Next week’s sixth-form college strike could be halted just hours before teachers are due to walk out, after the Department for Education launched a legal challenge to the action.
Colleges across the country were due to be hit by the national action by NUT members on Tuesday. Last month, almost nine in 10 members (86 per cent) who voted backed a strike to "persuade the secretary of state for education to increase presently inadequate funding levels which cause detrimental changes to terms and conditions within the sixth-form college sector".
But it has emerged that the government has chosen to challenge the action in the High Court, by claiming that the "unlawful" action is based on "political grounds" rather than being a valid trade dispute. The case will be heard on Monday – the day before the strike is due to take place.
A DfE spokesman told TES: “The NUT is seeking to disrupt the education of thousands of students through what we believe to be an unlawful dispute, based on political grounds and not a trade dispute about the terms and conditions of its members. We therefore intend to challenge this through the courts.”
NUT deputy general secretary Kevin Courtney criticised the “cynical legal challenge”. “We regret that the government has chosen this route rather than seeking to resolve the dispute through negotiations about adequate funding for the sector, which could protect teachers’ conditions of service and students’ conditions of learning,” he said.
“Sixth-form colleges provide a vital service that is in danger of all but disappearing if government does not listen and reverse and remedy the severe funding crisis in colleges. It seems as though the government is doing anything it can to avoid parents knowing about the funding crisis facing 16-19 education. This court case is every bit as much an attack on the right to strike as the trade union bill currently going through Parliament.”
David Igoe, chief executive of the Sixth Form Colleges’ Association, declined to comment on the legal challenge, but told TES the proposed strike was “ill-judged and ill-timed” and would cause disruption to students preparing for their exams.
The legal challenge comes as another union, the NASUWT, is preparing for a separate legal challenge over how much pay striking sixth-form college staff should have deducted. This week's FErret also reveals that the University and College Union has decided holding any further strikes in its separate campaign of industrial action over pay in FE colleges. Both stories are available here (article free for subscribers)