The “majority” of schools in England and Wales will remain open, the education secretary has claimed, as more than 100,000 teachers joined the picket line for the first time in six years.
Gillian Keegan said on Wednesday that some schools may open with restrictions, while others were open to everyone, but expressed her disappointment that any were closing at all.
Teaching staff are taking part in a day of coordinated strikes involving up to half a million civil servants, Border Force staff and train drivers.
The UK’s biggest teaching union, the NEU, has predicted that 85% of schools will be affected, with one survey suggesting that up to one in seven schools will be closed to all pupils, rising to a quarter in London.
When asked on Wednesday how many schools would stay open, Keegan struggled to estimate how many pupils would not have their education disrupted.
She told Sky News: “We don’t know that, we’ll know later today. We have done a survey that a lot of headteachers have responded to … the majority of schools will remain open. Some will open with restrictions, some will open to everyone. But we’re very disappointed that any are closing.”
Teachers are not required to tell their schools in advance whether they will be going on strike, leaving many parents braced for severe disruption.
Keegan said she had been surprised to learn that teachers were not required to say in advance if they were taking part in Wednesday’s industrial action. She said the legal position would remain “under review”.
“It was a surprise to some of us that was in fact the law. I did write to everybody urging them to be constructive, to let their heads know, and I am sure may teachers will have done that,” she told Times Radio.
“There are discussions around minimum service levels, minimum safety levels, around hospitals around rail – education is part of that bill as well.
“We are hoping not to use that, we are hoping to make sure we continue with constructive discussions and relationships but these things will always stay under review.”
Keegan met four education unions earlier this week, but talks to stop Wednesday’s strike action collapsed. The NEU said it was keen to reopen negotiations to avert strikes planned for later this month and March, even though there appears little hope of a breakthrough, with the Treasury in effect blocking progress.