Schools face a summer and autumn of discontent with teachers’ leaders unveiling plans for the most sustained period of strike action in more than 20 years.
The country’s two biggest teachers’ unions - the National Union of Teachers and National Association Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers announced a rolling programme of industrial action region by region which will cover schools throughout England and Wales by the end of the autumn term.
In addition, there will be a one-day national stoppage before Christmas potentially leading to hundreds of schools facing two days of closure - with the prospect of strikes continuing into 2014 if the dispute is not settled.
The first strike will take place on June 27 in schools in the north-west of the country. The rest will follow in the autumn term.
The decision provoked fury from one of the country’s leading parents’ organisations. Margaret Morrissey, of Parents Outloud, said - whilst she sympathised with their concerns - they should “put up, shut up and get on with it”.
The dispute is over pay, pensions and increases to their workload which they say have been brought about by the Government’s public spending squeeze.
In particular, they are incensed by plans put forward by Education Secretary Michael Gove to dismantle the current national pay structure - by scrapping annual increments for teachers allowing them to rise up the pay scales. Instead, Mr Gove believes headteachers should be given the discretion as to whether to award them or not.
Christine Blower, general secretary of the NUT, said: “The Secretary of State will say this is about paying good teachers more but if there is no more money in the system then it is not possible to say how paying good teachers more will work unless some teachers are paid significantly less.”
The Unions have written to Mr Gove demanding urgent talks to try and avert the strike threat. Specifically, they want him to suspend the changes to teachers’ pay, initiate discussions to be chaired by him to look into their workload and publish details of an independent assessment of their pension scheme - to determine whether rises in contributions and cuts in payments are necessary.
The unions have been engaged in a work-to-rule - which includes banning exam invigilation and covering for absent colleagues - for more than a year now but say Mr Gove has made no attempt to discuss their concerns with them.
“We’re here because of the failure of the NUT and the NASUWT to enter into any discussions with the NUT and NASUWT about or trade dispute,” said Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT.
She said the squeeze on teachers had led to “plummeting teacher morale, a drop in the number of graduates wanting to enter the profession and over half of teachers seriously considering leaving the profession and the impact that will have on children and young people”.
Ms Blower added: “If there is no resolution, then having embarked on this programme and having given the Secretary of State every opportunity to negotiate, then we will have to consider what we can do further in order to ensure he does hear the message from our members that their patience is exhausted.”
However, Mrs Morrissey warned there would be no sympathy from
parents struggling to cope with the economic squeeze for strike action,
adding: “No parent would ever condone strike action, They should be
professionals like the police and doctors.”
A spokesman for the Department for Education said: “We are very disappointed that the NUT and NASUWT have decided to take strike action which less than a quarter of teachers actually voted for.” In an NUT ballot, 82.5 per cent voted in favour of strike action in a 27 per cent turn out.
The DfE spokesman continued: “Industrial action will disrupt pupils’ education, hugely inconvenience parents and damage the profession’s reputation in the eyes of the public at a time when our reforms are driving up standards across the country.
“We think giving schools the freedom to reward good performance is much fairer than current arrangements which see the vast majority of teachers automatically getting a pay rise each year. We have met frequently with the NUT and NASUWT to discuss their concerns and will continue to do so,”
Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said “ATL absolutely shares their concerns about teacher morale and the break-up of the national pay scales and the Government’s attack on pensions. However, there is no evidence that our members are willing to engage in industrial action.”
The last time teachers took strike action was with all public service unions over the threat to their pensions in November 2011. The last time they mounted sustained industrial action in schools was in the mid to late 1980’s over pay.