The government has today (27 March) made a new offer to settle the school strikes in England. rs21 members in NEU argue that it’s not good enough, and that teachers and support staff should prepare for further action.
Schools and education workers are at crisis point. A toxic mix of pay cuts, funding cuts and overwork have contributed to a perfect storm in schools. As the largest democratic body amongst education workers, the National Education Union (NEU) has been key to fighting for better conditions and extra funding. Our strikes, which have spread over four days in England, have won some significant victories. But this new offer is not enough – at best it’s a wet paper towel on a wounded education system.
What we’ve won so far
The government had previously refused to talk to us and refused to offer anything more for 2022/23. They then followed this up with a ‘final’ offer of 3% for 2023/24. Neither of these ‘offers’ were funded and both represented a further real-terms pay cut.
The pressure of our strikes has changed that situation. The latest offer gives us an extra £1,000 one off payment for 2022/23 and raises the offer to 4.5% for 2023/24. It means that a teacher who took part in all four days of strike action will now have more money in their pocket. It also increases the pay award for next year and short-circuits the corrupt ‘independent’ pay review body. Lastly, we also have an acknowledgement from the government about the toxic nature of Ofsted and the need to tackle the workload crisis.
These concessions, from a belligerent government, have been won by education workers taking strike action – everyone who went to a meeting, supported the strikes, stood on a picket line or marched in the streets. They have helped to raise the profile of the schools crisis, win parental support and force the government to the table. The concessions show striking works.
Where the offer falls short
But if striking works, is this offer enough for us to stop striking? The answer has to be a categorical no. A key element of the dispute has been about school funding: this offer is unfunded (money has been found to cover just 0.5% of the 4.5%, and the rest is unfunded) Unfunded rises lead to job losses and a worse educational experience for children.
Equally, this offer still represents a huge real-terms pay cut over two years. Teachers and support staff have lost 23-27% in real terms since 2010, and this is one of the main drivers of the education crisis. It leads to teachers quitting and to laughably low recruitment figures.
Signing up to this deal will bake in real pay cuts, a continuation of the workload and funding crises and even more pressures on funding.
The current deal offers nothing for support staff in England. If anything, unfunded rises will increase the pressure on support staff jobs. The NEU needs to urgently develop an industrial strategy that organises and wins for support staff. We should not be put off by the local government trade unions (Unison, the GMB and Unite) that do not do enough to organise them or win better conditions. We can’t allow a bureaucratic manoeuvre by the leaders of those unions to shut down our campaign for support staff. Unity of education workers is more important than backroom deals between trade union leaders. We should challenge and, if needed, break the TUC agreement if the only alternative is abandoning the fight for support staff pay and funding.
What we should do now
Now we must get on with the alternative strategy: escalation. We must build on our strikes to force the concessions we need from the government: they’ve shown they can be forced into concessions already. Ahead of the holidays, we need every school to have a meeting to discuss the escalation and to win the idea of more strikes. We also need as many members as possible to discuss the summer term timetable for strikes: what should we do about exams? When should we reballot? The more members that are involved in these discussions, the more representative NEU Conference will be of the membership.
In schools we need workplace meetings to explain the offer and organise the escalation strategy. The next strikes will be crucial in ensuring the government backs down.
Organise meetings of members and Conference delegates in your Districts to ensure that there is a democratically agreed position on the summer time timetable at Conference.
We need to organise across schools to push back on the deal. Join the WhatsApp group that is helping to encourage school organising: https://chat.whatsapp.com/Jhe5M3vwkI5CaDWqeAKbFh
We also need to acknowledge the importance of leadership at the national level. That is why we need to do all we can over the next few days to ensure Daniel Kebede is elected as our next General Secretary.
A programme of strike escalations can win more from this government. Now is the time for us to organise them in our schools.