Strong rejection of pay offer in England shows teachers’ fury, says union

Anger among teachers in England over pay and school funding is hardening after what union leaders hailed as an “unprecedented” rejection of the government’s latest offer.

Nearly 200,000 National Education Union members voted by 98% to 2% to reject the government’s offer of a £1,000 one-off payment and a 4.5% pay rise next year.

It was the highest rate of opposition in the union’s recent history, higher even than the 90% vote in favour of strike action in the NEU’s formal ballot in January.

After the result was announced, delegates at the NEU’s annual conference in Harrogate taunted the education secretary, Gillian Keegan, chanting: “Come on Gill, pay the bill.”

Kevin Courtney, the NEU’s joint general secretary, said: “The strength of this vote is completely unprecedented for a teaching union in the UK in modern times. There was anger in September, when the NEU’s campaign began but I think this vote shows a step-change to fury. It reflects a determination among teachers that things cannot go on as they are.

“This result cannot be batted away with glib dismissals from the Department for Education. This is a very clear, unambiguous message from almost 200,000 voters. This is the profession telling the education secretary that her offer is insulting and will not do.”

The result puts the NEU on a collision course with the government, with Keegan and Downing Street saying the vote means the £1,000 payment will be withdrawn and next year’s pay deal will be set by the independent School Teachers’ Review Body, which makes recommendations to the government.

The result will also trigger two more days of strike action, likely to close schools around England, on Thursday 27 April and Tuesday 2 May. The annual conference will debate a motion calling for a ballot on further strikes in the autumn, which seems almost certain to pass given the strength of feeling among delegates.

The prime minister’s official spokesperson said: “With a week of classroom time already lost and with exams fast approaching, it is extremely disappointing that the NEU have called for more strike action. The decision will also result in less money for teachers this year, with the independent pay review body now looking at pay for next year only, whereas with the government’s deal they could have had an extra £1,000 in their pay packets.”

The union said its school representatives would work with headteachers to ensure year 11 and year 13 students preparing for exams would not be affected by the strikes. Students begin sitting GCSE and A-level exams from 15 May.

NEU members said teachers’ increased opposition was driven by the inadequate pay offer in the face of high inflation, and by the government’s failure to fully fund higher pay, meaning that the bulk of increased wages would come from already overstretched school budgets.

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In a sign of the hardening mood, the union said it had enrolled 57,000 new members since the strike result was announced in mid-January, with suggestions that members were switching from other teaching unions.

“The responsibility for these strikes lies with the government,” Courtney said, listing the education secretaries that the NEU had tried to negotiate with since last year.

“We’ve been trying to talk to them since we wrote to Nadhim Zahawi in July, we wrote to James Cleverly in August, we wrote to Kit Malthouse in September, we wrote to Gillian Keegan in October. They didn’t meet with us until the ninth of January, then they refused to talk to us while we had strikes on.

“Then when we did get a meeting with them, after the strikes, they make a ridiculous offer that has been rejected by 98% of members. So the responsibility lies with them.”

Three other unions – the NASUWT, Association of School and College Leaders and the National Association of Head Teachers – are also balloting members on the pay offer, with results expected later this week.

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