UNION leaders in Bournemouth and Poole have reacted angrily to education secretary Michael Gove’s call to parents to help out in schools during Thursday’s planned strike.

Yesterday the government minister suggested parents enlist to help out stricken schools and give children something constructive to do, adding that it would save working parents a fortune. But union leaders in Dorset slammed the proposal, claiming it lacked common sense and would cause a “safeguarding nightmare”. Phil Jacques, Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) secretary for Bournemouth, Poole and Dorset, claimed implementing the plan would be a “licence for paedophiles”.

“Teachers and other adults working in schools have to have a Criminal Records Bureau check, to avoid the risk,” he said. “That’s something that takes time. I’m sure any risk would be very low, but do we want to take that risk? It would be hard to safeguard and what would be the purpose? They would just be babysitting pupils.”

Geoff Cooke, Dorset secretary of the National Union of Teachers, claimed: “The government are scratching around and trying to scaremonger in an effort to undermine what’s happening on Thursday.

“This is something someone’s said without thinking it through. How on earth, even if any schools were able to stay open, would they be able to safeguard people coming on site? I think head teachers are more sensible than that.”

Head teacher of Bournemouth School Dr Dorian Lewis said encouraging parents to come in and help out was not a practical solution to preventing schools from closing on Thursday. The East Way grammar school has decided to close its doors to years seven, eight and nine, but will remain open to the sixth form.

Dr Lewis explained a significant factor in the school’s decision was the impact of the strikes by other schools on the childcare arrangements of his staff.

“The pupils wouldn’t be given any real teaching,” he added.

Head teacher of Bournemouth School for Girls, Alistair Brien, said the school would be “open as usual” for years seven to nine, but some disruption to pupils’ learning was inevitable.

The national walkout is in protest at proposed changes by the government which teachers claim will leave them working longer, and receiving less when they retire. Much of the controversy has focussed on teachers’ pensions, which the unions say are self-financing and do not depend on taxpayers’ money.

Public opinion remains divided with some claiming the strikes will cause widespread disruption, particularly among working parents, and will damage the reputation of the profession.

But Dr Lewis said parents were generally sympathetic.

“Parents generally are supportive of the principle [of the strike],” he explained. “It’s more about the inconvenience it’s going to cause them.” He added that there were around 3,300 teachers in Dorset and half were expected to strike.

Mr Jacques said it was the first time in 127 years that his union had decided to strike, which he explained was indicative of the strength of feeling. Bournemouth Borough Council’s director of children’s strategic services, Neil Goddard, said: “Responsibility for managing and strike action and informing parents rests with individual schools. Bournemouth Borough Council would therefore advise parents to contact schools directly to ascertain if there will be any closure.”

Mums and dads are unimpressed

THE planned strikes have been widely criticised by members of the public interviewed by the Daily Echo, writes Daniel Bone.

Anne Brown, an ex-teacher, said she “certainly wouldn’t have done it”, while Clive Stallard, a local mechanic, thought the strikes were “a bit pointless” and would not help the teachers to “achieve their goals of getting better pensions”.

Edel Ashton, an assistant manager, thinks the strikes will be “more trouble than they’re worth”, saying she felt for families across the UK that would have to deal with “a lot of problems as a result”.

A local ex-teacher who preferred not to be named believes the changes, including the pension reforms and increase in retirement age, are “necessary” as part of the government’s austerity measures.

“They need to face up to the 21st century and live with the changes,” she said. “The public pensions have been generous for years now, especially compared to those in the private sector, and I think private sector workers will be pretty peeved at the attitude of the unions.

“Also, people are living longer, so it is logical to extend the retirement age, so I don’t believe there are enough reasons to strike.”

Gareth Phillips, a sales adviser, said schools closure would be “a nightmare” for families.