Teacher strike: Will schools close and why are teachers striking?

The teacher strike could impact millions find out more here

Teacher strike illustrated by girl with hand up in class
(Image credit: Getty images)

Teacher strike: two words parents dread for fear of school closures, especially as children are still adapting to the fallout of Covid and the disruption this had on education across the board.

It's no secret that teachers have a tough job to do, spread thinly across a class of 30 children. And, from whispers of a 4-daywork week (opens in new tab), whether the school day will be extended (opens in new tab) and if they'll receive a fine for taking children out of school (opens in new tab) now parents are wondering daily about a potential strike and what that could look like for them and their family.

The National Education Union (opens in new tab) (NEU) has announced strike ballot dates for teachers and support staff in ongoing pay dispute.  Joint general secretaries of the NEU, Kevin Courtney (opens in new tab) and Dr Mary Bousted (opens in new tab) tell Schools Week (opens in new tab); “Our members are reluctant to strike – they want to be in school teaching children – but they have been undervalued for too long.”

Teacher strike and what it means

NEU - the largest education union in Europe, with over 450,000 members across England, Wales and Northern Ireland - has warned that potential teacher strikes could happen as early as 30th January 2023; a mere three months away. They said teachers' "strength of feeling" over pay and workload should not be underestimated.

An unprecedented 98 percent of teachers in the National Education Union (NEU) voted yes to a fully funded, above-inflation pay rise. A huge majority (86 percent) indicated they would be prepared to strike.

On the 28th October the union will open the formal postal ballots - closing them on January 13th. A postal ballot is a formal vote, where members vote by marking a box on a voting paper and return it in a prepaid envelope. It must be open to all members that the union wants to take action, according to Gov.uk (opens in new tab). The union can only call on members to take action if a majority of members who voted were in favour of that particular action. The formal ballots will ask members: “Are you prepared to take strike action in furtherance of this dispute?” 

Kevin Courtney and Mary Bousted confirmed that pay and workload “lay at the root of a recruitment and retention crisis that should be of deep concern to the government, but about which they have been completely ineffective”, according to TES magazine (opens in new tab)

A Department for Education (opens in new tab)spokesperson said: “It is incredibly disappointing that some unions are threatening industrial action in schools. Strike action will damage children’s education and disrupt parents’ lives. Given the impact of the pandemic on children, it’s more important than ever that strike action is avoided.

“We have confirmed the highest pay awards for teachers in a generation - 8.9 percent for new teachers and five percent for experienced teachers and leaders - recognising their dedication and hard work.”

Will teacher strikes cause schools to close?

In the event of strike action at a school, the DfE expects the headteacher to take all reasonable steps to keep the school open for as many pupils as possible, according to the 'handling strike action' handbook on Gov.uk (opens in new tab). The last time schools closed unexpectedly was following the death of the Queen in September 2022.

The document provides advice on keeping schools open on strike days, and explains the law on trade disputes and picketing.

  • In the event of strike action at a school, the Department for Education expects the headteacher to take all reasonable steps to keep the school open for as many pupils as possible.
  • The decision to open, partially open, or close a maintained school is for the headteacher. The decision for academies rests with the academy trust, but is usually delegated to the principal.
  • It is best practice for headteachers to consult governors, parents and the Local Authority, academy trust or diocesan representative (where appropriate) before deciding whether to close. 
  • Headteachers are entitled to ask staff whether they intend to strike.

Though as yet, there has been no formal line from the DfE on whether schools will close as a result of the potential strikes that look set to start in January 2023.

When was the last teacher strike in the UK?

2008 saw the last national teacher strike, it was over teachers’ pay and took place when the Labour government was in power. College lecturers and civil servants joined in a “day of discontent” over public sector pay.

At the time the NEU (then the National Union of Teachers, which later combined with the Association of Teachers and Lecturers) was protesting a 2.45 percent pay deal. After the initial one day strike, the NUT called off further strikes. It claimed a majority 51.72 percent vote for “discontinuous strike action” was too narrow to provide a real mandate.

After years of falling wages, cuts to school budgets, unsustainable working conditions and ongoing staff shortages, educators seem to be taking matters into their own hands. 

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