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War of words ahead of Thursday’s strikes

Teaching unions have reacted with fury to ministerial suggestions that parents look after pupils in schools during the mass strike on Thursday to lessen the economic impact of thousands of parents having to take time off work.

The Government is angry that teaching and other public sector unions have called the walk-out over pensions despite the fact that negotiations are ongoing.

Education Secretary Michael Gove (pictured) called in a letter to schools for parents to volunteer to keep schools open so they could perform their childcare function, if not their full teaching role. He also said the strikes will reduce parents’ respect for teachers.

But Mary Bousted, the head of the historically moderate Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), told the Guardian newspaper: “The threat to get parents to cover teachers is just ludicrous; the idea that children can usefully spend time in school being baby-sat ups the ante even more. This is inflammatory and it is inept. Michael Gove’s intervention is further evidence of ineptitude and cack-handedness.”

Mark Serwotka, head of the more militant Public and Commercial Services union (PCS), which is also set to strike on Thursday, said ministers will have “the shock of their lives” when the industrial action begins, adding: “It is just the beginning unless the talks develop. Our task is to attend those meetings, represent our members, but to organise for a sustained battle.”

Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude has questioned the legitimacy of the teaching strikes due to low turn-out in the ballots – which the unions, in turn, said was comparable to the turn-out in the recent AV referendum.

He said: “I can assure the public now that we have rigorous contingency plans in place to ensure that their essential services are maintained during the strike action on Thursday.”

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