Teachers in England at ‘end of their tether’, says union chief

<span>Photograph: Ben Birchall/PA</span>
Photograph: Ben Birchall/PA

Teachers are at “the end of their tether”, Mary Bousted of the National Education Union has said, as the government called last-ditch talks on Monday in an attempt to avert this week’s schools strikes in England.

Teachers are expected to be among up to half a million workers across the public sector taking strike action on Wednesday 1 February, as Rishi Sunak’s government continues to face a relentless wave of industrial unrest.

They will be joined by civil servants across government departments, train drivers and university lecturers and staff.

The education secretary, Gillian Keegan, has summoned the education unions for discussions on Monday afternoon, but Bousted, the NEU’s joint general secretary, told the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg that she saw little sign of movement from ministers.

“I don’t see that the government at the moment is serious about negotiating; and we would not have got to this point if they had started to negotiate with us last October, when we first decided to ballot our members,” she said. “Teachers are at the end of their tether. They are undervalued, they feel underpaid, they are completely overworked.”

The NEU is demanding an above-inflation pay rise, fully funded by the Treasury so that schools are not forced to dip into already tight budgets. Bousted added that the NEU had signed up more than 34,000 new members since the result of the strike ballot was announced. “That shows the strength of feeling,” she said.

Keegan’s remit covers England. Welsh teachers are also striking on Wednesday, and rolling teachers’ strikes have been under way in Scotland.

The National Association of Head Teachers announced last week that it would reballot its members on industrial action if pay talks with the DfE broke down or failed to reach a conclusion.

The strike ballot that the NAHT began last year failed to reach the 50% voting threshold, with many members complaining that they were unable to vote because of disruption to postal services.

The NAHT also published its evidence to the School Teacher Review Board independent pay body for next year’s (2023-24) pay round, which said increasing numbers of school leaders were leaving the profession.

Sunak and his chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, have repeatedly insisted they are not willing to reopen the current year’s settlements for public sector workers, claiming that doing so could stoke inflation.

Teachers were awarded an average of about 5%, but with inflation in double digits, that amounted to a significant real-terms pay cut for many. The Institute for Fiscal Studies recently calculated that senior teachers had in effect seen their pay decline by £6,600 since 2010.

When the levelling up secretary, Michael Gove, was asked on Sunday about the possibility that the teachers’ strike could be averted, he said: “Gillian [Keegan] is a warm, determined, thoughtful and caring secretary of state. She has been looking forensically at the issues that we have in education. She wants to avoid the need for strike action.”

The shadow education secretary, Bridget Phillipson, said she did not want to see the schools strikes go ahead, but she understood teachers’ concerns.

“This isn’t just about pay. It’s about the fact that they feel undervalued and under-appreciated for the work that they do,” she said. “Like all parents, I’m concerned about the disruption that will cause. But the only reason these strikes are happening is because government ministers haven’t been serious about negotiating.”


The Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) is stepping up its campaign of industrial action on Wednesday, with all of the 100,000 members whose ballots met the threshold for industrial action going on strike in unison.

The PCS has previously targeted specific departments and agencies separately. Scores of government employers are expected to be affected, from Border Force to the Department for Work and Pensions.