Schools minister Nick Gibb and shadow education secretary Lucy Powell will address teachers in Liverpool next week as the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) meets to agree its priorities for the next year.
Mr Gibb is being sent to the event in place of education secretary Nicky Morgan, who was invited by union leaders but cannot attend. It is the second time she has declined an invitation by the union to speak at its conference since she was appointed in 2014.
The appearances by both politicians on Monday come at a key moment for education policy, with plans to turn all schools into academies by 2022 having been announced by the government in the budget and set out in more detail in its educational excellence everywhere white paper.
It is understood members will have a chance to question both Mr Gibb and Ms Powell about their priorities for schools and colleges.
A government spokesperson confirmed Ms Morgan had been invited but could not attend due to “other commitments”, adding: “Minister Gibb will be speaking at the event and is looking forward to engaging with delegates.”
Ms Morgan’s appearance last weekend at the National Association of Schoolmasters and Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT) conference in Birmingham sparked widespread media interest after she was heckled and laughed at by delegates.
Despite the headlines, however, the education secretary, who was the first Conservative secretary of state to address the event since 1997, faced a predominantly polite audience and was applauded as she left the stage.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, on the other hand, was given two standing ovations when he made a historic appearance at the National Union of Teachers (NUT) conference in Brighton last Friday. It is thought to have been the first time a party leader has ever addressed the conference, and his request to speak is being taken by some in the union as a signal of stronger support for its aims.
All eyes will be on the ATL next week, following a decision by the NUT to explore a possible merger between the two unions, and a motion that commits the NUT to a ballot of members over potential strike action in response to the government’s plans to convert all schools into academies.
No motion on either professional unity or the white paper has been published in the ATL’s agenda, but it is possible for the union to put an emergency motion on the table. Details are expected to emerge as the event gets underway.
Follow @SchoolsWeekLive for live updates from the conference on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.