Tens of thousands of teachers across England and Wales will strike over three days this week in the long-running dispute over pay.
Teachers will walk out across the north of England on Tuesday with the majority of schools expected to either restrict access to some pupils or fully close, the National Education Union (NEU) has said.
Education Secretary Gillian Keegan has called strike action “unforgivable”, adding that children deserve to be in class, especially after the pandemic.
Teacher members of the NEU are set to strike in the Midlands and eastern regions in England on Wednesday, and further walkouts will take place across Wales and the south of England on Thursday.
Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the NEU, told the PA news agency: “I think across the three days we will have 200,000 members taking strike action.”
The country’s largest education union has had 50,000 new sign-ups since the strikes were announced six weeks ago, he added.
Speaking ahead of the strikes in the north of England, Mr Courtney said: “I think a majority of schools will be affected by the dispute. Some of them with full closures and many more with partial closures.
“Some secondary schools will be completely closed, others will have particular year groups in and a similar pattern in lots of lots of primary schools.”
Picket lines will be mounted outside schools in regions including the North West and Yorkshire and the Humber on Tuesday, and rallies will be held in Manchester, Leeds and Newcastle.
Some parents will be forced to take leave from work, or arrange alternative childcare, as a result of the regional walkouts across three days this week.
In a message to parents, Mr Courtney said: “We really do sincerely apologise for the disruption to their children’s education on our strike days, and to the disruption to their working lives and home lives.
“But we do believe we’re taking action with a moral purpose of trying to get the Government to invest in their children’s education.”
Last week, Ms Keegan invited the teaching unions to “formal talks on pay, conditions and reform” on the condition that NEU strikes were suspended.
The NEU has called on the Education Secretary to drop preconditions to talks and instead make a “serious” offer on pay to avert national walkouts from taking place across England and Wales on March 15 and March 16.
Mr Courtney told PA: “I think the Government is fundamentally mistaken in thinking that industrial relations are solved by telling people you can’t go on strike if you want to talk to us.
“We are willing to meet at any time, any place and we would really hope that she does meet with us after these regional strikes and comes up with something serious that is an offer that we can put to members.
“That’s what we would want in an ideal world, to find a solution that means we don’t go ahead with those strikes in March.”
In a statement on Monday evening, Ms Keegan said: “As a government, we have made a serious offer to the leaders of the National Education Union and Royal College of Nursing: pause this week’s strikes, get round the table and talk about pay, conditions and reforms.
“It is hugely disappointing the NEU has thus far refused this serious offer and has not joined the Royal College of Nursing in calling off strikes.
“Instead of sitting round a table discussing pay, the NEU will once again cause disruption for children and families.
“Children deserve to be in school, and further strike action is simply unforgivable, especially after everything children have been through because of the pandemic.”
On February 1 – the first day of walkouts by NEU members – the majority of state schools in England were forced to shut their doors to some pupils.
Department for Education (DfE) data suggested that 44.7% of state schools in England were open but restricting attendance and 9.3% were closed.
Only 17.4% of secondary schools reported being fully open during the teacher strikes, compared with 52.1% of primary schools.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “It is likely that the impact will be largely similar this week.”
He added: “We are very disappointed that the Government has failed to find a solution to the dispute and has instead played political games.
“It has presided over real-terms cuts to pay and the chronic underfunding of schools over the past decade. It is these factors which have led not only to industrial action but to a severe shortage of teachers, which damages educational provision every day.”
Teachers in the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) and NASUWT unions will also start a fresh wave of national strikes on Tuesday.
Last week, the majority of teachers and school leaders in Northern Ireland took part in a 12-hour strike in a dispute over pay.
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