With the Education Secretary attacking Thursday’s teachers’ walkout as “unnecessary and disruptive”, the Prime Minister hails the proposed pensions reforms as fair for employees and taxpayers.
Answering an urgent question in the Commons, Education Secretary Michael Gove told MPs that 3,206 local authority schools and 84 academies were expected to close on Thursday due to the industrial action.
The situation at a large majority of schools in England and Wales is largely unknown, leaving questions about what some have decided to do.
Mr Gove said volunteers who have already been checked by the Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) could be of “particular help” as part of a contingency plan to keep schools open.
Unions say an estimated 750,000 public sector workers will walk out on Thursday in a bitter dispute over pension reform.
Mr Gove said that while the Government was still in negotiation with union leaders, “this strike at this time will not help our schools”.
Rational and reasonable people… will recognise (pension reform) is good for the long-term future of the public sector. David Cameron
The Education Secretary said the action by the National Union of Teachers (NUT) and the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) would cause “massive inconvenience to hard-working families”.
The walkout is “unnecessary, premature and disruptive”, Mr Gove told MPs.
Shadow Education Secretary Andy Burnham said the Government had been “reckless” in dealing with the state pension reform.
Labour leader Ed Miliband said the strike was a “mistake” and urged union members not to walk out, adding that the Government was to blame for “mishandling” the disruption and “botching reform”.
In a separate address, Prime Minister David Cameron told hundreds of thousands of teachers, lecturers and civil servants they were wrong to go on strike.
David Cameron said the changes being proposed for millions of public sector workers were a “good deal”, which would secure affordable pensions for decades to come.
He spoke out as the scale of disruption caused by Thursday’s 24-hour walkout by members of four unions became clear, with thousands of schools, jobcentres, tax offices and courts set to be closed or badly disrupted.
Driving tests will be cancelled and customs checks at ports affected, while picket lines will be mounted outside Government departments.
Addressing the annual conference of the Local Government Group in Birmingham, Mr Cameron said reform was “essential”, warning that the pensions system was in danger of “going broke” unless action was taken because people were living much longer.
The Prime Minister defended the move to increase the pension age as well as contributions, maintaining that the proposals were fair for taxpayers as well as employees.
Negotiations between the Government and unions leaders over changes to pensions will continue into July.
GMB union official Brian Strutton said on Tuesday the Government was offering “nothing on the scope for negotiations”.
“Mr Cameron’s speech doesn’t seem to look beyond the strike this week, yet negotiations continue,” he said. “The pensions for 12 million people are at stake in these talks.”