Former education ministers say teacher strikes shouldn’t close schools

Schools were generally closed during quarantine - Owen Humphreys/PA

Schools were generally closed during quarantine – Owen Humphreys/PA

Four former education ministers said schools should stay open if teachers go on strike as unions prepare to announce the results of the strike ballots.

In a response to pressure him to announce his contingency plan for teacher strikes on Downing Street on Tuesday night, former ministers said the damage caused by school closures during the Covid lockdowns must not be repeated.

Tim Loughton, a former children’s minister, urged Number 10 to be “really, really tough” in keeping schools open, citing the harm done to unions by “consent” by closing schools during lockdown.

“What we don’t want is a sign of total isolation by teachers who feel like they should be at the top of the line for pay awards when there are all sorts of other civil service workers who haven’t taken industrial action,” he said.

They are playing with the future of our children who have been deeply damaged by excesses during quarantine.”

The first result of the three teaching ballots ending this week is expected to be announced by NASUWT on Wednesday. Union sources said they were unsure whether they would receive adequate salary support for the strike action.

A senior source from a teaching union said: “Not sure, but I think we will.”

Union leaders can coordinate strikes

The Telegraph was told that contingency plans for schools in the event of strike action would prioritize vulnerable children should teachers organize a mass strike. “We cannot ignore the fact that strikes are devastating,” said a Whitehall source.

“I hope the government will do everything in its power to reduce strikes and keep children in education,” said Sir Robert Goodwill, who served under Theresa May’s premiership.

Signing that he would welcome minimum service levels for schools, the President added: “We already have an agreement with the police not to go on strike. When it comes to similar kinds of vital work, I think it’s important that we have that.”

Bassetlaw MP Brendan Clarke-Smith said he never went on strike as a teacher “because he didn’t want to disrupt the children’s learning”.

Mr Clarke-Smith, who served as minister for children and families last year, said: “While we think everyone deserves fair wages and conditions, we need to ensure that parents and students are not let down, and that means keeping schools open.”

Jonathan Gullis, a former school standards minister, said: “I think the main thing is that the details of how schools should stay open no matter what, and that there will be enough teachers and support staff in Turkey, have been determined by the Government to ensure that students can still enter the schools.”

Union leaders have threatened to coordinate strikes if enough teachers vote yes to industrial action, meaning most schools in England and Wales are in danger of closing.

During the last national teachers’ strike in England in 2016, around a third of schools in England were completely or partially closed when the National Union of Teachers, now part of the NEU, left school for a day.

Supply personnel can be brought in

Conservative lawmakers and education leaders said the Government could use new powers and resources to keep schools open.

“If they go on strike, I hope the Government removes all barriers to keep schools open, not just for vulnerable children,” said Miriam Cates, a Conservative lawmaker on the education selection committee.

Legislation that went into effect last year means that supply personnel can be protected during strike action.

Teaching assistants may be asked to use extensive online teaching resources to teach courses on subjects for which they are not qualified, developed by Oak National Academy, sponsored by the ministry of education, and established in response to the 2020 pandemic.

Rules introduced by Michael Gove when he was Minister of Education in 2012 mean that academies and free schools can hire unqualified teachers to work in schools.

Lawmakers also said the Government should call on volunteers and retired teachers with Disclosure and Barring Service checks to help keep schools open.

A spokesperson for the Department of Education said updated guidance for schools on responding to industrial action will be released “when the time comes”.

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