Teacher strikes planned for this week are set to go ahead as no progress has been made in negotiations over pay.
More than 23,000 schools across England and Wales will be affected as teachers walk out in a series of strikes planned across February and March.
The first national strike took place on 1 February 2023 as representatives from the National Education Union (NEU) demanded better pay and working conditions.
A planned strike by teachers in Wales on 14 February was postponed while it considered a pay offer made by the Welsh government, but the NEU rejected the pay offer of an extra 1.5% on this year’s 5% pay award, as well as a 1.5% one-off payment, and has rescheduled strike action in schools across Wales for 2 March.
The NEU said last week it was “prepared to recommend a pause to strikes” to its national executive committee on Saturday (25 February) in a “sign of goodwill”, but only if a “serious proposal” is made to end the dispute. The union said it is not expecting any developments and that the strikes remain in place.
Education Secretary Gillian Keegan had written to teaching unions inviting them to “formal talks on pay, conditions and reform” on the condition that next week’s strike action is cancelled.
Regional walkouts by NEU members are planned for 28 February, 1 and 2 March, with national strike action across England and Wales planned for 15 and 16 March.
In Scotland, teachers who are members of the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) and National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT) are striking nationally on 28 February and 1 March.
Dr Mary Bousted and Kevin Courtney, joint general secretaries of the NEU, said: “It is completely disingenuous to suggest that we are not willing to enter talks with government.
“We are absolutely ready to come to talks. What we cannot accept are pre-conditions which require us to pause strike action before we have made any progress through negotiations to resolve this dispute.”
As thousands of schools will be affected by the walkouts, here’s what parents and carers need to know.
Will schools still be open?
When teachers strike, headteachers or local authorities who manage the school decide if the school stays open and will take steps to keep the school as open and functional as possible.
Some schools may have little to no impact, and usually, schools will let parents know how they are being affected. However, if parents have any concerns, they should contact the school directly.
However, teachers don’t have to say if they are striking in advance and there are no rules about when parents must be told about closures.
Some carers may only be told about a closure on the morning itself, once heads know which staff are available but agency staff and volunteers can be used - and the curriculum does not need to be stuck too.
The NEU is required by law to provide schools with the number of members that it is calling on to take strike action in each workplace, but the union does not have to provide the names of members.
Like in England, headteachers decide if schools stay open but the Welsh government says parents should ideally get a week’s notice. Although individual schools must decide how best to minimise the impact of the strikes.
Almost all primary and secondary schools will be closed on strike days as the local councils decide on the closures.
Can parents and carers get time off work?
In England, Wales, and Scotland, parents and carers have the right to take time off to look after "family and dependants", which includes emergency childcare - but this might be unpaid. Alternatively, annual leave or unpaid parental leave can be taken.
Will free school meals be provided?
It is an individual school’s responsibility to decide whether to provide free school meals, the Local Government Association said.
Some schools are opening for children who receive benefits-related free school meals. Others are providing packed lunch kids can pick up the day before a strike.
The Department of Education (DfE) said children entitled to free school meals who are being educated remotely in such instances should be provided with a “good quality lunch parcel”.
In Scotland, some families were given money to cover food costs, while others were offered a packed lunch.
Will breakfast clubs, after-school clubs and pre-schools be affected?
Even if schools decide to stay open, staff will be stretched, and clubs provided by the school may be closed if they cannot open safely.
DfE guidance says: "The staffing ratio, if no teacher is present, may be 1:8 if at least one member of staff holds a full and relevant level 3 qualification and at least half of all other staff hold a full and relevant level 2 qualification.
"For children who normally attend reception class or older, there must be sufficient staff for a class of 30 children."
However, it is vital to check as this may vary from school to school.
What about vulnerable pupils and key workers’ children?
Schools have been asked to stay partially open for certain groups, such as the children of key workers, among others and schools in England should prioritise staying open for these groups of children.
Wales’ education minister says headteachers are doing "whatever they can" to support these groups.
Will exams be cancelled?
All schools and colleges should have contingency plans and should prioritise exams and other formal assessments on strike days, even if the school is closed to other pupils.
School leaders who fear strikes could cause disruption should consult exam boards, according to guidance for England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Some Scottish prelim exams were rescheduled due to strikes. The DfE guidance states: "It is recommended that centres should remain open for examinations and examination candidates where possible, even if the school is closed or restricting attendance."