From education to employment

School leaders in Wales vote to take industrial action over pay and funding

females holding strike signs

School leaders’ union NAHT Cyrmu, which represents leaders in the majority of schools in Wales, today (Mon 16 Jan) announces the results of its formal industrial action ballot on pay and funding, which began on Fri 11 November and closed on Weds 11 Jan.

The ballot results show an exceptionally strong appetite for taking industrial action, with 95% voting ‘Yes’ to action short of strike (ASOS) and 75% voting ‘Yes’ to strike, with a turnout of 55% of the union’s membership.

This comes as NEU votes to strike.

Paul Whiteman, NAHT general secretary, said:

“The results of this ballot are unprecedented, and reflect the sheer strength of feeling among school leaders in Wales that the system is broken. They feel they have no choice but to stand up and fight for themselves and for the children and staff in their schools.

“School leaders are relentlessly reasonable people and they have held their schools together throughout a decade of underfunding of education, eroded salaries, and a pandemic. But our members are telling me now that they cannot continue to run their schools in the current circumstances.

“Insufficient pay has caused a severe recruitment and retention crisis, and the lack of resources, funding, services and staff means that the education and support that can be given to pupils is suffering as a consequence. School leaders are doing their best with what little they have, but with their own salaries expected to be worth as much as 22% less this year than in 2010, many are reaching breaking point.

“No school leaders would take industrial action lightly and we will now return to our National Executive Committee to agree what the action voted for will look like and when it will take place. But this is a huge wake up call for Local Authority employers and the Welsh Government. For school leaders to be driven to voting to strike means things have gone very wrong indeed. They urgently need to listen to our members’ concerns and to take action to avoid the consequences of the industrial action to come.”

Laura Doel, director of NAHT Cymru, said:

“The continuous education reform agenda, issues with recruitment and retention, and the repeated underfunding of schools has left our education system at breakpoint. Our leaders are being asked to do more with less, schools are losing staff, and those left are struggling to keep up with the demands of the job.

“This result should act as a wake-up call to the Welsh Government that their ambitious reform agenda is endangering the education of learners across Wales. Our focus must be on delivering the new curriculum and ALN legislation and any vanity projects, like reforming the school day/year for example, need to be kicked into the long grass. An urgent review of the middle tier, its funding and its value must also form part of the discussion.

“The Local Authority employers need to either realise the plight of schools and work with us to address the issues or sit on the side-lines while we address the burdens placed on the system with the government and fight to free up the much-needed funds to enable our schools to run properly.

“We need to invest in education where it offers the most value for our learners, and that’s in the workforce. It is only with highly skilled, quality teachers and teaching assistants in our classrooms, and strong leaders in our schools, that we can deliver for our children.”

School leaders in Wales will join their colleagues in Northern Ireland in taking action. Members of NAHT Northern Ireland have been engaged in action short of strike since 18 October 2022.

School leaders in England also voted strongly for action in a separate ballot, but the legal requirement for turnout was not met. 87% voted ‘Yes’ to action short of strike (ASOS) and 64% voted ‘Yes’ to strike, with votes counted for 42% of the union’s membership – short of the 50% needed.

Mr Whiteman said the union is considering re-running the industrial action ballot in England due to concern that the democratic process has been compromised, saying:

“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.”

In the final week of the ballot, NAHT surveyed those that had recently requested a ballot paper and 73% of respondents said they had still not received one.

Mr Whiteman continued: “It is my first priority that we conduct ourselves as a truly democratic union, which means every member’s vote must be counted. If our members feel that they have not had the chance to be heard during this ballot, it may be that we have no option but to start again. The National Executive Committee will meet this week to establish our next steps.”

For workers to take legal industrial action, union ballots must reach a 50% turn out. In England, for members in ‘important public services’, such as education, at least 40% of all those entitled to vote must vote in favour. In Wales, the 50% response rate is all that is required.

NAHT balloted approximately 25,500 eligible members. This included serving school leaders in state funded schools in England and Wales, but excluded various member categories such as School Business Leaders (SBLs), whose salaries are covered by different bargaining arrangements, not the School Teachers’ Review Body (STRB).

In England, the union’s dispute is with the government, i.e. the Secretary of State for Education. In Wales, the dispute is with school leaders’ employers i.e. Local Authorities.

In October, NAHT conducted an online survey, to establish members’ views on pay and funding. In that survey, 91% of respondents in Wales indicated they would be willing to take action short of strike, and 64% of respondents indicated they would be willing to strike.

In England, 84% of respondents indicated they would be willing to take action short of strike, and 55% of respondents indicated they would be willing to strike.

NAHT had to issue duplicate postal ballot papers to 22% of its ballot constituency. But NAHT’s analysis shows that postal disruption was less of a factor in Wales. 96% of the duplicate ballot papers requested were in England.

More information on our ballots can be found on our website:

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