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Industrial Action: Impact on Children and Parents

Volume 742: debated on Monday 11 December 2023

2. What steps she is taking to help reduce the impact of industrial action by teachers on children and parents. (900555)

Last year’s strikes were one of the biggest outbreaks of industrial action in a generation. Over 25 million school days were lost, with far-reaching consequences across our society. We cannot afford a repeat of that disruption, and it is my duty to protect children’s education. That is why we are consulting on minimum service levels to end further disruption to education, while providing certainty to parents. MSLs will balance the right to strike with children’s fundamental right to a good education.

The issue extends to university students as well. My constituent’s final degree papers were not marked this year because of industrial action. That put in jeopardy her postgraduate course and her employment offer. Her degree was issued only after her mother personally visited the dean of the university involved and demanded action. What steps is the Secretary of State taking to ensure that degree exam papers are marked on time in the current academic year?

Our young people should never be pawns in the disputes of adults. The behaviour of University and College Union members was disgraceful, and their actions caused untold disruption and stress for thousands of students. Although the higher education sector is independent of Government, the damaging impact of strike action cannot go unchecked. That is why we are consulting on minimum service levels in this sector, unlike the Labour party, which always bows to its union paymasters.

It is a pleasure to be called to ask a supplementary to the first question.

I am ever mindful of the importance that the industrial action finishes. Has the Secretary of State had any opportunities to discuss this with the Department of Education in Northern Ireland? I understand that she has no responsibility for Northern Ireland, but it is important that we work together to try to solve the problems of industrial action. It is affecting loads of schools, particularly those whose pupils have special educational needs. I am really concerned.

The hon. Member puts his finger on it. Industrial action has a massive impact, particularly on vulnerable children, those with special educational needs, and those in exam cohorts. I am always happy to share with my counterparts in the devolved Administrations, and I am very happy to share what we are doing on minimum service levels.