Teachers and school leaders have reacted angrily to a Government announcement that minimum levels of service are to be introduced during education strikes.
Education Secretary Gillian Keegan has written to union leaders inviting them to discuss proposals on a voluntary basis, but added that the Government was committed to use powers granted through recent legislation aimed at providing minimum levels of service (MSLs) in a range of sectors including the railways and fire service.
She said: “Last year’s school strikes were some of the most disruptive on record for children, and their parents. We cannot afford a repeat of that disruption – particularly as schools and teachers continue to work so hard to help children recover from the pandemic.
Last year, school strikes resulted in 25 million school days being lost cumulatively.
Children should not have to suffer a repeat of this disruption.
I’m announcing that we will introduce minimum service levels in schools so that pupils get the education they need and deserve. pic.twitter.com/BJyY0nBIEA
— Gillian Keegan MP (@GillianKeegan) October 20, 2023
“I am asking the teaching unions to engage with us and agree to put children and young people’s education first – and above and beyond any dispute.”
Daniel Kebede, general secretary of the National Education Union, said his union did not acknowledge the validity of MSLs given their impact on the “fundamental right to strike”.
He added: “The Government, led by a Prime Minister not elected by the public and who has just had two historic by-election losses, has no democratic mandate to implement such an attack on our democratic freedoms.
“The Government would get further in minimising industrial action and disruption to schools if it engaged with unions on the issues that give rise to ballots.
“Pay, workload and the recruitment and retention crisis will remain lightning-rod issues for our members until the Education Secretary brings forward positive and substantial change.
“Gillian Keegan should turn her attention to the fact that every day in schools a level of service well below what should be expected is experienced by children and young people.
“Parents and students should not have to tolerate inadequate SEND (special educational needs and disabilities) provision, crumbling school buildings, a lack of school funding resulting in cuts to subjects offered, larger class sizes and schools being forced to use teachers who are not qualified to teach a given subject. These are the consequences of 13 years of Conservative education policy.”
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, which represents the majority of school leaders in England, said: “This is nothing short of an overtly hostile act from the Government and an attack on the basic democratic freedoms of school leaders and teachers.
“At a time when the Government should be building bridges with the profession, the timing of this couldn’t be worse. Not only are the Government’s proposals for minimum service levels fundamentally undemocratic, they are utterly unworkable in a school setting.
“There are a range of very basic questions that the Government seem to have not even considered, let alone are able to begin to answer.
“The contempt that this Government has shown for workers and their representatives is astounding.
“The Government says it wants to enter talks with unions about this but sees attention-grabbing headlines as more important than constructive dialogue. When it comes to industrial relations, this Government simply doesn’t seem to know what it’s doing.”
Regulations are expected to be announced soon on a minimum level of service during rail strikes.
Unions are strongly opposed to the new legislation, which Labour has pledged to repeal if it wins the next general election.