Are teachers in England going on strike? NEU rejects ‘insulting’ government pay offer - dates of walkouts
Strikes are expected to take place in April and May, just before exam season.
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NEU members voted by 98% not to accept the offer, which promised a £1,000 one-off payment, a 4.3% pay rise for most teachers from September, and an increase to £30,000 for starting salaries. Walkouts are therefore set to take place on Thursday 27 April and Tuesday 2 May.
This falls just before GCSE and A-Level exam season, sparking concern amongst students and parents alike. However, the NEU has said it is speaking to headteachers to ensure exam preparation classes will not be interrupted by industrial action.
The government previously said the offer, which also included a taskforce to reduce teacher workloads, was “fair” and “reasonable” - and warned that the one-off payment was “final” and would be lost if the union rejected the deal. Today (3 April), Education Secretary Gillian Keegan described the union’s decision as “disappointing”.
Meanwhile, NEU Joint General Secretary Mary Bousted slammed the offer as “insulting” - arguing that it does “virtually nothing” to “start to re-correct” the “long decline” in teachers pay in real terms. She also said the deal does not address the teacher shortage in schools.
The announcement comes as the country continues to be hit by waves of industrial action, with the cost of living crisis and soaring inflation still taking its toll on the public. Passport Office workers are today (3 April) beginning a five-week walkout, while junior doctors from the British Medical Association (BMA) are due to strike again for four days from 11 April.
When the result was announced at the NEU’s annual conference in Harrogate, North Yorkshire, delegates broke into chants of “come on Gill, pay the bill”. Addressing the Education Secretary, Joint General Secretary Kevin Courtney said: “NEU members are telling you clearly, and in ever bigger numbers, that your offer does not cut the mustard.”
Dr Bousted, who previously told BBC Radio 4 that the strikes are an indication of the “despair” that teachers feel, called out the pay offer disparity between nations across the UK, remarking: “Gillian, why do you think teachers in England are worth less than teachers in Scotland and Wales?”
Unions in Scotland last month accepted a pay increase worth more than 14% for most teachers, while in Wales, the unions accepted an additional 3% pay rise for the current school year and a 5% increase for 2023/2024.
Addressing concerns about the impacts the strikes will have on students taking GCSEs and A-Levels, Dr Bousted continued: “To parents we say that we have no wish to disrupt education, indeed our action is aimed at getting the government to invest in the education of this generation of children and the people who teach them.”
She explained that the union was asking local districts to have dispensations for year 11 and year 13 students, so that they will have a “full programme of education” on upcoming strike days. “[Walkouts] will not disrupt the exam work, because that is the last thing we want to do,” she concluded.
Education Secretary Keegan, who last month entered into six days of intense negotiations with the NEU, criticised the union for creating “more disruption” for children - and argued that its decision had lost teachers money. She also said she would refuse further negotiations until the Department for Education had received pay recommendations for 2023/2024 from the independent School Teachers’ Review Body.
“After costing children almost a week of time in the classroom and with exams fast approaching,” she commented, “it is extremely disappointing that the NEU have called more strike action. Following a week negotiating in good faith, the government offered teachers a £1,000 payment on top of this year’s pay rise, a commitment to significantly cut workload, and a headline pay increase of 4.5% for next year, above both inflation and average earnings growth.
“The offer was funded, including major new investment of over half a billion pounds, in addition to the record funding already planned for school budgets. The NEU’s decision to reject it will simply result in more disruption for children and less money for teachers today. Pay will now be decided by the independent pay review body which will recommend pay rises for next year.”
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer urged teaching unions and the government to get around the negotiating table, saying he was “disappointed” by the outcome as he wants to see the matter “resolved.” He told LBC: “Obviously I support their right to take industrial action, it is very important I say that.
“But I will be clear, I don’t want to see industrial action and that is why I want the government around the table resolving this. It is possible to resolve these disputes, and the sooner the government gets on with that the better.”
Three other unions, the NASUWT, Association of School and College Leaders, and National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) are also balloting members on the offer - meaning there is a possibility more strike action will take place. NAHT members were balloted in January, but failed to get over the 50% threshold of members’ voting required for industrial action.
It is unclear as of yet whether schools, with the exception of students in year 11 and year 13, will close - but it seems likely as during the last period of industrial action, most did not have the staff or resources to stay open.