Teachers could soon be forced to reveal their intention to strike under new plans reportedly being considered by ministers.
A potential law change could see more requirements imposed on striking staff to allow head teachers to better prepare ahead of industrial action, giving schools more time to put contingency plans in place.
Currently, teachers are not legally bound to inform their bosses whether they plan to turn up to class during strike action - a rule which Education Secretary Gillian Keegan branded as “unreasonable”.
A government source quoted in the Daily Mail said ministers could choose to “act” and change the law in a bid to give schools time to put contingency plans in place on strike days. The source is said to have referenced the policy in France, saying striking teachers are required by law to give schools 48 hours’ notice if they intend to picket.
They told the newspaper: “It is ridiculous that unions are able to add to the disruption caused by refusing to provide the basic information needed to make contingency plans. If this is something that is going to become a regular tactic then we will have to act on it.”
The potential rule change comes in the aftermath of mass strike action on Wednesday (1 February), which saw thousands of teachers join up to half a million workers walking out in bitter disputes over pay, jobs and conditions. Department for Education (DfE) data showed that the majority of schools in England were forced to shut their doors as a result.
On the morning of the strike action, Ms Keegan told Times Radio it was “a surprise to some of us” that the law allows teachers to strike without notifying their employers. She later told LBC she had written to schools asking staff to give their heads notice if they planned to withhold their labour.
She said: “I wrote to them all saying, look, we really do need to minimise the disruption to children’s education. I wrote to them and said, ‘If you are going to strike, please inform your head’, because it’s important that… (they try) to minimise the disruption as much as possible.
“They need to help them (headteachers) in that by being fair and letting them know if they’re going to be striking or not.” Asked what she would say to those educators who had not alerted their headteacher, the Cabinet minister said: “Well, it seems unreasonable to me.”
The UK government is pressing ahead with what trade unions have dubbed an ‘anti-strike’ law in a bid to ensure a minimum service level continues when public sector workers are joining industrial action. The Strikes (Minimum Services Levels) Bill will apply across six sectors, including health and transport, should it be passed by Parliament.
Teachers are not currently included but Ms Keegan said that would remain “under review”. Downing Street said the law would not apply to education in the “first instance” but suggested that the scope of the Bill could be widened.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman has regularly said that No 10 was retaining the ability to apply the legislation to schools.