Unions and headteachers have hit out at school leaders who have “thrown colleagues under the bus” by naming striking teachers in letters to parents or employing agency staff to keep classes open on strike days.
As teachers across the country prepare to strike again this week, local union branches are reminding any staff who are being pressured by unsupportive heads or trust chief executives that they do not have to declare whether they are striking in advance. The National Education Union (NEU) condemned “naming and shaming” those taking action as an “appalling” attempt to put pressure on teachers not to make a stand on pay.
Vic Goddard, co-principal at Passmores academy in Essex, said: “It is unfathomable to me why some leaders have done this. Why would you throw colleagues under a bus, knowing that if you name teachers they will be dragged through social media by some parents?”
Goddard voted for industrial action himself and stressed he did not receive a single complaint from parents about the first day of strike action earlier this month. He said: “I can’t stand by and watch education funding being cut, children being made more vulnerable and being taught by staff without the right qualifications due to teacher shortages. Enough is enough.”
The NEU says the vast majority of school leaders have been supportive of striking staff, with some headteachers giving up a day of their own salary and sharing it among staff who forfeited their pay. Others turned up at pickets with coffee and biscuits.
But Mary Bousted, general secretary of the NEU, said: “There are heads who have been swayed by very heavy guidance from the Department for Education that they must keep schools open at all costs by employing agency staff.”
Some teachers have also complained on social media that their heads have tried to put pressure on them to set online work for strike days.
A teacher at a primary school in the Midlands, who spoke on condition of anonymity, described feeling “very let down” when she and two other striking teachers were named by the head in a letter to parents about which classes would be closed on the first day of strikes.
“I definitely felt exposed,” she said. “I understand the senior leadership team felt the need to tell parents, so there are no moans, but the strike is meant to cause disruption.” The school asked her to declare by Friday if she would be striking this week.
Bousted said such pressure, which is being reported at a minority of schools across the country, was “intimidation and bullying”, adding: “Publishing the names of striking teachers is invidious. It is appalling behaviour. This teacher shouldn’t tell her head anything.”
The head of a primary academy in the north of England, who also asked to remain anonymous, said: “I’ve seen school leaders actively naming and blaming their staff in letters. They are throwing them to the lions. It’s deeply unpleasant.”
He said he also knew heads who had made sure they had covered every class on strike days, going “against the whole spirit of the strike”. He warned that this might backfire, with teachers unwilling to take a job or stay at schools that did not support strikers. He added: “Remember, these teachers are giving up a day’s pay in a cost of living crisis, when they are already struggling, because they feel so passionately that things must change.”
Dan Beeston, a year 5 teacher at Robin Hood primary school in Nottingham, said it meant a lot to find an envelope on his desk before the strike with money in it from the head to buy a coffee or a McDonald’s for the picket.
He said he felt guilty about classes being closed, but added: “Ultimately, I am striking for the children. I see them going without resources and support in school. Cuts have impacted on our classrooms and I had to make a stand.”
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders union, said: “We’ve advised members that however fraught things might feel now, you need to make sure that relationships with your staff are good in the long term. Most have followed that.”