Agency workers and volunteers could be used to cover classes amid nationwide teacher strikes affecting more than 23,000 schools.
The Department for Education (DfE) has issued updated guidance for schools after members in the National Education Union (NEU) voted in favour of walkouts amid rows over pay.
The guidance calls on headteachers to ‘take all reasonable steps to keep the school open for as many pupils as possible’, with those most vulnerable given priority.
It also advised that ‘schools or groups of schools may wish to consider building up a bank of cover supervisors’.
This includes identifying ‘other new volunteers who could support existing staff or volunteers for whom relevant checks have been carried out’.
More details on the updated guidance
The department stated that a repeal of a regulation in July – under the Conduct of Employment Agencies and Employment Businesses (Amendment) Regulations 2022 – means employers are now able to ‘engage with agency staff to replace the work of those taking official strike action’.
It also stated that statutory guidance arrangements allow schools to use existing members of the school volunteer workforce to provide supervision on strike days. They must have relevant Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks.
While the decision to open, restrict attendance or close academy schools lies with the academy trust, the DfE said it is usually delegated to the principal.
The decision for maintained schools rests with the headteacher.
The latest guidance added: ‘It is best practice for headteachers to consult governors, parents and the local authority, academy trust or diocesan representative (where appropriate) before deciding whether to close.’
Headteachers are also entitled to ask staff whether they intend to strike, the DfE stated.
Prioritising vulnerable children and young people
Although the DfE guidance stated that continued attendance is ‘important for all pupils’, it said it recognised schools affected by strike action might ‘need to temporarily prioritise places’ due to low staff numbers.
In such cases, schools are advised to ‘apply the principles set out in the emergency planning and response guidance by giving priority to vulnerable children and young people and children of critical workers’.
Schools are also asked to consider prioritising pupils due to take exams and other formal assessments.
Remote education is also an option for schools which have to restrict attendance, DfE said.
It stated that children entitled to free school meals who are being educated remotely in such instances should be provided with a ‘good quality lunch parcel’.
The guidance comes as thousands of teachers will strike in February and March – despite warnings the walkouts will put vulnerable children at risk.
Nine out of 10 teacher members of the NEU voted for strike action and the union passed the 50 per cent ballot turnout required by law.
The first day of strikes will be on February 1, with more than 23,000 schools in England and Wales are expected to be affected.
To view the full updated guidance from the DfE on handing strike action, click here.