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Strikes: what will minimum service levels look like in the education sector?

The Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Act 2023 came into force on 20 July 2023 and gives the government powers to make regulations to set minimum service levels in specified sectors during strikes. This includes education. 

To begin with the government concentrated its efforts on agreeing minimum service levels for border security, passenger rail and ambulance services. However, it now has the education sector in its sights.

At the beginning of October, it announced that it would launch a consultation on minimum service levels in universities to combat the impact of strikes. 

Then on 20 October, it said that it planned to introduce minimum service levels in schools and colleges. The Education Secretary invited union leaders to talk to the government with a view to agreeing these, but made it clear that if this didn't happen, it would launch a consultation and introduce regulations. 

What will minimum service requirements look like in the education sector?

In respect of the university sector, the government has said that its key focus is to provide ‘stronger protections for final year students, key cohorts or those studying specialist subjects’ and wants to examine how to guarantee teaching contract hours and marking during strikes.

It may take a similar approach to primary, secondary schools and other colleges, i.e. focus on key stages which involve assessments or exams. But it's very difficult to speculate at this stage or glean any real guidance from the approach it has taken in other sectors, such as border security, passenger rail and the ambulance service which impose high service levels. For example, train operators have to be able to run the equivalent of 40% of timetabled services during strike action, and the ambulance service will need around 80% of staff to meet the proposed minimum service level. 

Is there anything schools and colleges need to do to prepare?

Not really. The government is developing a head of steam with regard to employment law reform, but there's not much time left to progress this, assuming we have a general election early next year. The Labour Party has already said that if wins the election it will revoke the Act within its first 100 days in power.

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