Teacher strikes

Teacher strike: Pressure warning, guidance clash and 30k join NEU

Here’s what you need to know about developments this week

Here’s what you need to know about developments this week

Teachers are due to walk out on Wednesday in the first national strike in more than six years. As schools and the government prepare, here’s what you need to know about developments this week.

Over 30k join NEU before strikes

Since the vote to strike, around 32,000 people have joined the National Education Union – and the vast majority are teachers.

Strike rules mean anyone who is an NEU member by the time of the action can go on strike. As can school staff who do not belong to a union.

However staff in unions that failed in strike votes cannot join industrial action.

The NEU said the growth in members “should worry the government. Our argument is cutting through”.

‘Don’t pressure staff to cross picket lines’

Staff should not be put under pressure to work on strike days or to cross picket lines, the NAHT and National Education Union (NEU) have told their members in a call for unity.

Teachers are under “no obligation” to provide advance notice that they plan to strike, and the unions have agreed that “school leaders will not put staff under pressure to do so”, joint guidance says.

However, it is “also recognised that school leaders have a duty to carry out a risk assessment in advance to assess whether a school can be kept open or partially open”.

“We jointly agree that no pressure should be placed on staff to attend work on a strike day or to cross a picket line.”

The guidance followed reports of rising tensions between teachers and leaders.

Support staff union clashes with DfE over cover

Unison, which represents more than 200,000 support staff in England’s schools, has issued guidance that seemingly clashes with advice from the DfE.

The union’s members should “continue with their normal duties”, but should “not take on any additional responsibilities being given to them directly as a result of other unions’ industrial action”.

Support staff “should not be expected to provide cover for, or take classes, where this would normally be done by teachers who are taking action”, the union said.

But in its guidance the DfE said that schools could use support staff “to provide cover supervision or oversee alternative activities”.

“Support staff are able to carry out ‘specified work’ provided they are subject to the direction and supervision of a qualified teacher.”

Ofsted U-turns on strike day inspections

Schools will not be inspected on days when teachers are due to go on strike.

Previous guidance stated that strikes would be treated similarly to other disruption. Inspectors would “take a view as to whether there is sufficient activity taking place to enable it to conduct an inspection”, and “likely” defer if there wasn’t.

But Ofsted said this week it would schedule inspections and notifications of inspections to avoid strike days in February. The policy will be reviewed ahead of further planned walkouts in March.

On the days where strikes are limited to certain regions, inspections will continue as normal elsewhere.

NAHT will re-ballot its members

The NAHT school leaders’ union will re-ballot its members for industrial action, its leader confirmed this week, after its previous vote failed to reach the turnout threshold.

The organisation said last week that it was considering going back to its membership after just 42 per cent of eligible members voted in its last ballot, short of the 50 per cent required by law.

On Wednesday Paul Whiteman, its general secretary, confirmed the union was “committed to balloting again”, although it would wait until talks with the government either ended or broke down.

The union also this week criticised a DfE request to heads for information on whether their schools would open on strike days. Whiteman said heads were unlikely to know the impact of the walkouts at this stage.

Keegan challenges NEU over strike vote

Gillian Keegan, the education secretary, has questioned the NEU over the timing of its announcement of its strike ballot and how it informed schools.

Keegan asked the union to clarify when employers were told about the results, which were announced to members and the wider public at 5pm last Monday during a live Facebook event.

The union said it had informed the DfE of the results “shortly before 5pm” on January 16, and the department “then informed schools (and hence employers) that the ballot results would lead to strike action” in a post on its Education Hub blog.

It then wrote to “all relevant employers” the following day.

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