News and Analysis


Latest News On The Teacher Pay Dispute And Future Strike Dates

By Adi Bloom

It’s probably safe to say that we’d all rather be talking about dogs.

Whether or not you’re a dog person is immaterial. The issue here is not dogs or cats, or even dogs or humans. The issue is dogs or interminable pay negotiations, in which the government refuses to pay teachers what they’re really worth.

See? Dogs, every time.

There was a time when education reporters covering union conferences would genuinely end up writing articles about dogs. The education secretary was just like a dog (but in a good way). Dogs should be classroom assistants (not necessarily in a good way).

You’d open your newspaper over the Easter weekend and there would be a picture of a dog, staring winsomely at you in a way that made you smile into the cup of coffee you didn’t really need, because it was the holidays and the alarm wasn’t going off at 6am.

This may be stating the bleeding obvious, but those days are long gone.

For a start, the lie-in and the cup of coffee are a thing of the past for many teachers. Almost one in five (18 per cent) teachers in England and Wales has had to take up a second job because of the rising cost of living, according to a survey conducted by the NEU teaching union.

The survey of 18,000 NEU members also found that this figure rose to 20 per cent among teachers under 30, and 22 per cent among teachers in London. Those questioned also told the union that they regularly used foodbanks or relied on their partners’ income to make ends meet.

(The same survey also found that things are little better for pupils. It revealed that 85 per cent of teachers do not have sufficient access to a senior mental-health lead in their school, college or nursery. And only eight per cent said that they had sufficient access to CAMHS support. One respondent described the mental-health crisis among pupils as “catastrophic”.)

But things have changed even for those teachers who are able to afford the lie in and the coffee. It used to be that many teachers would read about the goings on at union conferences over Easter and – after pausing to smile at the cute dog pictures – think, “Whoever these people are who choose to spend their holidays at a union conference, they don’t speak for the majority of the profession. Nothing to do with me, guv.”

Now, however, it’s almost as though the entire teaching population were singing together in a resounding, harmonious chorus.

First came the sopranos: 98 per cent of NEU members have voted to reject the government’s pay offer, with 66 per cent of eligible members responding to the ballot.

Last week, the government offered to give teachers a one-off payment of £1,000 in 2022-23, as well as a 4.5 per cent average pay award for 2023-24. It would provide funding for the one-off payment and for 0.5 per cent of the pay increase; the remaining 4 per cent would come from schools’ budgets. This is like offering an exhausted runner a lift home, and then dropping him 10 miles away and saying, “Why are you complaining? You have plenty of energy left.”

The fact that the NEU has rejected this offer means that two new national strikes will go ahead, on 27 April and 2 May. A successful motion at the union’s annual conference, in Harrogate, also called for three further days of strike actions, from late June to early July. This would avoid any strikes during the exam period in May and June.

NEU members have also voted in favour of another ballot, which would give it the mandate to continue striking until Christmas. The previous ballot, which closed in January this year, approved strikes until the end of the summer term.

Next, the altos: members of the Association of School and College Leaders have voted by 87 per cent to 13 per cent to reject the government’s pay offer. Fifty-six per cent of eligible members responded to the union’s consultative ballot.

Asked to give the most significant reason behind their decision to vote against the offer, 69 per cent of ASCL members blamed “inadequacy of the additional funding provided to schools” to cover the pay award. In other words: you’ve dropped me 10 miles from home, and I can barely stand.

ASCL will convene its executive committee after Easter, in order to discuss the next steps. Geoff Barton, ASCL general secretary said that moving to a formal ballot for industrial action was “certainly an option”. Which is the kind of statement that says nothing at all and also everything.

Finally, the tenors: the NAHT school leaders’ union rejected the government’s pay offer with 90 per cent of the vote. And 78 per cent of respondents to the unions’ consultative ballot – made up of 64 per cent of eligible members – said that they would be prepared to vote in favour of industrial action, including strike action.

Asked to give their reasons for voting against the offer, 92 per cent of NAHT members said that it was unaffordable for schools.

Paul Whiteman, NAHT general secretary, said that his union would be keen to coordinate any strike action with other unions. “I can’t imagine a situation where all the unions would be in dispute and wouldn’t coordinate action,” he said.

Easter, of course, is the season of cute fluffy chicks. But fluffy chicks grow up to become chickens. And the point at which the government suggests that schools dip into their reserves to pay their energy bills, leaving headteachers with nothing for emergencies, let alone for covering an increase in staff wages – that’s the point when those same chickens decide to come home to roost.

But our coffee-drinking teacher didn’t want chickens, or even fluffy chicks. She’s still scrolling through the news, wondering whether the pictures of dogs have perhaps just been pushed back a page or two.

But, no: still the serious news stories keep coming, none of them remotely canine-related.

The NEU has called on school leaders to refuse to work as Ofsted inspectors until a full health and safety assessment of the schools’ inspectorate has been conducted.

The union passed an urgent motion at its conference, tabled after headteacher Ruth Perry took her own life in January, having learnt that her school was to be downgraded by inspectors from ‘outstanding’ to ‘inadequate’.

The motion also instructed the NEU’s executive to work with ASCL and the NAHT, to ensure that any of their members who work as inspectors withdraw their services. And – because, as NEU members will undoubtedly know, high aspirations are the key to success – it called for the abolition of Ofsted, too.

And so our scrolling teacher reaches the end of the week’s education news, with not a dog picture in sight. This, then, is the great irony of the modern era (yes, really): the more that current events make the public need nothing more than a cute puppy picture to stare at, the less space there actually is for any puppy pictures.

So I’ve fixed that. Here are all the puppy pictures you’ll need this Easter. It won’t do anything to remedy the parlous state of modern education, but it’ll hopefully make it seem just that little bit more bearable, if only for a big-eyed, wet-nosed, fuzzy-headed moment.


You can read more articles by Adi Bloom here.