LATEST - Schools to close in strike action

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AT LEAST two of Harrogate’s state secondary schools will close on Wednesday, as teaching unions go on strike in a dispute with the Government over pensions.

Rossett School will shut for the day, while Harrogate Grammar School will be closed to all pupils - except Year 11 students sitting mock-GCSEs.

A decision has not yet been made at St Aidan’s, while Harrogate High School and St John Fisher could not be reached for comment on Friday afternoon.

A spokesman for one union said the strike would be far larger than the action in June, which affected all five of Harrogate’s state secondary schools.

More than 20 unions are taking part in the strike on Wednesday, including teaching unions the NUT, ATL and NASUWT.

Council services like planning, environmental health, leisure facilities and libraries will be affected, though a spokesman for Harrogate District Hospital said the impact there would be “minimal”.

George Dobson, North Yorkshire branch secretary at the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), said: “It will have a much bigger effect this time. In June, some schools closed and some operated part-time - there was a fair amount of disruption at Harrogate High - but others didn’t because though the NUT and the ATL went on strike, the NASUWT didn’t.

“This time they are doing and caretakers and support staff will be on strike, as they are part of Unison.”

But he added that the ATL does not force its members to strike, leaving the decision down to individuals, an approach shared by the National Union of Teachers (NUT).

Paul Busby, the North Yorkshire secretary of the NUT, said: “It’s not a three-line whip and even then it depends on whether the headteacher is in the mix as to whether the school is actually open or not. As a professional union, teachers have a right to decide for themselves: it is up to them to take strike action.”

Chris Keates, general secretary of teachers’ union NASUWT, said: “NASUWT members will stand shoulder-to-shoulder with all public service workers who have also voted for industrial action on November 30 in the fight for pensions justice.”

A spokesman for North Yorkshire County Council said: “We have now received confirmation that all unions locally will be on strike, including the teaching unions. This means that there are likely to be school closures across the county. We will not know until early next week the extent or location of these.”

There was a 78 per cent majority, against a 29 per cent turnout, in Unison’s ballot of strike action.

Mark Harrison, a regional officer at the union, told the Advertiser: “There will be considerable disruption in the area as the day of action takes place. This will have an effect across the entire district, because we have members across the district.”

He said Unison would give exemptions “if it’s life or limb” and Harrogate Borough Council has asked if staff working at a cemetery or crematorium, on the out-of-office emergency team, in CCTV or at emergency planning can be excluded from the strike.

A Harrogate Council spokesman said: “We are expecting everything else to be affected to some degree - and some services will be closed.”

David Houlgate, secretary of the Harrogate local government branch of Unison, said: “The national strike is going to be on quite a grand scale. How that affects Harrogate, I don’t know. Harrogate is not renowned for its militancy, but this is a very emotive issue.”

Harrogate District Hospital spokesman Chris Watt said: “There will be minimal disruption, and we have a plan to cover all eventualities.”

The NASUWT will begin separate “action short of strike action” on December 1, in what they say is a bid to “protect educational standards”.

The county council said it would update information about school closures at www.northyorks.gov.uk