From education to employment

School leaders’ union to consider re-running industrial action ballot due to postal disruption, as leaders in England and Wales vote to take action

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

The ballot results in England show an extraordinarily strong appetite for taking industrial action amongst leaders, with 87% voting ‘Yes’ to action short of strike (ASOS) and 64% voting ‘Yes’ to strike.

This means almost 10,000 school leaders across England are willing to take industrial action.

However, the legal requirement for turnout in England was not met, with votes counted for 42% of the union’s membership – short of the 50% needed.

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.”

There is a sharp contrast between the turnout in NAHT’s electronic consultative ballot for England, which received 64%, and the postal ballot that was restricted by the legislation.

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:

“We have to conclude that our democratic process has been compromised by factors outside of our control.

“It is ironic that legislation which the government claims protects the democratic rights of members has actively worked against that objective by not affording an alternative means of voting or allowing a clear ability to extend the deadline. It is notable that elections for party leaders are not constrained in the same way.

“There has been a very strong appetite for action from those we have heard from, with a higher percentage voting ‘Yes’ to both strike and action short of strike than in our consultative online ballot. It is clear our members’ resolve to stand up for themselves and for education has only hardened.

“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.

“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. We remain formally in dispute with the government. If progress is not made urgently NAHT members will not be able to keep the show on the road and I have no doubt they will join their NAHT colleagues in Wales and Northern Ireland in taking action.”

School leaders in Wales have voted decisively to take industrial action. NAHT Cyrmu today announces that 95% of its members have voted ‘Yes’ to action short of strike, and 75% have voted ‘Yes’ to strike, with a 55% turnout.

NAHT’s analysis shows that postal disruption was less of a factor in Wales. 96% of the duplicate ballot papers requested were in England.

Mr Whiteman said: “

The results of the ballot in Wales 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.”

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.

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