You will know that the Secretary of State has written to all schools concerning the industrial action that is due to take place on 30th June. The NAHT comments and press release regarding this letter are available here.
You should also be aware that he has also written to local Authority Directors of Children’s Services, Chief Executives and Lead Members, copied to ADCS, SOLACE and LGA. That letter contains similar statements relating to the Governments position on pensions, the “moral duty” claim and some further concerns regarding the impact on parents. The Secretary of State, however, is particularly concerned that school closures would cause great inconvenience to working families and single parents who will have to make ad hoc childcare arrangements and whose own working lives will be disrupted. As a result he is confident that local authorities will take effective steps to support schools in staying open and to minimise the impact on pupils and parents.
The Secretary of State is offering to help local authorities support schools to stay open. Local authorities are requested to do everything possible to:-
(a) Including changes to the structure of the school day,
NAHT comment: Such changes are a matter for the head teacher to determine under their professional duty to:
- organise and deploy resources with the school; lead and
- manage the school’s workforce with a proper regard for their well-being and legitimate expectations’...
These issues are not a matter for the LA to decide.
(b) Opening and closing times can be altered,
NAHT comment: As far as we are aware, the Changing of School Session Times regulations 1999 have not been revoked. Therefore it will not be possible to fulfil the specific criteria in the regulations to change the timing of the school day in time for next week. It also not clear what benefit this would be to working parents.
(c) Half day sessions run with different groups of pupils.
NAHT comment: The Unions who are not taking action on the day are advising their members to work normally on the day and not undertake the work of those teachers who are taking action. The National Employers recognise this as do a number of local authorities. Far more damage can be created to the school community by directing staff to undertake other duties.
(a) There is no statutory requirement to teach the National Curriculum every day of the school year,
NAHT comment: very interesting, but doesn’t help schools if teachers are not in school. We assume that he is saying that schools can simply provide a child minding service.
(b) There are no maximum general pupil teacher ratios set out in law, with the exception of the infant class size limit,
NAHT comment: This is correct, but health and safety issues relating to overcrowding and ability to clear a room quickly in the event of a fire will be matters for consideration.
(c) Senior Management and support staff may fall within the definition of “school teacher” for the infant /teacher ratios.
NAHT comment: The use of the word “may” is interesting, either they do or they don’t. As far as the NAHT is concerned, an infant class is limited to a maximum of 30 pupils (excluding excepted pupils) per school teacher during an ordinary teaching session. There is no mention of the number of employees working in the school when calculating this ratio.
To maximise their resources:
(a) Schools should seek information in advance about how many of their staff will be taking action, so that deployment decisions are well informed,
NAHT comment: Heads will already be seeking this information. However there is no legal requirement for individual union members to identify themselves or declare whether or not they will be taking action. In any case they can change their mind on the morning of the action. In fact the onus is on the local authority to ensure that schools are informed of the number and category of staff from each union that may be taking action on the day. Governing Bodies of Aided, Foundation and Academies should have already received this notification separately.
(b) Schools should deploy all available staff and consider the full range of local resources available to them both from within the school staff and the wider school community to ensure that wherever possible they remain open.
NAHT comment: Staff can only be deployed in accordance with their contract, job description and conditions of service unless they volunteer. This is not an emergency situation. The action is known well in advance and therefore schools can plan accordingly and also take account of the unions advising their members to only work normally on the day. Any decisions made by schools beyond this could have a detrimental affect on relationships within the school and lead to further problems.
We also hope that the Secretary of State is not suggesting that schools use volunteers to provide an emergency child minding service with all the problems of CRB checks, insurance, health and safety, following appropriate school procedures on things such as administration of medicines, emergency evacuation, dealing with vulnerable children, confidentiality etc.
Members will need to be aware that the Secretary of State is proposing that local authorities encourages schools to communicate clearly with parents in the event that closure or partial closure becomes necessary and that decisions will be made at least 48 hours before the action.
NAHT comment: Head teachers will be aware of the importance of providing information as early as possible. However, this is a very fluid situation, and things can change very rapidly. For example some staff may join either of the unions before the action, which will allow them to strike on the day. Union members who indicated that they are not taking action may reconsider and not report for duty. Head teacher can only be expected to make a judgement based on the information that is available to them at the time.
The Secretary of State is also asking Local Authorities to notify him of their assessment of planned and then actual closures in schools by 3.00pm Friday 24 June 2011, with further updates on Tuesday 28 June and Thursday 30th June.
The Secretary of State has written to Local Authorities to comment on the Industrial Action and suggest ways that they can encourage schools to saty open.