Teachers at sixth form colleges across England walked out of work today amid a bitter dispute between unions and the government over pay and conditions.

Members of the National Union of Teachers (NUT) who work in sixth form colleges were involved in today’s industrial action, but it is not yet known how many walked out or whether any sixth form colleges were forced to close.

But thousands of pupils were affected as around 6,000 schools in England closed for the one-day action, the Department for Education has conceded.

Sixth Form Colleges’ Association director of HR services Graham Baird told FE Week: “Having spoken to a number of principals the initial feedback we are getting is that sixth form colleges are operating on a business as usual basis without too much disruption. We will be getting more information shortly.”

Christine Blower, general secretary of the NUT, which joined Unison, Unite, the Fire Brigades Union, Public and Commercial Services Union and the GMB (Britain’s general union) out on strike today, said: “Thank you to all the teachers who took strike action today alongside five other public sector unions. We know this is not a decision that was taken lightly.

“Extraordinarily the government’s response to today’s action has been to completely ignore the issues and instead seek to reduce people’s right to strike. There is no point pontificating on the fact that citizens have the right to strike if every time they do so they are vilified.

“It is a clear indication that this government does not want to listen to our concerns, nor do they want them drawn to the general public’s attention.

“The reason why this dispute is so long running is due to the absolute failure of this government to engage in any meaningful discussions on the main issues of our dispute. The responsibility for today’s action lies fairly and squarely at the door of government.

“It is high time that we saw some significant movement. Teachers love their jobs but unless their concerns on pay, pensions and workload are addressed teacher recruitment will certainly become an issue.”

The strike was organised in response to government plans to change pay and conditions for teachers and other public sector workers.

Speaking to the first Education Reform Summit, Education Secretary Michael Gove said: “Of course, any change to the status quo is difficult. Of course, people can be more frightened of what might be lost than inspired by what might be gained.

“But for years, for decades, our status quo has simply not been good enough. We can’t, and we mustn’t, keep going backwards — and failing the poorest above all.

“So to those striking today — to those walking out of classrooms to take to the streets — I urge them to reconsider.

“The unions, in the past, have claimed to ‘stand up for education’. Today they’re standing up for their own pay and pensions.

“I urge them to join all of us in this hall, all of us who are really standing up for education — putting education first and foremost — and the education of our most deprived children most of all.”