From education to employment

Teachers Strike for a fully-funded increase in pay

females holding strike signs

In its ongoing campaign for a fully-funded, above inflation pay rise, teacher members of the National Education Union in England and Wales and support staff in Wales have voted overwhelmingly for strike action and the ballot has successfully surpassed the restrictive thresholds set by Government for strike action.

The question put was, “Are you prepared to take strike action in furtherance of this dispute?”.

For the ballot of teachers, in England a 90.44% majority voted YES on a turnout of 53.27%. In Wales a 92.28% majority voted YES on a turnout of 58.07%.

The ballot is a result of failure by the Secretary of State in England and the employers in Wales to ensure enough money is available to pay a fully-funded increase in pay for teachers which at least matches inflation, and which begins to restore lost pay.

The union is declaring seven days of strike action in February and March, though any individual school will only be affected by four of them. The first will be on will be on Wednesday 1 February, affecting 23,400 schools in England and Wales. Teacher members in sixth form colleges in England, who have already been balloted and taken strike action in recent months, will also take action on these days in a separate but linked dispute with the Secretary of State.

Three ballots for support staff were also conducted simultaneous to the teacher ballots in England and Wales.

In England, a ballot result of support staff in schools saw a 84.13% majority vote YES on a turnout of 46.46%. This result, despite being hugely in favour of action, just missed the Government’s restrictive thresholds.

In Wales, a ballot result of support staff in schools saw a 88.26% majority vote YES on a turnout of 51.30%. This result passed the thresholds and support staff in Wales will be called to take action in their dispute on the dates below.

In England’s sixth form colleges, a ballot result of support staff saw a 83.56% majority vote YES on a turnout of 36.23%. This result, despite being hugely in favour of action, missed the Government’s restrictive thresholds.

This means that the following constituencies of NEU membership are able to take strike action in pursuance of a fully-funded, above inflation pay rise: teachers in England state-funded schools; teachers in Wales state-funded schools; support staff in Wales state-funded schools; and teachers in sixth form colleges in England. 

The full list of projected strike days are as follows:

  • Wednesday 1 February 2023: all eligible members in England and Wales.
  • Tuesday 14 February 2023: all eligible members in Wales.
  • Tuesday 28 February 2023: all eligible members in the following English regions: Northern, North West, Yorkshire & The Humber.
  • Wednesday 1 March 2023: all eligible members in the following English regions: East Midlands, West Midlands, Eastern.
  • Thursday 2 March 2023: all eligible members in the following English regions: London, South East, South West.
  • Wednesday 15 March 2023: all eligible members in England and Wales.
  • Thursday 16 March 2023: all eligible members in England and Wales.

Dr Mary Bousted and Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretaries of the National Education Union, said:

“We have continually raised our concerns with successive education secretaries about teacher and support staff pay and its funding in schools and colleges, but instead of seeking to resolve the issue they have sat on their hands. It is disappointing that the Government prefers to talk about yet more draconian anti-strike legislation, rather than work with us to address the causes of strike action.

“This is not about a pay rise but correcting historic real-terms pay cuts. Teachers have lost 23% in real-terms since 2010, and support staff 27% over the same period. The average 5% pay rise for teachers this year is some 7% behind inflation. In the midst of a cost of living crisis, that is an unsustainable situation.

“The Government has also been happy to sit by as their own recruitment targets are routinely missed. Teachers are leaving in droves, a third gone within five years of qualifying. This is a scandalous waste of talent and taxpayers’ money, yet the Government seems unbothered about the conditions they are allowing schools and colleges to slide into. The reasons for the recruitment and retention crisis are not a mystery; the reports in the last week from the IFS and the NFER confirm the NEU argument.

“The Government must know there is going to have to be a correction on teacher pay. They must realise that school support staff need a pay rise. 

“If they do not, then the consequences are clear for parents and children. The lack of dedicated maths teachers, for example, means that 1 in 8 pupils are having work set and assessed by people who are not qualified in the teaching of maths. Anyone who values education should support us in this dispute because that is what we are standing up for. It is not us who should turn a blind eye to the consequences of Government policy on schools and colleges.

“It continues to be the aspiration of the NEU and its membership that this dispute can be resolved without recourse to strike action. We regret having to take strike action, and are willing to enter into negotiations at any time, any place, but this situation cannot go on.

“We met with Gillian Keegan last week and would be happy to do so again, but no concrete proposals on teacher or support staff pay were put forward.”

Snapshot survey suggests majority of schools affected by teacher strike

A snapshot survey conducted by the Association of School and College Leaders suggests the majority of schools have been affected by today’s strike by teachers in the National Education Union.

Of 948 headteachers and principals in England and Wales, mostly in secondary schools, 97% (920) reported that teachers were on strike. In 35% (330) more than half of teachers took part in the industrial action.

Of the 920 schools and sixth-form colleges where teachers were on strike:

  • 11% (97) were fully open with all students onsite
  • 80% (738) were partially open with some students onsite
  • 9% (85) were completely shut with no students on site.

Those that were partially open or completely shut took a range of measures to support students, depending on how the circumstances of the strike affected their setting.

Of these 823 respondents:

  • 86% (709) provided work for students to do at home
  • 81% (668) had onsite provision for vulnerable students
  • 35% (284) made phone calls to vulnerable students who were not onsite
  • 38% (315) had onsite provision for children of critical workers
  • 60% (496) had onsite provision for exam year groups
  • 17% (136) had onsite provision for students eligible for free school meals, with others providing measures such as packed lunches and vouchers.

We also asked how onsite provision was being put on in settings which were partially or fully open. Of the 833 respondents answering this question:

  • 41% (344) combined classes
  • 48% (399) used support staff
  • 29% (238) used supply staff

Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said:

“The overwhelming feeling among school and college leaders and teachers today will be one of sadness that we have reached a point at which strike action has been taken as a last resort against a government that will not listen.

