From education to employment

Education Secretary turns down invitation to speak to school and college leaders


Gillian Keegan MP, Secretary of State for Education, has turned down an invitation to speak to school and college leaders at ASCL’s Annual Conference in Birmingham next week.

She was invited to speak on the morning of Friday 10 March, but department officials have told ASCL that Ms Keegan will not attend the conference because she hopes to be engaged in intensive talks at that time over the pay dispute which has led to industrial action by NEU members. No talks are currently scheduled.

Over 1,000 school and college leaders from across the UK are attending the conference which takes place on 10 and 11 March.

Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said:

“We are disappointed that Gillian Keegan has decided not to come to our conference. We very much hoped she would use this opportunity to thank school and college leaders for everything they are doing in what is proving to be yet another extremely challenging year.

“It would also have been a good opportunity for her to set out her vision for education, to talk about how we can work together to shape a better future for all young people, and say something about how the government intends to address the teacher recruitment and retention crisis which is at the heart of the current industrial dispute and which our members have to deal with every day.

“But nevertheless we will continue to engage with the Secretary of State positively and constructively and look forward to a time when she will feel more able to talk directly to our members.”

ASCL’s Annual Conference is an established event in the education calendar which comprises keynote speeches from high-profile speakers, workshops, and an education exhibition. It is attended by senior leaders from schools, colleges and trusts throughout the UK who use the opportunity for professional development, to share insights with colleagues in all types of education settings, and hear directly from a range of education sector experts.

Other speakers in this year’s programme include Shadow Secretary of State for Education Bridget Phillipson, Ofsted Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman, and FA Director of Women’s Football Baroness Sue Campbell.

ASCL General Secretary Geoff Barton will now address the conference in the speaking slot reserved for Ms Keegan.

The current industrial dispute follows years of government-implemented real-terms pay cuts to salaries and worsening systemic pressures which have created unsustainable workloads for teachers and leaders. This has led to staff shortages in schools and colleges across the country which are putting at risk educational provision and standards.

In an ASCL survey last summer, 95% of schools and colleges which responded said they were experiencing difficulties in recruiting teachers, with 43% saying it was “severe”. Since then, the government has published statistics which show that the Department for Education missed its targets for recruiting teacher trainees last year in 13 out of 17 secondary subjects. In physics, only 17% of the target number of trainees were recruited. Recruitment to primary education was also below target.

ASCL held a consultative ballot in the autumn asking members whether they wished to proceed to a formal ballot, and a majority voted in favour of doing so. However, the union has so far endeavoured to resolve the matter through negotiation rather than going ahead with a formal ballot.

ASCL, alongside other education unions, has subsequently taken part in a series of talks with Ms Keegan and Department for Education officials, but there has been no offer from the government to resolve the dispute so far.

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