Up to 7,800 schools – educating more than two million children – will either shut or partly close today as a result of the first national strike by teachers for more than 20 years.
Figures for the number of schools facing widespread disruption grew yesterday as it became clear many authorities in London would see almost all of their schools closing. In addition, Leeds, Cardiff, Bristol and the more rural areas of Suffolk and Cumbria have indicated that most of their schools will either shut or send whole year-groups home.
A plea to councils by the Schools Secretary, Ed Balls, backed by Gordon Brown, to do everything in their power to keep schools open appears to have had little effect. Earlier in the week it had looked as if the damage might be limited to just three or four thousand of the 24,000 state schools in England and Wales.
Headteachers and council officials say that it would not be safe to keep children on the premises if the majority of their teaching staff are out on strike.
The figures are based on returns from 132 of the 175 local authorities in England and Wales to the BBC.
The strike was roundly condemned by the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives. David Laws, for the Liberal Democrats, said: "I do not support this strike. I am concerned it will damage the education of children at a key time." Thousands are approaching national curriculum tests next week.
Nick Gibb, for the Tories, added: "It is deeply regrettable that so many children will have their education disrupted by this strike, especially as the pay deal was recommended by an independent panel and accepted by the other teaching unions."
Jim Knight, a Schools minister, said parents were "bewildered" by the strike as the average salary for a teacher was £34,000 a year.
Meanwhile, the British Chambers of Commerce estimated the one-day strike would cost £68m in lost working hours as parents were forced to give up work to look after their children. It urged both sides to negotiate an end to the dispute.
The teachers are objecting to a 2.45 per cent pay increase but say they would settle for 3.8 per cent.