“This has clearly been a difficult day for everyone concerned, but the stark truth is that the erosion of teacher pay and conditions over the past decade, and resulting teacher shortages, mean every day in education is a difficult one.

“We implore the government to avert further industrial action by improving pay and conditions and addressing the teacher recruitment and retention crisis.”

The survey was conducted between 10am and 1pm today by emailing a survey link to 3,334 headteachers and principals, with 948 responses received – a response rate of 28%. The majority of responses were from mainstream secondary schools (85%), with the remainder from a mix of primary, alternative provision, special schools and sixth-form colleges. Of the respondents, 4% (39) were from schools in Wales.

However, statistics also suggest that over 90% of schools open during strike action

Data collected by the Department for Education showed 90.7% of schools remained open to some or all pupils on Wednesday 1 February during strike action by the NEU (National Education Union). 45.9% were reported to be fully open, 44.7% were open but restricting attendance and less than 10% (9.3%) were closed.

Many parents and pupils will have faced disruption, but we are hugely grateful to head teachers, teachers and support staff who continued to work today, so a significant number of pupils will have not experienced disruption to their education. This is particularly important for vulnerable pupils, children of key workers, and those preparing for important exams.

52.1% of primary schools were fully open and a further 38.7% were restricting attendance, compared to 17.4% of secondary schools fully open, and 73.6% restricting attendance.

This data is based on returns from 77.3% of schools in England – you can access our data here.

Sector Response

Education Secretary Gillian Keegan said:  

“I am very grateful to head teachers for all their work to keep our schools open and to minimise the impact of today’s strike action.  

“One school closure is too many, and it remains deeply disappointing that the NEU proceeded with this disruptive action – but many teachers, head teachers and support staff have shown that children’s education and wellbeing must always come first.  

“Conversations with unions are ongoing and I will be continuing discussions around pay, workload, recruitment and retention, and more.”

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT:

“The government needs to be honest with the public. This dispute is not the product of extraordinary economic conditions. This dispute is the result of more than a decade of the deliberate erosion of investment in education. More than a decade of the deliberate erosion of leader, teacher and support staff pay.

“We warned of the recruitment and retention crisis more than five years ago and every year since. The government has failed to respond to those warnings, and it is the government alone who are responsible for the decline of teaching careers.

“My appeal to government is end the meetings empty of offers, designed only to provide a veneer of negotiation, and enter into meaningful talks. Our cause is just, and our cause is right.”

NAHT Cymru Director Laura Doel said:

“Today is the first time in NAHT’s 125 year history that we commence national industrial action in Wales on pay and funding. For too long leaders and teachers have been blighted by continued below inflation pay awards that has seen their pay eroded by over 22% in the last 10 years alone.

“Our members are taking a stand from today to protect education; to restore pay to help combat the recruitment and retention crisis; to address the workload burdens that are crippling the education system and give leaders and teachers the time and the tools they need to be able to concentrate of what is important – educating our children and young people.

“The good, honest, decent, hard-working workers of Wales will not sit back and do nothing while a UK Government continues to strike at the heart of their rights with their anti-trade union legislation. We have a proud history of rising up against oppression and we will do it again.”

Dr Mary Bousted and Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said: 

“Today, teachers in schools and sixth form college in England and Wales and support staff in Wales schools, took strike action in pursuit of a fully-funded, above inflation pay rise. The government has short-changed them for over a decade, with significant real-terms cuts to pay and persistently unfunded rises which schools cannot afford. 

“The legacy is all too clear, with schools having to cut services to the bone and a recruitment and retention crisis that is a detriment to children’s education every single day. One day’s disruption through strike action is dwarfed by the long-term damage caused by government policy on education funding, on workload, and on pay. 

“Gillian Keegan, in her continued refusal to take on board the concerns of teachers and support staff, is letting this generation of children down. The Government needs to invest in education. You can’t have decent growth in an economy if you don’t invest in education, if you don’t invest in public services. The Government has got to get to grips with that.

“Our own research tells us that around 85% of schools in England and Wales were affected by our strike action today. This is no cause for celebration, but an indication of the level of anger amongst our members. It is a huge statement from a determined membership who smashed through the Government’s thresholds that were only ever designed to prevent strike action happening at all.

“Today, we put the education secretary on notice. She has until our next strike day for England, 28 February, to change her stance. NEU members do not want to go on strike again. They want constructive talks that deal directly with the long-standing concerns they experience in their schools and colleges every day. So that they can get back to doing what they do best, working with pupils in the classroom. However, be in no doubt that our members will do whatever it takes to stand up for education, including further strike action, if Gillian Keegan still fails to step up with concrete and meaningful proposals.”

Veejay Lingiah, CEO and Co-Founder of FlashAcademy®, said:

“With the news that strike action is set to take place soon, many parents may understandably feel concerned that their children’s education may suffer as a result of school closures. However, as we’ve seen during the lockdowns in 2020 and 2021, if the correct tools are in place, children are still able to continue successfully learning online from the comfort of their home.

“Thankfully, the strike action will only take place on specific dates through February and March, meaning that the impact on children’s learning will hopefully be minimal. Teaching staff are now armed with a suite of options to support pupils remotely, with structured learning and remote dashboards to track student progress.

“As the UK’s leading EAL (English as an Additional Language) digital solution for schools, our main concern is for the often-disadvantaged children for whom English isn’t their first language. These children not only have the remote working challenge ahead of them, but potentially the inability to understand instructions, unless their remote working is provided in a home language friendly way. A key reason that FlashAcademy helps these students learn remotely from 48 different home languages.”

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