Teacher unions vote to strike in largest-ever walkout over pay

NEU joint general secretaries Mary Bousted and Kevin Courtney said teachers were leaving the profession ‘in droves’ (Stefan Rousseau/PA) (PA Wire)
NEU joint general secretaries Mary Bousted and Kevin Courtney said teachers were leaving the profession ‘in droves’ (Stefan Rousseau/PA) (PA Wire)

Teacher unions have voted for strike action despite the Prime Minister urging them to refrain over fears of inflicting “substantial damage” to children’s education.

More than 121,000 members of the National Education Union (NEU) voted to strike, an “overwhelming 90 per cent” of those who took part in the historic ballot, the latest wave of industrial action which has swept across England and Wales.

The union has declared seven days of walkouts, rallies and picket lines in February and March, but it has said any individual school will only be affected by four of the days.

Union bosses warned their members they would have to be prepared to be docked pay during the strike days and not to do any marking or set up replacement online lessons to show the “value of their labour”.

The Department for Education (DfE) has offered a 5% pay rise to most teachers for the current school year, but the NEU is demanding a fully-funded above inflation pay rise for teachers.

NEU general secretary Dr Mary Bousted said that the results show teachers were being driven from their profession suffering a “toxic mix of low pay and excessive workload”.

She added that public workers are living under the longest period of pay suppression “since the Napoleonic Wars”.

She said: “The hard facts cannot be ignored. Children are losing out because there are not enough teachers or support staff.”

The first day of strike action is expected to take place on February 1 affecting 23,400 schools in England and Wales.

The NEU added more than 18,000 support staff voted to strike but the ballot did not meet the Government’s “restrictive” threshold for turnout.

More than 10,000 members of school leaders’ union NAHT, which represents leaders in schools, indicated they were willing to take strike action but again failed to meet the Government’s threshold.

Paul Whiteman, NAHT general secretary, said: “It is incredibly frustrating that anti-trade union and anti-democratic legislation compelled us to conduct the ballot by post during a period in which the management of the Royal Mail refused to take action to ameliorate the disruption to the postal service.”

He added: “I warn the government that they are on notice. 10,000 thousand school leaders have made it clear that they are at breaking point with the way things are. That is something that must be listened to.”

Children’s Commissioner for England, Dame Rachel de Souza said she was “disappointed” by today’s ballot results.

She said: “I know the decision to strike will not have been taken lightly for any teacher, and the vote has been far from unanimous - but it comes in the wake of huge disruption from the pandemic and will add to the challenges already faced by so many pupils who are catching up on lost learning.

“I urge those choosing to take industrial action to take all possible steps to minimise the impact on children and families, by working to keep schools open for as many children as possible and with priority given to vulnerable pupils and those with SEND.

“I am grateful to all those teachers and support staff who continue to prioritise their pupils’ wellbeing and I want to see an end to the dispute as soon as possible.”

The full list of projected NEU strike days

Wednesday 1 February: all eligible members in England and Wales.

Tuesday 14 February: all eligible members in Wales.

Tuesday 28 February: all eligible members in the following English regions: Northern, North West, Yorkshire & The Humber.

Wednesday 1 March: all eligible members in the following English regions: East Midlands, West Midlands, Eastern.

Thursday 2 March: all eligible members in the following English regions: London, South East, South West.

Wednesday 15 March: all eligible members in England and Wales.

Thursday 16 March: all eligible members in England and Wales.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman previously said: “We would continue to call on teachers not to strike given we know what substantial damage was caused to children’s education during the pandemic and it’s certainly not something we want to see repeated.

“We would hope they would continue to discuss with us their concerns rather than withdraw education from children.”

The NEU will have to give two weeks’ notice of any industrial action.

It came as Education Secretary Gillian Keegan has said she plans to meet with teaching union leaders later this week.

SNP education spokeswoman Carol Monaghan, a former teacher, said she will oppose the UK Government’s anti-strike legislation before asking: “Does the Secretary of State agree that constructive dialogue with our dedicated teachers is vital rather than demonising them as ‘Bolsheviks’ and ‘commies’ as one of her colleagues has disgracefully done?”

Ms Keegan, replying at education questions, told the Commons: “I always believe in constructive dialogue. The very first meeting I took as we welcomed in the new year was with all the four main teaching unions and I’ll also be meeting them again later on this week.”