Some schools are likely to be closed in Wales next week as thousands of teachers and staff in Wales go on strike. Members of the National Education Union (NEU) are striking on February 1 and 14, and on March 15 and 16 in a row over pay and conditions.
Both the NEU and NAHT, two of the UK's biggest teaching unions, voted in favour of strike earlier in January. NAHT has yet to announce any dates but NEU members will strike on February 1 and 14, and on March 15 and 16.
Unions have been in talks with Welsh Government which has offered staff a one-off payment in addition to last year's 5% across-the-board offer, but unions say this is unlikely to prevent strikes taking place. Teachers in Wales calling it an "insult", and say real-term reductions in pay over the years have led to a recruitment and retention crisis with schools struggling to cope with higher workloads and unable to recruit enough staff.
With the first day of strike action just days away, schools and local councils are currently reviewing whether or not they will have enough staff to remain open. Mr Miles has said schools should aim to give parents one week's notice of any planned closures, so we are likely to get a fuller picture of how the strikes will impact schools in the coming days. Here are five things we know so far about teachers' strikes in Wales.
School closures are likely
Minister Jeremy Miles said this week he believes the strikes will cause some schools to close in Wales. Speaking on BBC Wales Politics he said the "exact number" of schools set to shut was not yet known but that he expected some to do so. "Over the past week the unions have been telling schools the number of members they have in a particular school and now heads are looking at provision," he said.
"Most authorities generally want to give around a week's notice to parents of what that will mean in schools. They will need to make judgements at a school level with local authorities around whether schools are staying open or closing."
Asked if he expects some schools to be closed, Mr Miles replied: "Yes, I think that's going to happen." With schools aiming to give as much notice as possible, announcements on school closures are likely to be in the coming days.
Online learning is possible
With some schools likely to be closed, attention has turned to whether there will be any teaching provision at all for pupils who cannot attend school. Asked by WalesOnline in a press conference on Tuesday, Mr Miles said he expected some form of online learning available but that this was likely to be heavily impacted by the number of those taking industrial action.
Mr Miles said headteachers would be "erring on the side of caution" as they will know the number of staff who will not be working, but not necessarily who those staff are. He said schools would be looking at options and that online learning was on option which would be considered, adding: "I do expect to see that happening next week." However, it is up to each individual school and council to decide its own arrangements for any teaching on strike days.
Vulnerable learners and exam-year students will be prioritised
Mr Miles said that any teaching which does happen on strike days will be limited, given the number of staff likely to be on strike. He said any provision would be focused on "vulnerable children" and pupils sitting exams, so if any teaching does happen, these groups are likely to be the ones prioritised. He added on Tuesday that "there are obviously limitations at to what other teachers can be asked to do, so that will be a strong practical limitation" on delivery of classes on strike days.
Some parents will face a dilemma
Strike days are also likely to impact parents with children on strike days, especially those who work in key sectors or who cannot easily stay home. Mr Miles conceded this was a "worry" for any parents who could lose out on income due to strikes, although even those who can go to work may have to fork out extra money for childcare on those days.
"It is a worry that parents will have to take time off and, in some cases, lose pay themselves," he said in response to a question at Tuesday's press conference. Mr Miles said this was particularly worrying during the cost of living crisis which is already putting considerable strain on household finances. He said the lack of previous Covid legislation which gave greater parental protection during the pandemic had since been repealed, meaning there might be little financial recourse for those who lose out on strike days.
The impact of strike action might be more severe at the start
As with any strikes, the actual impact of the action is not likely to be known until the first day it takes place. Mr Miles said that due to the fact schools do not actually know which individuals will be striking, the first strike day on February 1 threw up a lot of uncertainty and potential for disruption. But he said schools may have a clearer idea of how they can operate on strike days once the first day has happened, as that will be an indication of the resources they will have on future dates. "It may be the case if there is further action that there will be more certainty on what that looks like in schools," he said.