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TENS of thousands of teachers launched three days of strike action today in their continuing battle for fair pay and funding for schools.
National Education Union (NEU) members mobilised on picket lines and in regional protests and rallies in northern England while Education Institute of Scotland (EIS) and NASUWT members struck in Scotland.
They went ahead despite a government attempt to blackmail education union leaders by telling them talks could take place on pay – but only if the strike action was suspended.
Education Secretary Gillian Keegan, whose government has overseen education funding cuts which have seen schools fall into disrepair and unable to replace staff who leave, called the strike action “unforgivable.”
The NEU outright rejected the government’s attempt to bully teachers into suspending the strikes in return for pay talks.
It called on Ms Keegan 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 15-16.
The three-day rolling programme of strike action saw teachers in northern England mobilise today in Yorkshire and the Humber, north-west and north-east England, while strikes will hit the Midlands and eastern regions on Wednesday and Wales and the south of England on Thursday.
Hundreds of schools were closed or partially closed today.
NEU joint general secretary Kevin Courtney said: “I think that we will have 200,000 members taking strike action across the three days.”
He also said that since the dispute began six weeks ago another 50,000 teachers had joined the union.
Teachers staged rallies in Manchester, Leeds and Newcastle today.
An estimated 3,000 teachers left their picket lines in the Yorkshire and Humber region to rally in Leeds.
After gathering in front of the city’s art gallery in the Headrow they marched through the city centre for a rally in Millennium Square where Mr Courtney was among the speakers.
In a message to parents before the strike, 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.”
In a joint statement today Mr Courtney and NEU joint general secretary Mary Bousted said: “Our members have sent another strong message to government that burying its head in the sand is a tactic that will not work.
“It is with great regret that we are having to take strike action at all.
“However, years of underfunded pay increases have pushed the profession to its limits.
“Gillian Keegan needs to start proper negotiations with all education unions.
“Playing politics and offering nothing upon which to base talks is not a serious approach to this dispute. The Secretary of State knows this.
“We reiterate once again that we are willing to enter negotiations at any time.
“Teachers want to be in the classroom not the picket line. The Education Secretary needs to withdraw her unnecessary pre-conditions and get around the negotiating table.”
The Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) and NASUWT resumed strike action north of the border today in a two-day walkout in their long-running dispute over pay after rejecting the Scottish government’s latest offer.
The offer announced by Scotland’s Education Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville earlier this month would award teachers earning up to £80,000 a 6 per cent pay rise from April 2022, and then another 5.5 per cent from the start of the 2023 financial year.
Glasgow EIS vice chair Aisling Gallagher said: “Teachers in Scotland are sick and tired of the Scottish government and Cosla wasting our time with last minute offers meant only to derail our strikes rather than settle this pay claim and get us back into our classrooms.
“Their refusal to negotiate in good faith is straight out of the UK government handbook on worker relations and speaks to a poor understanding of our resolve as trade unionists.
“We are clear in our demands and we won’t back down.”
The Scottish government maintains that the 10 per cent demanded by teachers and their unions is unaffordable.
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