Use Covid-style measures during strikes, DfE tells schools

Government publishes updated guidance after NEU wins ballot for industrial action in England

Government publishes updated guidance after NEU wins ballot for industrial action in England

16 Jan 2023, 17:58

Schools are being asked to prioritise attendance for certain groups of pupils and “consider” remote education during strikes, after the country’s largest education union won a ballot for industrial action.

The Department for Education has updated its “handling strikes action in schools guidance”.

It comes after the National Education Union announced it had passed the legal turnout threshold for national teacher strikes in England.

The NASUWT teaching union has also announced it will re-ballot members after its ballot missed the turnout requirement. The NAHT, which also fell below the threshold, is considering doing the same.

Here’s a round-up of the key bits (starting what’s changed in the update first).

1. Prioritise key groups like during Covid IF you have to close …

The DfE expects heads to “take all reasonable steps to keep the school open for as many
pupils as possible”.

But if the numbers of staff on strike means they need to “temporarily prioritise places” then schools should apply the “emergency planning and response guidance” where vulnerable children and children of key workers (like during Covid lockdowns) are in school.

Schools should also “consider” prioritising pupils due to take public exams and other formal assessments. They are encouraged to review contingency plans “well in advance” of each exam series. 

2. … and consider remote education, too 

Although there’s no legal requirement to teach the curriculum on strike days, schools “should consider, where possible” providing remote education if attendance is restricted.

The DfE directed schools to the providing remote education guidance drawn up during the pandemic.  

Good practice is considered to be three hours a day on average for key stage 1, four hours for key stage 2 and five hours for key stages 3 and 4.

If they go ahead with remote education, schools should work with their catering teams or food provider to ensure that children on free school meals receive a “good quality lunch parcel”.

3. Make sure tutoring happens

The DfE said tutoring remained key in helping pupils catch up on lost learning during the pandemic.

So schools should “take all reasonable steps” to ensure scheduled tutoring sessions can go ahead during strike days. 

But if there’s no alternative but to cancel, schools should follow the National Tutoring Programme guidance (see here). 

4. Schools can use agency staff under new laws

The updated guidance highlights that it is “now possible for employers to
engage with agency staff to replace the work of those taking official strike action” – after a law change last year.

Such usage would likely prove highly controversial, however. 

Schools Week previously reported how some supply agencies had warned there were not only too few teachers available to fill in as hoped for by government – but also that they would not provide workers on principle.

5. Heads can ask other teachers to cover

While staff are not required to tell their employees whether they intend to strike, schools can ask staff in advance so they can plan.

The guidance says heads can ask other teachers to cover classes of striking staff, however they can not be compelled to provider cover if they are employed under the School Teachers’ Pay and Conditions Document.

Cover supervisors can be directed to fill in.

School staff not in unions can join strikes, but staff in unions who balloted not to strike cannot.

6. Teachers can’t be compelled to set work

There is no requirement for teachers on strike to “make up the time” following the action. The guidance says: “Schools need to decide how best to make up for pupils’ education that has been lost.”

Striking teachers cannot be compelled to set work for students on the day of the strike. However the guidance says “if classes are running as normal, many teachers will choose to set work”.

7. Collapse classes and pool staff

The guidance says schools “may choose to bring together groups and classes with teachers and support staff working together, as long as pupils’ health and safety is ensured”.

One example given is a school “collapsing classes so that larger groups could be supervised to carry out a prepared task
or controlled assessment”. Leaders provided supervision.

Another example is of a “soft federation” of four schools that pooled staff and pupils into the one school.

The arrangement also meant that “secondary school pupils could mentor primary school pupils, opening up opportunities to support with reading and other activities”.

8. Ofsted inspections can continue

The guidance says Ofsted inspections will be treated similar to other possible disruption, such as severe weather.

Ofsted inspections will “take a view as to whether there is sufficient activity taking place to enable it to conduct an inspection”.

If there isn’t, the inspection is “likely to be deferred”.

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