STRIKING teachers from schools in the Wellington and West Somerset areas were today attending a trades union rally being held in Taunton.

The strike by members of the National Education Union (NEU) appeared to have had a mixed effect on schools with some open as usual, some partially closed, and some completely shut today.

NEU regional officer Lisa Spencer said the impact on Somerset schools would have been greater than headteachers wanted to admit publicly.

Ms Spencer said: "Most schools were partially closed with quite a lot of full-school closures. I think there were very few schools that did not feel an impact.

"What I saw today was the level of public support for the picket lines with literally every other car honking their horns, and that does not usually happen."

NEU regional secretary Hannah Packham said the numbers of teachers on strike was greater than first anticipated because the union had seen a rush of new members in the time since it held its ballot on industrial action.

Ms Packham said: "We have had unprecedented numbers of picket lines today and thousands marching through the streets of Bristol."

Nationally, more than 100,000 teachers were thought to be taking part in the union’s first all-out industrial action for seven years.

The rally in Taunton, which was taking place in the Temple Methodist Hall, attracted hundreds of teachers, many of whom were also on picket lines outside schools today.

In Wellington, Court Fields School headteacher Polly Matthews said contingency plans were in place to ensure students were able to continue their learning.

But Mrs Matthews said only pupils in years seven and 10 were attending school today, because the age of younger students impacted most on parents in terms of childcare and because the older group had been the ones most affected by Covid-19 self-isolations.

Those in years eight and nine were being taught online at home with live lessons from those staff who were still in school, and year 11 students who have GCSE examinations this summer were revising at home with online support from staff in school.

Mrs Matthews said there was also provision available for vulnerable students and those with education health and care plans, as well as those with parents who were ‘key workers’.

NEU TUC teachers strike rally schools Somerset
Striking NEU attended a trades union rally in Taunton today. (NEU Somerset)

Exmoor Federation interim executive headteacher Keith Mansell said classes were ‘open as normal’ and children were being taught in All Saints Church of England Infant School, Dulverton Junior School, and Little Owls Nursery.

Ms Packham, who joined picket lines and rallies today, said she believed parents understood how ‘persistent underfunding’ of schools and colleges affected their children’s education.

She said: “This strike should not be necessary and we regret the disruption caused to parents and pupils, but our aims are in the interests of everybody in the education community.

“Our members are taking a stand today for a fully-funded, above-inflation pay rise because the profession cannot go on like this.

“The Government cannot expect strikes to be averted unless it brings forward concrete proposals for increasing pay.

“Experienced teachers have seen a 23 per cent real-terms pay cut since 2010.“Given the current cost-of-living crisis and rising inflation, this is clearly an unsustainable situation for our members.

“The Government appears to have nothing to say to them. 

“As well as allowing the profession to haemorrhage talent, the Government has missed its own targets for recruitment by an enormous margin and has done so for many years.”

Today was the first of seven days of industrial action in February and March announced by the union, although the NEU said no individual school would be affected more than four times.