Schools told to raid own coffers to get pupils to exams during rail strike

DfE says schools are 'best placed to prioritise their spending to support their pupils and students' during biggest rail strike in 30 years

DfE says schools are 'best placed to prioritise their spending to support their pupils and students' during biggest rail strike in 30 years

school funding

Schools have been told to raid their own coffers to support exams students affected by this week’s train strike to get to school.

The RMT rail union confirmed today that industrial action over pay, jobs and conditions will go ahead as planned tomorrow, on Thursday and on Saturday. There will also be a strike on the London Underground tomorrow.

The strikes coincide with GCSE and A-level exams, with several papers scheduled to be sat on Tuesday and Thursday.

Although the vast majority of children travel to school by car, bus or on foot, many use trains, especially in urban areas.

National travel survey data estimates that 4 per cent of trips to school for 11 to 16-year-olds were made by surface rail, though this figure was 2 per cent in pre-pandemic 2019.

In an email to headteachers today, the DfE said students and staff who travel by train “may be understandably concerned about the impact of the industrial action – particularly if they are due to take or oversee exams”.

The DfE said schools should draw on “existing contingency arrangements to manage any disruption, including late arrival of staff or students”, and referred schools to Joint Council for Qualifications guidance on exams.

This outlines existing “additional flexibility around invigilation numbers and published start times, which could be used if an invigilator is delayed by transport disruption”.

Use ‘core funding’ to help exams students, says DfE

For students who will “struggle to afford” alternative travel for exams, the DfE said schools were “best placed to prioritise their spending to support their pupils and students and can consider making available funding for pupils and students who may require it”.

“For example, by using core funding or, for post-16 students, using the 16-19 Bursary Fund to support alternative travel for pupils and students.”

It comes as two teaching unions renewed warnings that they would ballot for industrial action if larger rises are not offered.

Chief secretary to the Treasury Simon Clarke appeared to rule out inflation-related rises for public sector staff in an interview with the Today programme today.

The Consumer Prices Index rose by 7.8 per cent in the 12 months to April 2022, and there is some suggestion inflation could climb as high as 11 per cent.

But Clarke said it was “not a sustainable expectation that inflation can be matched in payoff”.

In its evidence to the School Teachers’ Review Body, which is expected to report its recommendations to government next month, the DfE proposed rises of 16 per cent over two years for the lowest-paid teachers, to meet its pledge of a £30,000 starting salary.

However, most teachers and leaders would receive smaller pay rises of 3 per cent next year and 2 per cent the year after under the proposals.

Teachers threaten strike ballot over pay

Both the National Education Union and NASUWT teaching union voted at their annual conferences earlier this year to put strikes on the table.

The NEU has now said that unless it receives a pay offer closer to inflation by Wednesday, it will ballot its members for action, while NASUWT will ballot if the government “does not deliver pay restoration for teachers”.

Covid strike exams
Dr Patrick Roach

Dr Patrick Roach, NASUWT general secretary, said the country faced an “existential emergency for the future of the teaching profession”.

“If the government and the pay review body reject a positive programme of restorative pay awards for teachers, then we will be asking our members whether they are prepared to take national industrial action in response.”

Education secretary Nadhim Zahawi told the Sun earlier this month that children had been “exceptionally resilient these last few years and are bouncing back with the help of our tutoring programme and amazing schools”.

“It would be such a crying shame if the trade unions were to prevent young people getting back on track just to suit their political ends.”

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