Teachers' pay – a test for the new National Education Union
ON 24TH JULY, THE TORY government made its overdue announcement on pay, deliberately timed to ensure most teachers had finished for the summer break, and meaning schools will struggle to set budgets.
Teachers in England and Wales on the main pay scale will get a pay rise of 3.5%, while those on the upper ranges will get 2% and leaders will receive 1.5% This is a rejection of the advice of the STRB (School Teachers Pay Review Body) to pay 3.5% across the board. While headlines ignored the fact that this represents another real pay cut in a sector in crisis (Million public sector workers receive “biggest pay rise in a decade”- iNews), teachers in my workplace and in schools across England and Wales knew this was a cheap con trick.
Exhausted by their workload and frustrated by having to fight cuts and academisation school by school, many teachers felt insulted by the initial reaction from the joint general secretaries of the newly formed National Education Union (previously NUT and ATL). Kevin Courtney and Mary Bousted welcomed the announcement as a “tribute” to the campaign on school funding, which Bousted claimed had “forced the DfE to find funding for this pay award”.
The Labour leadership stated that this represented a real terms pay cut and, embarrassingly, even the rival NASUWT recognised the announcement as a “bitter blow” to its members. But the NEU leadership seemed prepared to swallow another cut despite the NEU’s 5% claim, until a collective howl of righteous anger from teachers on social media resulted in a quick turnaround. The reality is that around 60% of teachers are on the upper or leadership pay scales, and therefore won’t receive 3.5%. Some may receive nothing at all because they work in academies and maintained schools that do not apply school teachers’ pay and conditions, while others work in schools which will refuse to comply because the ‘main scale’ is no longer statutory.
Funding for the ‘rise’ will come not from new Treasury money, but from £500m in cuts to existing Department for Education budgets, with the first 1% being paid from school budgets, already in crisis. On top of this year’s loss of 5,366 teachers’ jobs will come further staffing cuts, larger class sizes, a shrinking curriculum and a deepening disaster in Special Educational Needs support.
The NEU’s Scottish sister, the EIS (Educational Institute of Scotland) is threatening strike action over a 10% claim after pay talks were cancelled in July. We too must now plan to ballot members for action, if necessary implementing the successful University and College Union strategy of disaggregated ballots to ensure action can take place in as many associations, regions and MATs (multiacademy trusts) as possible.
Every part of our union has to be committed to winning a ballot, and pressure must build from the bottom. Inspiration comes from striking teachers in West Virginia, who spoke at NEU activist events at the end of term, explaining how they built state-wide strike action around pay and funding from a largely inactive union base.
Based on the tactics of West Virginia, NEU activists in the Education Solidarity Network are calling for a national NEU ‘Fed Up Friday’ starting on 14th September. Lunchtime walkouts and school gate meetings should put the demand for a 5% pay rise, a legal limit on teacher working hours and proper schools funding.