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Unified Coalition of Educators Poised to Initiate Most Extensive Strikes in a Decade in England

United front

United front

In a bid for a united stance, teachers are contemplating launching the most extensive strikes in a decade, commencing from September. The impetus for this “unified front” stems from all four education unions in England, and the incoming leader of the largest union, Daniel Kebede, issued a warning regarding potential outrage among teachers and the possibility of further strikes in response to Rishi Sunak’s threats to disregard the recommendations of an independent pay review body.

With autumn approaching, the four education unions are conducting ballots among their members to gauge support for future strike actions. Meanwhile, NEU members are currently engaged in strikes on Wednesdays and Fridays as part of an ongoing pay dispute.

According to Kebede, the nature of the strike action will be heavily influenced by the government’s stance. He stated, “It won’t just be our union holding a strike ballot; headteachers’ unions and the prospect of NASUWT taking action on strike ballots in numerous schools across the country will be there as well. This government might very well be confronted with the prospect of a united front demanding a change in direction.”

Kebede expressed that Sunak and Education Secretary Gillian Keegan could have avoided further strike action by publishing the School Teachers’ Review Body (STRB) report, which is believed to recommend a 6.5% pay increase for teachers. However, reports suggest that Sunak and other ministers are contemplating overruling public sector pay reviews they deem “unaffordable” and inflationary.

Kedebe, a former primary school teacher in Durham, pointed out, “This poses a significant challenge for us, both as a union and as a profession, as pay plays a crucial role in the recruitment and retention crisis we are facing. The fact is, we are struggling to recruit and retain teachers, and pay is one of the reasons behind it. We are fighting to safeguard comprehensive education. Does Rishi Sunak believe ignorance comes at no cost?”

Negotiations between the Department for Education and the unions concluded in March, with the government’s offer of a 4.3% pay increase and a one-off £1,000 payment being decisively rejected by the NEU, NASUWT, National Association of Head Teachers, and the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL). Since then, the government has refused to reopen talks, with Keegan stating that ministers would wait for the STRB’s recommendations before making a further pay offer for the 2023-24 school year.

Defending the strikes occurring late in the summer term, Kebede emphasized their necessity in preventing the exodus of teachers from the profession. “Last year, nearly 10% of the profession left teaching. If that happened in a private sector company, it would come to a standstill,” Kebede asserted.

He added, “Over one million children are being taught in classes with over 31 pupils, or even more. OECD data reveals that the pupil-to-teacher ratio in British primary schools is the fourth-highest after Mexico, Colombia, and Brazil. There is a real crisis, and the timing of these strikes illustrates the intensity of sentiments within our profession.”

The ASCL headteachers’ union is currently conducting a ballot on national strike action for the first time in its 150-year history, with the results scheduled for publication at the end of July.

Geoff Barton, the ASCL general secretary, remarked, “This week’s strikes result from the government’s negligence toward education and their refusal to reinitiate formal negotiations with the unions. Unless the government alters its approach, further strikes during the autumn term are highly probable.”

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