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Government living in ‘fantasy world’ over funding for education, NEU boss says

The Government appears to be living in a “fantasy world” over school funding, the joint general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU) has said.

Dr Mary Bousted said striking teachers were “reasonable people” who want “a long-term correction in teachers’ pay” as NEU members staged a walkout on Thursday.

Speaking to the PA news agency, Dr Bousted said: “What this government would like is a magic wand where they can have fully staffed schools, school buildings that aren’t falling down … healthy recruitment and retention in the profession without spending any money.

“Well, that’s a fantasy world that they appear to be living in. I’d like to live there too, but we don’t.”

Industrial strike
Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, with teachers on the picket line outside Bristol Cathedral School as they take strike action in a dispute over pay (Ben Birchall/PA)

Dr Bousted joined hundreds of striking teachers as they marched through the streets of Oxford as their long-running dispute over pay continues.

Marchers held signs reading ‘I’d rather be teaching but this is important’ and ‘I’ve got 99 problems and cuts to education funding has caused all of them’.

They were joined by a samba school, who banged drums to the tune of Mickey by Toni Basil while marchers chanted “Hey Rishi, you’re so tight, you’re so tight you made us strike.”

Dr Bousted added that the NEU is prepared to accept that pay resolution cannot be done “within a year” and a “three-year deal” would be a more reasonable solution.

“But we do want a long-term correction which brings teachers’ pay back up,” she said.

“Education is in crisis every day of the week; we have the Government missing its secondary teacher training targets by 40%.

“It’s going to miss its primary recruitment targets by 25% next year.”

Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg
Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Dr Bousted also criticised the Government’s legal action against the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) over part of its planned 48-hour strike next week.

The High Court ruled on Thursday the RCN must cut the strike action short as its six-month mandate from a ballot of members in November ended just before midnight on May 1, rather than the following day.

Dr Bousted added: “The Government should not be spending money on lawyers and taking nurses to court.

“The Government should be doing with nurses what it should be doing teachers, and that’s sitting down at the table and negotiating – it’s not hard.

“If they were serious about settling these strikes, they’d come and negotiate.”

The NEU rejected the Government’s recent offer of a £1,000 one-off payment for the current school year (2022/23), and an average 4.5% pay rise for staff next year, causing the strikes on Thursday.

Alan Armstrong, a 41-year-old primary school teacher from Oxfordshire, said his seven-year-old son has “not had an education” because he is struggling to find a school to support his needs.

He said: “There’s no spaces in the special education schools because they have no funding.

“Something needs to change, my son hasn’t had an education.

“He’s about to turn seven and he has yet to do a full day in school because his needs are very different.

“It’s not his school’s fault, they’re trying so hard.”

Mr Armstrong said it was his sixth day of striking during the long-running dispute and he estimates he has lost £800 to £900 in pay.

“I can’t afford to strike and I can’t afford not to,” he added.

Many secondary schools in England have prioritised Year 11 and Year 13 students during the strikes, with GCSE and A-level exams weeks away.

Jean Ramsey, a 69-year-old education coach at a school in Oxfordshire, said students can no longer build relationships with teachers due to rapid turnover.

She said: “I work with young people who are anxious and overwhelmed.

“I have seen such a difference since the pandemic because nobody can build relationships of trust.

“There’s so much churn in the staff, they don’t know the students, and why should the students trust them, because they won’t stick around.”

Another NEU strike is planned to go ahead next week Tuesday.