Teachers in England will strike on Thursday in a long-running dispute over pay.
Tens of thousands of teacher members of the National Education Union (NEU) are estimated to walk out of schools and sixth form colleges across England, with another day of action scheduled for Tuesday.
The “majority of schools” are expected to either restrict access to pupils or fully close as a result of the strikes, the NEU has said.
Many secondary schools in England are expected to prioritise Year 11 and Year 13 students during the strikes as GCSE and A-level exams are weeks away.
The NEU has issued guidance which says it will support arrangements during the strikes that “provide the minimum level of teaching staff needed” so GCSE and A-level students can attend school for revision activities or exam practice.
He told the PA news agency: “Obviously, there is still disruption and we’ve fully acknowledged that and regret it, but we’ve taken those steps on the dispensations to try and assuage that concern as much as possible.”
Picket lines will be mounted outside schools across England on Thursday, and rallies are due to be held in Oxford, Keynsham and Dunstable.
The NEU is planning a total of five days of teacher walkouts during the summer term – with three of the dates yet to be announced – after members overwhelmingly voted to turn down the Government’s pay offer.
Mr Courtney told PA: “If there was any chance of other unions balloting for action in this term then we want to coordinate that.”
The Government offered teachers a £1,000 one-off payment for the current school year (2022/23) and an average 4.5% pay rise for staff next year following intensive talks with the education unions.
Four education unions – the NEU, the NASUWT teaching union, the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) and the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) – have rejected the pay offer.
The decision on teachers’ pay in England for next year has been passed to the independent pay review body, the School Teachers’ Review Body (STRB).
He said: “The Secretary of State is currently just abdicating her responsibilities, washing her hands of it and saying it’s just up to the STRB.
“That doesn’t resolve the issue. It doesn’t attempt to avoid our strikes this term and I think it’s unlikely to resolve the issue with the other unions as well.”
Schools in England could face further walkouts in the autumn as the NEU will re-ballot its teacher members on further industrial action later this year.
Teachers in England represented by the NASUWT union will be re-balloted on strike action, and the ASCL is due to hold a formal ballot for national strike action in England for the first time in its history.
The NAHT is expected to announce whether they will re-ballot their members over possible action at the union’s annual conference in Telford on Friday.
Mr Courtney said: “The NEU action has had a very big impact, but more unions organising the same group of workers, also taking action on the same day, would increase that impact.
“And it’s not just impact in schools on the strike days, but it’s the impact on parents and parental opinion around the strikes. If I was Government, I’d be very worried about that.”
Members of the NEU went on strike across England on February 1, March 15 and 16, and regional walkouts took place between February 28 and March 2.
During the national strikes in March, DfE data suggests that 47% of schools in England were open with restricted attendance and 6% were fully closed.
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said: “While it’s difficult to predict the exact impact of strikes in schools this week, there is likely to be significant localised disruption.
“School leaders will be considering what approach to take for those schools and pupils affected based on their individual circumstances and risk assessments. We know that some secondary schools have plans to prioritise exam years.”
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said: “School leadership teams will put on provision as far as this is possible during strike days.
“Decisions will be made on the grounds of educational and safeguarding priorities, which in many cases will include exam year groups as well as vulnerable children. The level of provision will ultimately depend upon staff availability.”
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Any strike action is hugely damaging. We have made a fair and reasonable pay offer to teachers recognising their hard work and commitment.
“Thanks to the further £2 billion we are investing in our schools, next year, school funding will be at its highest level in history.”