Children across England and Wales are waking up to disruption as teachers stage a one-day walkout in a ongoing row over pay, pensions and working conditions. Members of the National Union of Teachers (NUT) are joining other public sector workers including firefighters and civil servants in the national strike.
The action has been condemned by the Department for Education (DfE), which said that the move would disrupt pupils' education and damage the reputation of the teaching profession. More than 200,000 teachers could take part in the action, according to the NUT.
The union's general secretary, Christine Blower, said: "Teachers deeply regret having to take strike action. We are aware that this causes problems and disruption for parents and carers. However, despite months in talks with Government officials, the real issues of our dispute over pay, pensions and conditions of service have not been addressed.
"Teacher morale is at a low ebb. Thousands of good, experienced teachers are leaving or considering leaving their job and a teacher shortage crisis is looming. Ofsted itself says that two in five teachers are leaving the profession in their first five years. This is a very serious state of affairs and is a direct result of this Government's policies."
She said that union members have concerns over current working hours, the Government's plans for performance-related pay, which will see wages linked to performance in the classroom, and reforms which the NUT says will mean teachers working longer and receiving less when they retire. A DfE spokeswoman said: "There is no justification for further strikes. The unions asked for talks, we agreed to their request and talks are ongoing. Ministers have also met frequently with the unions and will continue to do so.
"Further strike action will only disrupt parents' lives, hold back children's education and damage the reputation of the profession." She added that the "vast majority" of teachers and school leaders are hardworking and dedicated and insisted that the Government is giving the profession more freedoms and cutting paperwork and bureaucracy.
Ahead of the walkout, Emergency Childcare said that it had seen a 70% rise in bookings as of lunchtime on Wednesday. This is compared to bookings for an average Thursday. Andy Major, operations manager for the childcare service provider, said: "Working parents have been severely affected by the strike and while some employers will allow their staff time off, many employees simply need to be at work so they have no other option but to call us."
The NUT's dispute, which has been going on for more than two years, focuses on three issues - changes to pay, pensions and working conditions. Last year, the union staged a series of regional strikes with the NASUWT teaching union. Between them they represent the vast majority of teachers.
A proposed one-day national walkout in November by the two unions was called off and the NUT held a national one-day walkout without the NASUWT in March. The union also called off a one-day stoppage at the end of last month.