Teacher strikes

Leaders slam ‘sham’ anti-strike law consultation

Schools given just 150 characters to comment on controversial minimum service level laws, and must pick a preferred option

Schools given just 150 characters to comment on controversial minimum service level laws, and must pick a preferred option

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School leaders have slammed the government’s “sham” anti-strike consultation which forces respondents to pick a preferred proposal and limits comments to just 150 characters.

The Department for Education today published proposals for new minimum service levels in schools which would severely limit the number of staff who could strike.

Unions say the proposals are a “fundamental attack on the democratic freedoms and rights of school staff”. The Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) has “serious concerns” they break international law are “fail to meet human rights obligations”.

The entire way this has been conducted is a shambles

But it has since emerged the DfE’s own consultation does not allow respondents to progress unless they choose a “preferred” MSL proposal – with those that don’t unable to complete the survey.

Respondents are also invited to leave comments in addition to their responses. But some are limited to just 150 characters – and respondents are unable to progress with the survey unless they meet this requirement.

For context, X (formerly known as Twitter) allows 280 characters for a standard tweet.

‘Government by Twitter’

Robert Gasson, CEO of the Wave Education Trust, told Schools Week: “You would have to question whether this is a genuine attempt to get stakeholder feedback. It’s absolutely a sham consultation”.

One question – which is presumably a mistake – even has a limit of just two characters. But typing more than that means you cannot progress.

Another limits a response to 50 characters, but this just asks for a response detailing a year group.

However, Schools Week analysis found three questions limited to 150 character responses, 24 limited to 200 characters and eight limited to 500 characters.

The DfE has two other consultations open at the moment. One is a review on guidance for elective home education, which has no character limit on responses.

The second is around revised guidance on children’s advocacy services, which has a character limit of 1,000 per response.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the NAHT school leaders’ union, said: “These are fundamental democratic, employment and human rights, and restricting the ability to consult properly on this is devastating, frankly.

“You wouldn’t choose to run a corner shop like this, let alone a country, would you?”

Ben Barton, a teacher training leader, added: “Government by twitter. It was ever thus.”

Geoff Barton, ASCL’s general secretary, said he had already received concerns from members about the character limits and “the leading nature of the wording of the consultation”. One had called it a “farce”, he added.

“We’ll be gathering feedback and raising these issues with the DfE. But suffice to say that the entire way this has been conducted is a shambles.”

Respondents must agree to MLS proposals

The consultation allows for respondents to choose they ‘disagree’ with certain proposals.

But at question 21, those filling out the consultation are told to state which of the two options they “prefer” for the MLS requirement.

This relates to either having a minimum service level set at “specific groups” of priority children, or for the MLS to include those specific groups as well as all primary pupils.

But there is no third option to state that you oppose both of the proposals. Answering that question is required to progress through the consultation.

“What you realise is more and more [you go through the survey] the more you’re funnelled into clearly a response you want,” Gasson added.

He had wanted to respond, but didn’t bother given the limitations.

Daniel Kebede, general secretary of the National Education Union, said he hadn’t completed the consultation himself “but I’m hearing the survey is impossible to complete”.

For example, questions 25 to 41 relate to higher education, but require all participants to provide responses.

“This government was never seriously interested in a discussion with the unions, they’ve now extended this to the wider profession.”

He added that the character limits “show that this government does too much business via Twitter”.

“If the government want a two-character answer to the imposition of draconian, anti-democratic legislation then the answer is NO!”

‘Special schools ignored again’

Susan Douglas
Susan Douglas

Leaders also lamented how the specialist sector is not catered for in the consultation.

Specialist schools tend to have lower staff-pupil ratios given the complex needs of their pupils.

Susan Douglas, chief executive of the Eden Academy Trust, added she was “disappointed” that form “hasn’t taken into account the wide variety of speciality settings and their particular circumstances.”

She added it also “doesn’t allow for nuance in terms of a response. It’s really bad.”

Gasson added it just “once again, ignores alternative provision”.

The DfE was approached for comment.

Update: Following our story, the DfE has resolved the issues and said any respondents are able to complete the survey again

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