THE ANNUAL Conferences of the two main teachers unions, the National Education Union (NEU) and the National Association of Schoolmasters and Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT), held over the Easter weekend, have voted for strike action to end low pay.
The NEU Conference in Brighton instructed the union to ‘launch a vigorous campaign on teachers’ pay’, calling for salaries to be restored to 2010 levels over the next three years, overwhelmingly passing an amendment which ‘committed to a ballot of all members for strike action’. The amended motion instructed the union’s executive to work with other teaching unions on submitting a joint pay claim for all school workers and an initial pay increase of 5% ‘to begin restoring the cuts in living standards all school staff have suffered’.
In Birmingham, the NASUWT conference voted for ‘rolling strike action if governments, administrations and employers fail to agree to substantial, above-inflation and across-the-board pay increases next year’. The Nasuwt has 280,000 members while there are 400,000 in the NEU.
Commenting after the debate, Kevin Courtney, General Secretary of the NEU, said: ‘Today’s resolution and debate underlines the seriousness of the teacher recruitment and retention issue facing the government. ‘The Union calls on the government to introduce a working hours limit for teachers to deal with the workload crisis and to begin a process of the restoration of teacher pay starting with a 5% fully funded pay rise.
‘The Union will prepare to consult members widely on the action we need to take in order to win these demands and solve the teacher recruitment and retention crisis. ‘The real value of teacher pay has been cut by some 15% since 2010, reducing the competitiveness of teacher pay and adding to the intensifying crisis in teacher recruitment and retention.
‘Changes to the teacher pay structure have made the situation worse – pay progression rates for teachers are falling and many teachers are denied an annual pay increase. ‘The impact of these attacks on teacher pay are clear – with government teacher recruitment targets missed year after year and teachers leaving the profession in record numbers, potential and serving teachers are turning away from the profession just when we need more teachers due to the increases in pupil numbers.’
The NASUWT published its Annual Big Question Survey ahead of its vote for industrial action to address the years of real-terms cuts in teachers’ salaries. It reported that nearly three quarters (72%) of teachers think potential recruits are being putting off a career in teaching because of pay levels. More than four out of five (82%) think teaching is not competitive with other professions in terms of pay.
Nearly a third (32%) of teachers have had to increase their use of credit in the last year as a result of the years of cuts to their salaries. 33% have had to delay essential household repairs and nearly one in ten (8%) have had to take a second job on top of their highly demanding teaching responsibilities.
Chris Keates, General Secretary of the NASUWT, said: ‘Ministers are not only betraying teachers and the children and young people they teach by continuing to deny teachers pay which is competitive with other comparable graduate professions, but they are also fuelling the teacher supply crisis. ‘Staggering from year to year making paltry single percentage offers will not address the problems. ‘Teachers will continue to leave the profession and potential recruits will be deterred from entering it in the first place.
‘The NASUWT believes that radical and urgent action is needed through a planned process for a multi-year award, which will close the gap between the pay of teachers and other graduate professions by the end of the current Comprehensive Review period. ‘Teachers are at the heart of pupils’ education. The crisis in teacher supply can only be addressed by recognising this self-evident truth and rewarding teachers as highly skilled professionals to make teaching more attractive and ending the culture rife in schools of seeking only to pay teachers what they can get away with.’
As well as expressing their determination to strike for decent pay, teachers debated a whole number of other vital issues at the two Easter conferences and formulated policies to deal with them. NEU delegates voted for a motion entitled ‘Academies, MATs, Re-broker, Rebrand or Renationalise’.
General Secretary Courtney said: ‘Since 2010 the Coalition and Conservative Governments have pursued a reckless and evidence-free policy of academisation of schools. ‘It has resulted in a fragmented school landscape in which over 7,000 taxpayer-funded academies and free schools operate outside the framework of the local authority maintained school system, unaccountable to either parents or local communities.
‘The rate of academy trust failures should bring shame on any government, yet the Conservatives are hell-bent on pursuing their ideologically-driven academy programme despite the growing body of evidence that it is the wrong approach. ‘Despite being fully-funded by the taxpayer, academies and free schools operate according to company law in a commercialised school marketplace where they have adopted the worst practices of the private sector, such as excessive executive pay. ‘While the highest-paid academy chief executives are enjoying six-figure salaries, the government has undermined the national pay system for teachers and has suppressed teachers’ pay, with increases pegged significantly below inflation.
‘This has contributed to the current recruitment and retention crisis and caused a widening gap between the pay of those at the top of academy chains and those working up to 80 hours a week in our classrooms. This cannot be justified. ‘Government must take immediate steps to curb these excessive pay rates and rises, and the School Teachers’ Pay Review Body must restore teachers’ pay in both real and comparative terms, at least to the real-terms levels prevailing in 2010. ‘The NEU has long been calling for related-party transactions to be outlawed. They are immoral and corrupting. It cannot be right for those running academy trusts or their families to profit from their positions.
‘Education is a public service and academy funds should not be regarded as a cash cow for get-rich-quick academy directors. ‘The NEU is demanding that schools are returned to their local authority family of schools. ‘This is the only way to restore the public service ethos in education, guarantee a high-quality education for all children and young people in England’s schools, and ensure the accountability and public probity that parents and communities are entitled to expect of their education service.’
NEU delegates also heard that lack of special needs funding means growing numbers of children are left without a suitable school place and that official statistics show that at least 4,050 special needs pupils were without a place in 2017 in England.
NEU leader Courtney condemned this as a ‘disgrace’, saying: ‘Children are at home because local authorities don’t have enough money to provide suitable education. ‘Local authorities are being placed in an impossible position. They have a legal duty to plan high quality education for every child, but cuts have taken away the resources they need to educate children with complex needs.’
Delegates at the NASUWT conference condemned the increase in the retirement age for teachers to 68 and the potential for further increases in coming years. General Secretary Keates said: ‘Teaching is now widely regarded as one of the most stressful occupations in the country. Teachers are increasingly burned out long before they reach 68. ‘The government requires teachers to work until they are 68, but fails to prevent the widespread discrimination practiced in too many schools against older teachers who are disproportionately subject to capability procedures, denied access to CPD and regularly told they are too expensive.
‘They are also penalised by the negative culture in too many schools towards requests for flexible working and the punitive financial impact of accessing their pension before 68 mean teachers have little choice but to work until they drop.’
The NASUWT also called for governments across the UK to apply and enforce maximum class size limits and for action to be taken against schools that fail to heed them. NASUWT delegates heard that time for creative, practical and art-based subjects is being squeezed out of the school day as a result of the Tory reforms to the curriculum and exams and schools wishing to improve their rankings in the league tables. Specialist teachers are also losing their teaching jobs.
In the ‘Speak Up for Libraries’ debate at the NEU Conference, General Secretary Courtney said: ‘Libraries are an essential part of school and community life and as relevant now as they ever have been. ‘Tragically, over the past decade the number of school libraries staffed by qualified librarians has declined rapidly. School budgets have been cut to the bone, making it impossible for many to keep running library services.’