Unions and principals have hit out at school principals who “threw 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 unions are reminding any staff under pressure from unsupportive heads or trust managers that they do not need to declare if they are striking in advance. The National Education Union (NEU) has condemned the “naming and shaming” of those taking action as a “disgusting” attempt to pressure teachers not to take a stand on pay.
Vic Goddard, co-headteacher at Passmores Academy in Essex, said: “It’s beyond me why some leaders have done this. Why would you throw colleagues under a bus, knowing that if you name teachers, some parents will drag them on social media?”
Goddard himself voted in favor of industrial action and stressed that he had not received a single complaint from parents about the first day of strike action earlier this month. He said: “I cannot stand by and watch education funding being cut, children becoming more vulnerable and being taught by unqualified staff due to teacher shortages. That’s enough.”
The NEU says the vast majority of school principals have supported striking staff, with some principals giving up a day of their own pay and sharing it with staff who lost their pay. Others appeared in pleats with coffee and cookies.
But Mary Bousted, general secretary of the NEU, said: “There are heads who have been influenced by very heavy-handed instructions from the Department for Education that they must keep schools open at all costs, employing office staff.”
Some teachers have also complained on social media that their heads tried to pressure 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 disappointed” when she and two other striking teachers were named by the head in a letter to parents about which classes would be closed the first day of strikes.
“I definitely felt exposed,” she said. “I understand that the senior leadership team felt the need to tell parents, so there is no grumbling, but the strike is intended to cause disruption.” The school asked her to declare by Friday whether she would be on strike this week.
Bousted said this pressure, which refers to a minority of schools across the country, was “bullying and intimidation”, adding: “Publishing the names of striking teachers is insidious. It’s awful behavior. That teacher shouldn’t say anything in her head.’
The head of a primary academy in the north of England, who also asked not to be named, said: “I have seen headteachers actively naming and blaming their staff in letters. They throw them to the lions. It is deeply unpleasant.”
He said he also knew of heads who have made sure every classroom is covered on strike days, going “against the whole spirit of the strike”. He warned that this could backfire, with teachers unwilling to take jobs or stay at schools that do not support the strikers. He added: “Remember, these teachers are giving up the living wage in a cost-of-living crisis when they’re already struggling because they feel so passionately that things need to change.”
Dan Beeston, a year five teacher at Robin Hood Primary School in Nottingham, said it meant a lot to find an envelope in his desk before the strike with money from the head to buy a coffee or a McDonald’s for the bag.
He said he felt guilty about the closure of classes, but added: “Ultimately, I’m striking for the children. I see them go to school without resources and support. The cuts affected our ranks and I had to be placed.”
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “We have made it clear to members that however unpleasant things may feel now, you need to make sure your staff relationships are good for the long term. Most have followed it.”