“Once more unto the breach….”

Jon Duveen writes the National Education Union (NEU) rejected the Secretary of State for Education's offer for a pay rise and non-pay concessions for teachers, citing lack of full funding and low inflation rates, and held a consultative ballot to reject it, leading to an increase in membership and school-based union involvement.

 

The offer by the Secretary of State for Education, Gillian Keegan, to the Teacher Unions was roundly rejected by the Joint General Secretaries of the National Education Union (NEU). Their view was endorsed by the NEU Executive at their meeting on Saturday 25th March. In a webinar on Monday 27th March, both Kevin Courtney and Mary Bousted, the Joint General Secretaries of the NEU, outlined the offer and the reasons that they rejected it. The webinar was attended by over 20,000 NEU members and from the comments in the Chat, no-one was arguing in favour of the settlement.

The headlines of the offer from the Secretary of State for Education were;

  1. A one-off non-consolidated payment of £1000 to all teachers for 2022/23.
  2. A pay rise of 4.5% for teachers in 2023/24 and a rise of 4.3% for experienced teachers.
  3. The Government would fund 0.5% of the pay rise and schools and colleges would have to fund 4%.

In addition the Secretary of State made some small concessions on non-pay issues, such as giving schools greater clarity on when schools can expect an Ofsted inspection, a review of the Ofsted complaints process, an offer to end the requirement that pay progression being linked to PRP and the creation of a workload task force. However, the offer was linked to a requirement that each union would ballot its members with a neutral or supportive recommendation.

However, for the NEU this offer was not acceptable because;

  1. The pay rise was well below the current rate of inflation and the projected rate for next year.
  2. The pay rise was not fully funded. In fact, vey little would be new money and schools would be expected to fund the majority of the pay rise from their existing funding. Effectively this means robbing the children and young people to fund a pay rise for teachers. Totally unacceptable, especially as we have been campaigning to get a fully funded pay rise and to improve the funding for schools.
  3. The non-pay parts of the offer would not have significantly improved the working conditions of teachers or the education of the children and young people.
  4. The non-negative recommendation was linked to the ballot to the pay.

The NEU decided to hold a consultative ballot of its teacher members in state-funded schools over the offer with a recommendation from the Executive that members reject the offer. The ballot ends on Sunday April 1st and there is an expectation that the members will reject the offer and that the turnout will be high.

The action that the NEU members have undertaken so far has had a dramatic effect on the union. Over 50,000 new members have joined the union, bringing their membership to over 500,00, and there has been an upsurge in school and college based union involvement. The regions of the union have been putting on more reps training courses to deal with the number of new reps drawn into action by the strikes and the co-ordination of the action in the districts of the union has created strike committees based on the union reps working collaboratively. The NEU Conference next week, 2nd to 6th April, should see these activities developed and deepened as the activists across England and Wales have a chance to meet.

One important section of the NEU, the support staff, have not been able to be engaged in the action as their pay and conditions are governed by a separate pay process. However, the recognised unions for support staff, Unison and GMB, have put in a pay claim and in the case of Unison are balloting for action. The NEU support staff will be hoping that the decisions made at Conference will allow them to be balloted for action as well.

The action by the NEU alongside that of the PCS and the Junior Doctors should se the present strike wave for better pay and against the high cost of living carried on past Easter. Hopefully, it will also allow local areas of the unions involved in action to link up and co-ordinate their activities and for the national unions to also co-ordinate their actions.


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