Teachers in England and Wales could strike again in September, says NEU chief

Teachers in England and Wales could strike again as early as September, according to the head of the UK’s largest education union, who warned of “growing frustration” within the profession as the country heads towards a general election.

Daniel Kebede, the general secretary of the National Education Union, said further strikes were still on the table after nearly 150,000 teachers voted for industrial action in an indicative ballot, the results of which were published last week.

Speaking to the media before a debate on pay at the NEU’s annual conference in Bournemouth, Kebede said education was in a “polycrisis” and urged the education secretary, Gillian Keegan, to “listen deeply” to avoid ending up on a collision course.

Kebede, who is attending his first conference as general secretary, did not mince his words, accusing the government of “burning down the house” as it prepared to leave power and describing a recent meeting with Keegan as “absolutely abysmal”.

He was due to address delegates in a private session on Wednesday, to give them full details of the preliminary ballot results in which 90.3% of voting members in England said they supported strike action, with a turnout of just above the legal threshold of 50%, before a full debate on Thursday.

An emergency motion, which will go before conference, falls short of calling for a formal ballot for strike action, focusing instead on building a campaign for a fully funded above-inflation pay rise. However, there are likely to be amendments.

“Should conference commit us to a formal ballot I will absolutely be fighting for that and putting all efforts into that campaign,” said Kebede.

Last year, members took part in a series of strikes, causing widespread disruption, which were finally called off after the government made an improved 6.5% pay offer.

The motion before conference this year contains a warning for both Conservatives and Labour: “Conference believes the strongest use of the ballot at this moment is to serve notice on Rishi Sunak, and Keir Starmer, that members are prepared to act industrially if they fail to deliver.”

It adds: “Conference understands that Labour will likely form the next government. Whilst we will be able to work with a Labour government on some policy areas, we will need to campaign against them on others.”

Whatever the outcome at conference, the union leadership can decide to call a formal ballot for strike action at a later date. “The priority is that we win on the issue of pay and funding. The campaign will remain and industrial action will remain a tactic that could be deployed to win on the issue,” said Kebede.

Asked about potential turnout in any formal ballot, Kebede said: “We have to absolutely consider the amount of work it would take to get through this government’s anti-democratic threshold in the context of a formal ballot. I don’t think, however, the mood is declining. I think, if anything, there’s becoming more and more frustration amongst the profession. They are realising this government is burning down the house as they leave government.”

Asked what the earliest date for future strikes might be, he said: “My view is if there’s a decision to go for a formal ballot we should conduct that over a fairly significant period of time, looking to take action in September.”

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Kebede’s comments come after the Department for Education published its submission to the School Teachers’ Review Body (STRB), the independent group that advises on teachers’ pay. Rather than specifying a percentage pay increase, the education secretary asked the STRB to make its recommendation “more sustainable” for school budgets, which has been taken to mean 1-2%.

Kebede said the NEU would be campaigning alongside other unions on cuts and funding. But it could find itself alone if it presses ahead with a formal ballot. Last weekend, delegates at the annual conference of the NASUWT teaching union passed a motion that called for political campaigning to “take priority over industrial action”.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “The independent STRB is currently considering evidence for this year’s pay award, unions should engage with this process instead of striking before they even know what the pay recommendations are.

“Further strike action would cause more disruption to pupils who have already lost over 25m school days due to last year’s industrial action. Overall school funding is rising to over £60bn in 2024/25, its highest ever level in real terms per pupil – and teachers have already benefited from two historic pay awards totalling over 12% in just two years.”

A Welsh government spokesperson said: “The UK government’s austerity agenda places significant pressure on all budgets. As a result, the budget for 2024-25 is now worth £700m less in real terms than when it was set in 2021 and meeting the cost of the teachers’ pay award should be considered in this context.

“We recognise NEU Cymru’s concerns and will continue to work and engage with them as part of the social partnership approach here in Wales.”

The Guardian

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