting members for a strike, said pupils could be put at risk by the use of volunteers. If heads vote in favour, they will walk out in the autumn.
Gove has written to schools urging them to "consider the full range of local resources available to them, both from within the school staff and the wider school community to ensure that wherever possible they remain open".
Gove told BBC1's Andrew Marr Show the government would "do everything possible to make sure schools stay open" with arrangements which could see "parents going in to help".
Russell Hobby, general secretary of the NAHT said: "We would strongly advise our members not to accept voluntary help to cover for absent staff this Thursday.
"When qualified staff are present, the voluntary help of parents is a very welcome contribution to schools and something to be very much encouraged. However, where qualified staff are unable to supervise them, the presence of voluntary, temporary helpers can have very serious implications for the safety and wellbeing of pupils."
Hobby said that volunteers might not be aware of evacuation procedures in an emergency, guidance on physical contact with pupils or how to restrain an unruly child.
Hobby said: "Pupils are not in schools to keep them off the streets. They are there to be educated and protected. If he values children, Mr Gove will understand that it isn't enough to invite anyone who fancies it, whether they are appropriate or not, to act as guardians for the day."
Penny Darragh, an employment lawyer at Dickinson Dees, said that a criminal record check would be needed for any volunteer working with children unsupervised.