Teacher strikes: Unions slam government over minimum service level plans

Unions are strongly opposed to the new legislation, which Labour has pledged to repeal if it wins the next general election. Credit: PA

Teachers and school leaders have hit out at the government announcing 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 she 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.

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.

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.

“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.”

Education Secretary Gillian Keegan. Credit: PA

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."

Paul Whiteman general secretary of National Association of Head Teachers, said that far more investment is needed. Credit: PA

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."

He continued: “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.”

Credit: PA

Patrick Roach, general secretary of the NASUWT, said: “At a time of a worsening teacher recruitment and retention crisis, when school buildings are collapsing and riddled with asbestos, and when pupils with special education needs are unable to access the specialist support they need, the government is continuing to fail our children and young people."

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know...