Schools to be shut by head teachers' strike

Most primaries and many secondaries face closure on 30 November day of action

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The Independent Online

Head teachers are to go on their first-ever national strike, closing almost all of the country's primary schools and hundreds of secondary schools, their leader predicted last night.

Schools throughout England, Wales and Northern Ireland face the threat of closure on 30 November – the day of a scheduled strike by public-sector staff and civil servants against plans to cut their pensions, Russell Hobby, the general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), said in an interview with The Independent.

Members of the union are incensed about the proposals, which would mean increased contributions and a cut in pensions for most heads, as well as the long-term prospect of a higher retirement age. The result of the ballot will be revealed this afternoon, with a Yes vote marking the first national strike in the union's 114-year history.

The action will be a blow to the Government, which had hoped the revised offer it made just over a week ago would take some of the heat out of the demands for industrial action.

Mr Hobby said last night: "If I had to predict it, it would obviously be a Yes vote. No union has so far voted No and the majority of votes were cast before the Government's revised offer.

"We're stronger in the primary sector and most primary schools would shut" in the event of a strike.

He indicated his members were still unhappy with the revised offer because only those due for retirement within the next 10 years would keep their pension entitlement. "Tactically, that move was very clever in terms of them regaining some of the moral high ground, but it only protects 50 per cent of our membership who will retire in the next 10 years. We're faced with deciding: do we care more about our older members? Anyway, some of our older members have said they still would say Yes because they want to protect the entitlement for the education service."

Mr Hobby said he would give the Government up to a week after the declaration of the vote to see if it was prepared to enter into more meaningful negotiations over its proposals before confirming the strike would take place. But some hardliners within the Conservative Party have suggested that ministers had already gone too far in their offer to the unions.

Head teachers and their deputies are the only employees who can legally take responsibility for the safety of children, so if they strike the schools must shut. The NAHT said last night it represented 85 per cent of primary schools and 40 per cent of secondary schools in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, but Mr Hobby argued the union had "strength beyond our numbers" in terms of the impact the strike would have.