Schools could be out for summer term as union talks down 4.3 per cent pay offer

·4-min read
Striking teachers and their supporters in Cambridge - Martin Pope/Getty Images
Striking teachers and their supporters in Cambridge - Martin Pope/Getty Images

Schools face the prospect of summer term strikes as the biggest teaching union in England advises its members to reject a government pay offer.

The National Education Union said the pay offer of 4.3 per cent for most teachers next year, alongside a £1,000 one-off bonus for every teacher this year, was “an insulting offer from a Government which simply does not value teachers”.

The Government has also offered to give teachers more clarity over when to expect Ofsted visits, amid a row over the inspections in the wake of the death of Ruth Perry. The primary head teacher, 53, took her own life after she found out her school would be downgraded to “inadequate”.

Teaching unions have been locked in talks with Gillian Keegan, the Education Secretary, for the past 10 days. The NEU agreed to come to the table after first shutting down thousands of schools over seven days of national and regional strikes.

However, on a video call with union members on Monday night, NEU general secretaries said that while the Government had made an improved offer around pay and working conditions, it would still urge its members to reject it so they can ask for more.

Prospect of further strikes

If members vote against the offer, the NEU said it will announce two further days of strike action, on April 27 and May 2.

The NEU, which secured enough support for strikes in a ballot in January, has a mandate to take industrial action for six months from the date of the ballot.

The disruption in schools comes as pupils try to catch up with learning lost during the pandemic.

Mrs Keegan is understood to be preparing to publicly try and sell the deal to teaching union members this week. A Department for Education source said that if teachers reject the deal, they risk “walking away from £1,000 on the table and a bigger pay rise next year”.

The source said that teachers were already awarded a “sizeable” increase in pay in 2022, when most teachers received a five per cent pay rise, while new teachers saw starting salaries go up by 8.9 per cent.

If teachers do announce further strikes, the Government will “be preparing as best we can in advance”, they said.

The NEU has complained that the offer is less than teachers in the devolved nations of Wales and Scotland have received.

Teachers in Wales have accepted an additional three per cent pay rise for 2022-23, half of which was a one-off bonus, as well as a five per cent pay rise for next year.

In Scotland, teachers were offered seven per cent backdated for the last year, a five per cent pay rise between April and December 2023, and a two per cent increase between January and July 2024. They accepted the offer.

A Whitehall source said that the Government “needs to balance what teachers want with the interests of taxpayers”.

Mrs Keegan had previously called for teachers to receive pay rises of about 3.5 per cent next year, but has improved the offer. The new offer is in line with a recommendation from the National Foundation for Educational Research that the 2023 teacher pay award should exceed 4.1 per cent, the forecast of the rise in average UK earnings next year.

Meanwhile, starting salaries for new teachers are set to rise by 7.1 per cent in 2024 to £30,000.

Boost to pay in 2024

The NEU has called for inflation-matching backdated pay for 2022-23, as well as higher pay next year. It wants any pay offers to be fully funded, on top of the additional £2.3 billion awarded to schools in England for two consecutive years in the Autumn Budget.

The Government is prepared to offer additional funding for a 0.5 per cent pay boost to average teacher pay in 2024, with the remaining four per cent increase to come from existing budgets, the NEU said.

The union claimed that between 42 per cent and 58 per cent of schools would have to make cuts next year to afford the pay offer without additional funding.

As part of the Government’s offer, it agreed to create a workload taskforce with the aim of a five-hour target reduction in teacher and leader workload. The target would be measured annually and the taskforce, made up of government representatives and union members, would make recommendations to ministers and union leaders.

Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the NEU, said the its leaders were prepared to be a part of the taskforce but said it would have an “uphill task” without reforms to Ofsted, more money for smaller class sizes and increased class planning time.

A spate of strikes has brought chaos to the country since summer 2022, but deals have been struck in several disputes.

Railway workers represented by the RMT union have accepted a deal from Network Rail, and talks are continuing in a separate dispute between train companies and the union. NHS workers including nurses have agreed a deal with the Government, but junior doctors are still planning industrial action.