One in seven children at closed schools received no education on Wednesday, head teachers revealed as the Government faced increasing calls to crack down on unions’ strike powers.
Hundreds of thousands of pupils whose schools were closed to some or all year groups on Wednesday were not given any work to do at home, a survey of head teachers suggested.
The majority of state schools in England and Wales were fully or partially closed because of teachers’ strikes.
Gillian Keegan, the Education Secretary, said the strike action was “deeply disappointing”. She had urged schools to do everything they could to keep classrooms open for children whose education has already been blighted by Covid disruption.
However, a poll of almost 1,000 head teachers by the Association of School and College Leaders found one in seven schools that fully or partially closed did not provide work for pupils to complete at home.
Teachers’ industrial action was co-ordinated with walkouts by university staff, rail workers and civil servants to create one of the biggest strikes in a generation.
The Department for Education said 45 per cent of schools in England were closed to some pupils and a further 9.3 per cent were fully closed. The disruption was worst in secondary schools, where 83 per cent of schools were closed to some or all pupils.
Parents were forced to take the day off work to look after children as head teachers decided to close schools in advance because of uncertainty about how many teachers would arrive at work.
Ministers are now considering closing a loophole in trade union legislation that means that teachers do not need to tell their bosses if they intend to strike.
Under strike laws set out in the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992, the National Education Union (NEU) must notify schools of how many teachers at each are members.
However, head teachers cannot demand to know which members of staff these are, and members do not have to tell their managers if they intend to strike. This meant some schools assumed a worst case scenario in terms of teacher numbers and told parents they would have to close because of uncertainty about whether staff would arrive.
Mrs Keegan said she had been “surprised” to learn that teachers were not required to give advance notice if they were taking part in the strike.
Asked whether teachers should be stripped of their powers to withhold their intention to strike, a Downing Street spokesman said the legal position would remain “under review”.
John O’Connell, the chief executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: “While teachers have a right to strike, hard-working parents still need to plan their days. Industrial action should come with clear guidelines on how it will impact households.”
Andrew Lewer, a Conservative MP who sits on the education select committee, said: “I think the Secretary of State’s call for teachers to give forewarning before going out on strike is a sensible one, and there is much merit in looking at legislating to this effect in order to minimise the damage strikes cause to our children’s education.”
The Government risks creating more tension in the battle with the NEU if it pursues a change in legislation.
Kevin Courtney, the union’s joint general secretary of the NEU said: “We already have the most stringent trade union laws in Europe. These laws are designed to reduce the voice of working people at work.
“The NEU along with the TUC [Trades Union Congress] will defend the rights of all workers to be able to exercise their right to strike, without intimidation, in defence of their working conditions and rights.
“Number 10, instead of engaging in these distractions, should be investing in this generation of children and our country’s future.”