Teachers threaten to strike over living costs

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The Independent Online

Schools in the South-east are braced for weeks of upheaval as teachers vote on strike action over "miserly" living allowances they say are causing a recruitment crisis.

Schools in the South-east are braced for weeks of upheaval as teachers vote on strike action over "miserly" living allowances they say are causing a recruitment crisis.

Up to 41,000 members of the biggest teachers' union, the National Union of Teachers, are threatening industrial action over a recent pay offer that gave some staff only £70 extra a year to meet the cost of living in the South-east.

The ballot closes at midday today and the Electoral Reform Society, which is counting the votes, is expected to announce results tomorrow.

If teachers vote for industrial action, London schools are likely to be disrupted by a one-day strike next week, the first such stoppage for 30 years.

The union argues that the London weighting allowance is too low and blames it for the teacher shortages in the region, arguing that staff cannot afford to live there. The last time there was action over the issue was in 1972, when Margaret Thatcher was the Education Secretary. Teachers then stopped work for half a day.

Doug McAvoy, the union's general secretary, warned that the rising staff turnover and increased use of supply teachers was damaging children's education. "Just as in 1972, schools in London and the fringe areas are struggling to recruit and retain sufficient teachers. Our schools are doing all they can to protect pupils from the effect of teacher shortages but many children are still being denied the high-quality education their teachers want to provide because sufficient teachers just cannot be found."

He said the turnover in and around London had never been higher. "Teachers come and stay for a short time, then move on," he said.

"Thirty years ago, our case for substantial increases in the allowances was ignored until we took action. The Education Secretary ignores the plight of schools throughout the capital and beyond by accepting the Teachers' Review Body formula of waiting for an examination of the methodology of funding local government.

"Our pupils, our schools cannot wait that long. A clear message must be sent to the Education Secretary through support for this strike on 14 March," Mr McAvoy said.

The union wants the London weighting allowances, worth up to £3,105, increased by about a third to give staff in inner London a supplement of at least £4,000. The pay deal that takes effect next month increased the allowances by only 3.5 per cent, in line with teachers' general pay rise.

The union is concerned that teachers are falling further behind other public-sector workers. Metropolitan Police officers, for example, receive a London allowance of £6,000.

For strike action to go ahead in a school a majority of teachers in favour will be needed against each employer – each education authority or, in the case of foundation schools, the school itself.

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