Schools face new year closures as biggest teaching union backs vote on strike action

The National Education Union announced huge backing for industrial action in indicative ballots of its members - Getty Images
The National Education Union announced huge backing for industrial action in indicative ballots of its members – Getty Images

Families face new year school closures after more than 150,000 teachers and support staff said they would vote to strike over pay.

The National Education Union, Britain’s biggest teaching union, announced huge backing for industrial action in indicative ballots of its members.

It found that 86 per cent of teachers would vote “yes” to strike action to demand a fully funded, above-inflation pay rise. Turnout of the 261,522 members it consulted was 62 per cent.

A separate preparatory ballot of more than 25,000 school support staff found that 78 per cent would vote “yes” to strike action to demand the Government funds any pay rise.

The union is planning to launch a formal ballot in the coming weeks which will run until January.

Decade of real-term pay cuts

Teachers are calling for above-inflation pay rises which are fully-funded by the Government so that they don’t erode existing school budgets.

Experienced teachers have been given a five per cent pay rise this year, while starting salaries have risen by nine per cent to £28,000. The five per cent increase for around 380,000 teachers in England is higher than the three per cent previously planned by the Government.

However, the below-inflation pay rise comes after a decade of real-term pay cuts for teachers. The pay rises this year are not fully funded by the Government, which means schools have warned they could have to reduce staff numbers.

The National Education Union and the NASUWT union are now preparing to formally ballot their members. Voting will close in January.

The NASUWT, a smaller union which has campaigned for a 12 per cent pay rise for teachers, said it will start balloting  members in schools and sixth form colleges in England, Scotland and Wales later this month. Its ballot will close on January 9.

Dr Patrick Roach, NASUWT General Secretary said: “The five per cent pay award for teachers and headteachers is unacceptable at a time when inflation is running at more than 10 per cent and it will result in even more financial misery for hard working teachers.

Charm offensive to avert strikes

“The Government must ensure additional money is provided to schools and colleges to ensure that this year’s pay award does not become a lottery for teachers.”

The last national teachers’ strike over pay was in 2008.

Jonathan Gullis, the Schools Minister, has committed to visiting the headquarters of union leaders every four to six weeks to talk to them in person as part of a charm offensive aimed at averting strikes.

He has also said that he will take the time to listen to teachers about their experience on the frontline when he goes to visit schools. Mr Gullis has tasked officials with coming up with a way of promoting the teacher pension scheme and has recommended that starting teacher salaries rise to £30,000 next year as previously promised.

Molly Kingsley, of the parents’ campaign group UsForThem, said: “We can’t ignore the fact that children and schools have been all but invisible in the economic thinking of this government and its predecessor. However, the last thing children need in light of the last two years is more school disruption.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “It is incredibly disappointing that some unions are threatening industrial action in schools. Strike action will damage children’s education and disrupt parents’ lives. Given the impact of the pandemic on children, it’s more important than ever that strike action is avoided.”

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