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ASCL General Secretary calls on Gillian Keegan to stop ‘trading fatuous soundbites’

ASCL General Secretary calls on Gillian Keegan to stop ‘trading fatuous soundbites’

Geoff Barton will today (10th March) call on Education Secretary Gillian Keegan to stop “trading fatuous soundbites” and put forward a meaningful offer which brings to an end the industrial dispute in education.

Mr Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, is speaking in a slot which had been reserved for the Education Secretary at the association’s Annual Conference after Ms Keegan declined an invitation to address more than 1,000 school and college leaders from across the UK.

He will say: “You’ll know that one person who hasn’t shown up is the Secretary of State for Education. We think that is a great shame. We believe you deserved to hear from her personally. We think it was the perfect opportunity for her so early in her tenure as a senior minister to thank you in person for all that you are doing in your schools and colleges.

“But she’s not here to do that – the first secretary of state, I gather, who has not spoken at our conference since 2006. And Gillian Keegan says that she can’t be here because she wants to focus on talks over pay and conditions.

“I hope so. Let’s show a spirit of generosity then, and treat this as a positive sign that the government is committed to putting an offer on the table to settle the industrial dispute and begin to address the teacher recruitment and retention crisis. Because, to be frank, talks are pretty meaningless if there is no prospect of an offer, no genuine commitment to negotiate, no realistic endgame.

“We can’t go on trading fatuous soundbites.

“Indeed, that’s why we joined with other education unions this week in calling for ACAS to arbitrate. We said: ‘If the government doesn’t know how to manage negotiations, let’s go to the professionals.’ But it seems that those constructive proposals have been rejected by the government, for reasons we cannot explain.

“So here we are. This cannot go on. Teachers, leaders, families, communities, and especially the nation’s children and young people – you all need this matter settled. We need to be able to recruit and retain great teachers and leaders in a way that isn’t happening.”

The dispute was triggered by the government’s pay award for 2022/23 which is significantly below inflation and follows a decade of pay erosion and worsening conditions for teachers and leaders caused by funding and other pressures on schools and colleges. Most schools and colleges are experiencing teacher shortages because of the difficulty in recruiting and retaining staff in these circumstances.

NEU members are planning to strike again next Wednesday and Thursday, but the government has suspended talks with all education unions unless the NEU calls off strike action without any offer being put forward by the government.

Mr Barton will also say that government plans to defund many BTECs and similar qualifications are “utterly reckless and self-defeating”.

He will say: “The aim of these reforms is clearly to drive students towards T-levels, but this risks leaving a large number of students with no post-16 pathway which suits their needs or aspirations. The scale of the risk is very clear.

“Last summer, nearly 117,000 students received grades in these Applied General Qualifications compared to 1,000 in T-levels. Has the Department for Education modelled what routes this very large number of displaced students will take in the future? Has it risk-assessed whether removing Applied General Qualifications will in fact lead to an increase in so-called NEETs – that is young people who are not in education, employment and training? Or lead to a decline in higher education applications and access? Or the impact on equalities in terms of the number of students from disadvantaged and ethnic minority backgrounds who are negatively affected? From where I sit this feels utterly reckless and self-defeating.

“A policy which seems destined to dispossess a very large group of students of a pathway which aids social mobility. It is the precise opposite of levelling up.”

ASCL’s Annual Conference 2023 is taking place today and tomorrow (10-11 March) at the International Convention Centre in Birmingham and is attended by more than 1,000 school and college leaders from across the UK.

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