No new offer on teachers’ pay
This week, union leaders and Department for Education (DfE) officials met to discuss teachers’ pay and conditions. Whilst talks have taken on a more positive tone since the national strike led by the National Education Union (NEU) on 1 February, there is still no new offer on teachers’ pay.
Despite progress being made in Wales and Scotland, unions say that the Education secretary ‘has not been able to make any new offer on teacher pay this year, or even to talk about the numbers on teacher pay next year.’ According to Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leader (ASCL), ‘there has been discussion about addressing systemic issues which drive unsustainable workload pressures on education staff.’ However, there is nothing concrete in this direction either.
The DfE has said that more talks will take place before the next planned strike date. But unions warn that until progress is made, further strike action is inevitable. The NEU hopes ‘three days of strike action in regions of England from February 28 to March 2 will concentrate minds in Whitehall.’
Calls for urgent action to make school buildings safe
A coalition of seven unions have written to the Education secretary, Gillian Keegan, calling for urgent action to repair school buildings at risk of collapse. This follows research by the House of Commons Library, showing that between 2009-10 and 2021-22, overall capital spending declined by around 37 percent in cash terms and 50 percent in real terms. As a result, buildings have continued to deteriorate over the years, to the extent that many are now in danger of falling down.
In December last year, the Department for Education (DfE) released a report concluding that the risk of school buildings collapsing was “very likely,” as they ‘are approaching the end of their designed life expectancy and structural integrity is impaired.’
Together, the National Education Union (NEU), NAHT school leaders’ union, NASUWT, Unison, Unite, GMB and Community trade unions say ‘this is a truly shocking admission.’ They emphasise that this comes at a time when ‘there is also an urgent need to invest in retrofitting schools to ensure they are climate resilient and energy efficient,’ as outlined by the 2022 Trades Union Congress (TUC) report.
In the joint letter, trade unions ask what measures will be taken to ensure the government has a full and accurate picture of the school estate, and how it will make sure all school buildings are safe and fit for the future.
Government faces criticism over its response to Social Care review
Last year, Josh MacAlister published a landmark review of children’s social care, recommending that schools become statutory safeguarding partners alongside police, health services and councils. The review states that schools, colleges and universities should act as ‘corporate parents,’ with a responsibility to promote the wellbeing of care-experienced people and ensure they have the foundations they need to thrive.
In its response, the government agrees that ‘education needs to play a greater role in local safeguarding arrangements.’ Ministers confirm they will consult on extending corporate parenting responsibilities to a wider set of public bodies and also consult on how to strengthen the role of education settings. They will use this learning to inform proposals ‘on whether and how to make education a fourth safeguarding partner.’
However, the government has been criticised for only pledging to consult on these changes, rather than delivering concrete reform. Furthermore, ministers have allocated just £200 million over two years, instead of the recommended £2.6 billion over five. Former children’s commissioner, Anne Longfield, says the government’s response ‘seems half-hearted,’ and argues the time for consultation is surely over.
The government also made no significant mention of other proposals contained in the review, such as letting school staff foster pupils; replacing young offender institutions with secure schools; holding Virtual School Heads accountable for the attainment of children in care; and directing Pupil Premium funding towards well-evidenced interventions for looked after children. Josh MacAlister says ‘the government’s plan gets us started down the right path but it must go further and faster if it is to reach the tipping point of change that children need.’
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