England’s largest academy trust has vowed not to issue work orders to striking staff if “inflammatory” and “self-defeating” new strike laws are implemented in schools.
United Learning, which runs 89 schools and employs over 7,000 staff in the state sector, said leaders recognised enacting minimum service levels would “damage industrial relations and harm their image as an employer throughout the sector”.
This would make it “impossible to retain the goodwill and discretionary effort of staff; harder to retain staff; and the reputational impact would make it harder to attract new staff”.
“In the end, this would have a more negative impact on children and parents than the strikes themselves.”
The trust has published its stinging response to the government’s consultation, which proposed laws allowing schools to keep staff in work to educate certain groups of pupils during industrial action.
It said the proposal was “wrong in principle and in its details and likely to be self- defeating in practice”.
Employers would not be required to issue work orders, and United Learning said it was “inconceivable that any employer will in fact choose to do so”.
The trust pointed to a memorandum the government issued when the legislation was being enacted for the transport sector.
In it, government admitted the “large number of employers in the education sector would also likely make minimum service arrangements difficult and very burdensome to implement”.
United Learning warned the “impression is of a concept designed for rail strikes being clumsily retrofitted to schools”.
Unions have already savaged the plans for MSLs, with ASCL warning they would put leaders in the “impossible position” of being expected to enact legislation that will cause “irreparable harm”.
The Confederation of School Trusts has also warned its members fear MSLs will “undermine” rights to freedom of association, “particularly for special school and primary staff” and have a “severe and deleterious impact on good industrial relations”.
It follows more than 10 days of strike action in schools last year in a dispute over teacher pay and working conditions.
‘Can’t be coherently applied to schools’
United Learning said that, “on the whole”, employers “deplore strikes and think they are harmful to children and to a key public service as well as inconvenient to parents”.
But the trust said its own “strong opposition to anything that disrupts children’s education is, however, an inadequate basis for denying others the right to withdraw their labour”.
They added that the concept of a minimum service level was “not one that can coherently be applied to schools”.
“There is no ‘level’ of service, less than normal provision, which must unarguably be maintained at all times, as there is for some other public services.”
The trust added that categorisations used during Covid were not “appropriate” for industrial action.
Using vulnerable pupils as a definition for a minimum service also “risks beginning to imply that the education of some pupils is more essential than others. This is a harmful view”.