Education unions plan for joint strike action

Following the announcement that NAHT, the school leaders’ union, will ballot its members on industrial action over pay, funding, workload and wellbeing, education unions are preparing to draw up joint strike action plans for school leaders and teachers.

Earlier this month, members of NAHT voted overwhelmingly to reject the government’s pay offer. 90% voted to reject the offer, with 92% saying they could not afford to pay it. More than three-quarters said they would be prepared to vote for industrial action if the offer was rejected. Similarly, members of the National Education Union (NEU), Association for School and College Leaders (ASCL), and NASUWT, also voted to reject the government’s pay offer.

In an ‘unprecedented show of unity,’ general secretaries of all four unions spoke together at a press conference today to announce the coordination of their unions’ industrial action going forward. Unions will ballot for strike action this term, meaning that strikes may continue into the next academic year if backed by members.

School leaders report sharp increase in cuts to activities and support staff

More schools are making cutbacks as the cost of living crisis continues, according to a recent report from the Sutton Trust. Based on an annual survey of more than 1,400 teachers and senior leaders, the report found that the rate at which school leaders are making cuts to their provision has risen sharply over the last year.

Nearly two-thirds of senior leaders say they are having to make cuts on teaching assistants, increasing from 42% in 2022. Similarly, cuts to school trips and outings have more than doubled, rising from 21 to 50%. More cuts have also been made to IT equipment at 42%, sports and extracurricular activities at 26%, and support staff at 40%.

This year, 41% of senior leaders said they were using pupil premium to plug gaps in their budget, rather than using it for its intended purpose to provide additional support for disadvantaged children. This figure has increased from 33% last year, and now stands at its highest since researchers began asking the question in 2017.

Carl Cullinane, Director of Research and Policy at the Sutton Trust, says ‘the government must urgently review the funding given to schools, particularly those in the most deprived areas.’ He adds that it is vital that ministers do not lose sight of the importance of education recovery.

The Department for Education publishes descriptions of high-quality trusts

In the Schools White Paper, published last year, the Department for Education (DfE) set out five pillars that define trust strength, including high quality and inclusive education; school improvement; strategic governance; financial management and workforce. Building on these pillars, the government has now released more detailed ‘trust quality descriptions.’

Ministers expect strong trusts to transform previously underperforming schools and create a culture of continuous improvement. Trusts should work to foster a supportive working environment by managing workload and prioritising wellbeing, and also supporting ‘the retention of great staff.’

To deliver a high quality and inclusive education, trusts are also expected to support students to stay in mainstream education, or re-join when they have spent time in Alternative Provision. Trusts should also collaborate with schools, trusts, local authorities, diocese, parents and other civic partners to ensure it ‘acts in the wider interests of the local community.’

It is hoped that the descriptions will provide greater clarity to leaders, helping to inform trusts’ improvement and capacity-building priorities. However, the descriptions are still in draft form. The government will ‘work with the sector to make any refinements, before finalising them alongside the commissioning guidance in June.’

As we look ahead at future challenges and opportunities, it is important to remember that collaboration lies at the heart of success in education. What we can achieve together is so much greater than what we can manage alone.

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