Rishi Sunak vows new talks after chaos hits most schools

Rishi Sunak promised new talks with unions after a series of coordinated strikes that led to the closure of schools and the halting of rail services on Wednesday.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said the government had already had some “constructive” talks with union leaders, but needed to “balance” their demands with “the need to be fair to taxpayers.”

His comments came as strikes by members of the National Education Union (NEU) led to the partial or full closure of more than half (54 percent) of schools in England, according to data from the Department for Education (DfE).

Around half a million public sector workers went on strike in the most significant day of industrial action in a decade.

Based on data submitted to the DfE by 77 percent of public schools in England, 45.9 percent were estimated to be fully open, 44.7 percent open but with restricted attendance and 9.3 percent they were closed during teachers’ strikes.

The strike came after talks with Education Secretary Gillian Keegan on Monday failed to find a solution to a dispute over wages. The NEU has demanded a pay increase above inflation, alleging that years of real pay cuts and a lack of investment have left the industry struggling to retain teachers and provide quality teaching.

Kevin Courtney, NEU’s assistant general secretary, said he believes “more than 200,000” members organized strikes on Wednesday, adding that the strike has been “really effective.”

Reacting to the strikes, Downing Street said: “As we have seen from the IMF this week, inflation is one of the biggest risks to people’s pay packages and the government will continue to take responsible steps to ensure public sector workers receive a fair wage.” but that is also affordable for the taxpayer”.

Some schools closed their doors to all students due to the strike, while others opened for vulnerable students and children of critical workers.

Many schools partially opened to students, with priority exam year groups.

A separate survey by the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), of 948 head teachers in England and Wales, mainly in secondary schools, found that 97 per cent said teachers were on strike at their workplace.

Among the 920 surveyed sixth-grade schools and colleges where teachers were on strike, 80 percent said they were partially open with some students on site and 9 percent said they were fully closed during strikes.

Ms Keegan said on Wednesday: “One school closure is too much and it remains deeply disappointing that NEU has proceeded with this disruptive action, but many teachers, principals and support staff have shown that the education and well-being of children they should always come first.

“Discussions with unions are ongoing and I will continue discussions on wages, workload, hiring and retention, and more.”

Meanwhile, a separate industrial action by the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union and Aslef saw the cancellation of most train services throughout Wednesday. A new strike will take place on Friday.

Network Rail (NR) said it had made a “recently revised” offer to RMT, which the union said it would consider in the coming days.

NR said the new elements of the offer included an increase in London allowances for those currently on, or transitioning to, different contracts.

Bus services in London were also affected by the strike, as around 1,900 Unite members walked out, with strikes also expected on Thursday and Friday.

The TUC also staged a series of protests against the government’s controversial plans for a new law on minimum service levels during strikes. Thousands marched on Downing Street and gathered in demonstrations in other towns and cities to protest what unions have called the “anti-strike” bill. It would require minimum levels of service from ambulance personnel, firefighters and railway workers during strikes.

Elsewhere, up to 100,000 members of the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union organized a strike at government departments, the Border Force, museums and other government agencies.

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