Education & Family

Michael Gove urges schools to stay open despite strike

Image caption The government is asking councils for information about the strikes

Education Secretary Michael Gove has written to head teachers in England urging them to keep schools open wherever possible despite a strike by teachers next week.

Thousands of schools in England and Wales could close next Thursday when two teaching unions strike over plans to change their pensions.

Mr Gove's letter has angered head teachers.

But he says schools have a moral duty to parents and pupils to stay open.

And he sets out steps heads could take.

The letter says: "We all have a strong moral duty to pupils and parents to keep schools open and the government wants to help you to fulfil that.

"I am 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.

"I am confident that you will take effective steps to support schools in staying open and to minimise the impact on pupils and parents.

"I am aware that a number of our best school leaders are already putting in place contingency arrangements to ensure that their schools remain open."

'Unhelpful exhortations'

Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: "School leaders are fully aware of their moral duty to pupils and their parents and of their responsibilities regarding decisions about the operation of their schools.

"This problem is, however, not of their making.

"The solution to this problem is for the government to avert this dispute by seeking an urgent resolution to the current impasse rather than sending unnecessary and unhelpful exhortations."

Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: "Heads don't need lectures in their moral duties. They've been keeping schools open their entire careers. And will make the right choices in the coming action.

"The coalition's spending cuts are closing more services for children."

In his letter, Mr Gove tells schools they might be able to stay open by being flexible in terms of the curriculum, the length of the school day, class sizes and who they get to take lessons.

His message comes as many schools are contacting parents to let them know whether their children's schools will be closed during the strike action.

Teachers in England and Wales who are members of the National Union of Teachers and the Association of Teachers and Lecturers are taking the action next Thursday, alongside other public sector workers who are striking over pensions and cuts.

A big teachers' union which is not taking part in the action - the NASUWT - has written to Mr Gove saying he is "exhorting schools to exploit and disregard statutory contractural provisions".

The union's general secretary Chris Keates said Mr Gove's advice to heads was "reckless" and could bring schools in to dispute with staff who were not taking industrial action.

Final-salary schemes

Teachers say plans to change pensions will see them working longer and paying more for pensions which will be worth less than they had expected.

The National Association of Head Teachers last week announced its intention to ballot on industrial action over pensions, but any possible action would not now take place this term.

A review by Lord Hutton has recommended changing public-sector pensions from final-salary schemes to those based on the average salary earned in a career.

The government recently confirmed that the public-sector retirement age would be linked to the state pension age, which is due to rise to 66, and that contributions would rise, in line with Hutton's recommendations.

Ministers are expected to give a detailed response to the review by the autumn.

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