Thousands of schools closed, but teachers pass on picket duties
It was the most disruptive teachers’ strike in over a decade, with thousands of schools across the country shutting their doors and many pupils returning to online learning.
Yet sparse picket lines on Wednesday suggested that the extent of support from teachers for the action was not as significant as feared.
More than half of schools in England were fully or partially closed on the first of seven days of strike action planned by the National Education Union (NEU) in February and March, according to official figures.
Teachers were not obliged to inform schools if they were striking, meaning many had decided to close their doors preemptively.
But photos of cars parked outside closed schools, such as St David’s High School in Saltney and Blacon High School in nearby Chester, suggested many had turned up for work.
Iain Mansfield, a former government special adviser who is the head of education at the Policy Exchange think tank, said schools might have closed “unnecessarily" because of uncertainty about how many teachers would go on strike.
“Schools are a core public service and parents need to know in advance if their child will be able to attend school,” he added.
A spokesman for UsforThem, a campaign group, said parents were “dismayed to see children out of school again”.
The NEU claimed schools that were largely closed had decided not to hold picket lines, and that there “remained a great deal of support for today’s action”. Photos shared on social media, however, painted a different picture.
The union commended a young worker from Barton Court Grammar School in Canterbury, Kent, who appeared to be the only person to turn up to the school’s picket line.
“Alana knew the fight was too important not to have a picket. Alana, you are a credit to the NEU and your members,” it wrote on its official Twitter page.
Another photo posted to the NEU’s official Twitter account showed just one supporter picketing outside Camden School for Girls, in north London. Others showed a handful of union members on picket lines.
At four primary schools in Wandsworth, south west London there were no placards or picketing teachers to be seen at what would have been school drop-off time. The local chapter of the NEU said members had focused on leafleting Tube stations before joining a demonstration in central London.
By mid-morning in Chester, in the North West, not one picket line was to be found outside almost a dozen schools.
Some schools that are part of academy trusts joined together to form pickets. Georgia, a 26-year-old teacher at Churchill Gardens Primary Academy in Pimlico, joined the picket outside Pimlico Academy along with other members of staff.
“For a small school, we’ve had a good turnout of staff,” she said. “I work with teachers who have been in the profession for five, 10, 15 years. I’ve seen the devastating impact the lack of funding has had, which is why I’ve come out today.”
Marches organised by the NEU also took place around the country on Wednesday, including in London, Nottingham, Cornwall, Leeds and Cambridge.
There was frustration among parents as many only found out on Wednesday morning whether their children would have to stay at home because teachers were not required to declare in advance if they were taking part in the strike.
Asya Cannur, a mother of three from London, told The Telegraph she only received a text message from her youngest son’s school to say he would have to stay at home at 8.50am.
Ms Cannur, who works as a hair specialist, said: “I didn’t cancel my morning client, so my little boy had to entertain himself for an hour and a half while I worked.”
She said she was worried about further disruption to her children’s education following the “damaging and disruptive” online learning that took place during Covid lockdowns.
School leaders reported using support staff and supply agency staff to cover lessons for those pupils who were in, while others combined classes.
A spokesman for the NEU said: “Union groups will have made their own decision about whether to hold a picket line, depending on how many NEU members there are in a particular school.
“Where schools were largely closed, schools groups will have decided not to hold picket lines. Others will have made the decision to go directly to the numerous rallies around the country. As the pictures demonstrate on social media and the news there is a great deal of support for today’s action.”