Ministers are set to introduce minimum service levels in schools and colleges, in a move branded as an “overtly hostile act that attacks the basic democratic freedoms of school leaders and teachers” by education unions.
The Department for Education said the proposals will “put in place protections for children, young people and parents to ensure education can continue during any future strike action”.
Education secretary Gillian Keegan has written to union leaders inviting them to discuss proposals on a voluntary basis in the first instance.
DfE said “she is clear” that should a voluntary agreement not be reached, the government “is committed to using powers” granted through the controversial Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Act introduced earlier this year.
This would lead to a consultation and is “expected to include a range of models” for minimum service levels in education.
It follows more than 10 days of strike action in schools this year in a dispute over teacher pay and working conditions. Government says 25 million school days were lost cumulatively.
Keegan said: “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.”
‘Overtly hostile act’
But unions have reacted with fury to the news.
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said “the move 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.”
Daniel Kebede, National Education Union general secretary, said they “strongly oppose” the plans, adding: “We do not acknowledge the validity of MSLs given their impact on the fundamental right to strike, therefore we do not believe this is an appropriate topic for the government or Department for Education to regulate.
“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.”
Geoff Barton, general secretary of heads’ union ASCL, said this is “nothing more than an attempt to distract from her department’s own shortcomings”.
He added it was “unimaginable that there will any agreement over legislation that involves removing the basic rights of employees. Industrial action is only ever taken as a last resort, when all other options have been explored.”
The government first proposed minimum service levels last year. It has consulted on introducing them in ambulance, fire and rail services.
Earlier this year, heads told Schools Week any plans to introduce them in schools would be “nonsensical”.