Strike Season in England and Schools

Teachers will strike in England and Wales on seven dates in February and March 2023 in a dispute over pay.
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WHAT?

Teachers will strike in England and Wales on seven dates in February and March 2023 in a dispute over pay.

WHY ?

Most state school teachers in England were awarded a 5 per cent rise in 2022, according to the Department for Education (DfE), but the National Education Union (NEU) said this rise actually equates to a pay cut because of high inflation rates, so NEU members have voted overwhelmingly to strike to correct “historic real-terms pay cuts”.

WHERE & WHEN ?

The NEU is the UK’s largest education union with 450,000 members. The union announced seven days of strikes during February and March 2023:

  • 1 February: All schools in England and Wales
  • 14 February: All schools in Wales
  • 28 February: North and North-West England, Yorkshire and Humber
  • 1 March: East Midlands, West Midlands, and the NEU’s eastern region
  • 2 March: South-East and South-West England, and London
  • 15 and 16 March: All schools in England and Wales

The NEU says individual schools will be affected for a maximum of four days.

WHO?

The NEU said of the teachers who were balloted, 90 per cent in England and 92 per cent in Wales supported strike action. But head teachers will not strike in England after a ballot by the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) union failed to meet the legally-required threshold of a 50% turnout. The NAHT said it will consider rerunning its industrial action ballot in England due to postal disruption.

The NASUWT also failed to reach the legally required threshold for action. In addition, the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) is deciding whether to ballot members.

School support staff who are members of the NEU did take part in a strike ballot, but the turnout for this vote was below the legal minimum threshold. As a result, support staff will be expected to be in their school if it is open.

Teacher members in sixth form colleges in England, who have already been balloted and taken strike action in recent months, will also take action on these days in a separate dispute.

Staff who are not in the NEU, or who are members of the union but do not want to strike, cannot be compelled to strike.

IMPACT?

There is a direct financial impact for those staff who strike. Any staff involved in a strike day will have one day’s pay deducted. How a day’s pay is calculated is outlined in new government guidance, ‘Handling strike action in schools’. On page 17 it explains that “pay deductions should be made on the basis of 1/365th of their annual salary for each day of strike action”.

The amount that is deducted will depend on the staff member’s salary, and whether they are part-time or full-time. It is worth noting that as pay will be reduced so will national insurance and tax contributions.

The educational impact on pupils, especially given the preceding disruption in education over the last few years due to COVID has seen a lot of media attention. Despite the strikes being planned, the government’s new guidance makes it clear that schools are expected to stay open if possible.

“In the event of a strike, the Department for Education expects the headteacher to take all reasonable steps to keep the school open for as many pupils as possible,” it says.

If a maintained school decides to close, including a partially closure, or moves to online teaching due to strikes, contact the Local Authority as soon as this decision has been made. The LA website will be updated with this information, and the LA may have arrangements in place to inform services like school bus providers.

The school also needs to notify parents as soon as possible with what steps will be taken to manage the strike, so that parents have time to make arrangements.

Schools that are forced to restrict places should priortise the following groups:

  • Vulnerable children and young people
  • Children of critical workers
  • Pupils due to take public examinations and other formal assessments
  • “Headteachers may ask other teachers to cover the classes of those taking industrial action. Where teachers are employed under the School Teachers’ Pay and Conditions Document, however, they cannot be compelled to provide cover for other teachers during industrial action,” it says
  • However, members of staff who are employed to provide cover (for example, cover supervisors) can be directed to cover for their striking colleagues

For maintained schools, there is a legal requirement that lessons are taught by someone with qualified teacher status, meaning most support staff will not be eligible to do this.

But these schools can use support staff to provide “cover supervision or oversee alternative activities,” according to government guidance.

Support staff are also able to carry out “specified work,” provided they are subject to the “direction and supervision of a qualified teacher, and the headteacher is satisfied that they have the skills required to carry out the work”.

It is worth noting that staff members aren’t required to tell their employers whether or not they intend to strike. However, you can ask your staff members in advance whether they plan to strike, to help you plan ahead and it is reasonable to ask this question.

Headteachers should undertake a risk assessment to decide whether or not you can keep the school open and conduct lessons as normal. While there’s no specific legal requirement for a risk assessment for industrial action, you need to make sure that you aren’t risking the health and safety of pupils or staff. The NAHT has provided a checklist of questions for Headteachers to consider ahead of the strikes.

Like any other staff member, headteachers can strike if they’re part of a union that has balloted in favour of strike action. A headteacher could be a member of the NEU. A headteacher on strike should delegate their duties to another member of the SLT. If possible, delegate to a deputy head who already has experience in temporarily taking on the role of headteacher

A change in legislation in July means that schools can now use agency/temporary workers to cover the work of striking employees. This change in legislation allows the school to manage the impact of the strike days more effectively however some agencies say it’s just “not feasible” due to demand as there’s “simply not enough staff available.”

However, there are other practicalities if there are school closures. A school is required to provide free school meals for pupils who are eligible. If it is anticipated there will not be enough staff available to prepare and serve these meals as usual alternative arrangements need to be put in place. Clear expectations to non-striking staff need to be made, so there are no misunderstandings about attendance and / or management of their work with alternative arrangements being communicated.


Remember your staff could be impacted by their child’s school shutting!

Staff may ask if they can bring their child to school. Such a decision rests with the headteacher and governors. This could set a precedent so beware and could result in quite a number of extra children. Risk assessments need to be considered on the impact of allowing this. Staff would have the right to take time off work to help a dependant, such as a child, if normal arrangements are disrupted. But they won’t necessarily get paid under this rule. It may also be possible to have unpaid parental leave. However, this needs to be arranged in advance, and usually taken in week-long blocks.

Morale and wellbeing

Strikes will no doubt be the cause of a lot discussions or whispers in the staffroom and playgrounds across the country. The morale and wellbeing of the whole staff is key for any leader and could be argued by some to be the reason for the strikes in the first place.

The teaching profession will no doubt be in the media spotlight on the days leading up to the strikes as school closures or any changes to the normal school day has a huge impact on the rest of the community, as we have seen during COVID. Remembering all the positive professional and dedicated work by our colleagues and others in the profession is key to manage difficult situations, peoples’ emotions between the staff themselves and with other school stakeholders too.

Please see the DfE updated guidance for school leaders, governors and employers.

As strikes in schools are not common place we would advise that you ask for support from you HR provider with any decisions or particular requests made by individual staff.

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