Education

Striking is the last thing teachers want to do. But the government has left us no choice | Patrick Roach

Teachers in Scotland will hold two days of strike action next month after NASUWT members voted overwhelmingly in support of the move. In England and Wales, the results of the ballot, which is under way now, will be known early in the new year. How has it come to this?

Our members are facing unprecedented financial strain. Of the teachers we surveyed, 97% told us they were worried about their financial situation, 65% were finding it difficult to pay their energy bills and 57% were finding it difficult to cover the cost of travelling to work. Meanwhile, 72% were cutting back on food spending.

A typical classroom teacher is today more than £50,000 worse off than they would have been had their pay kept pace with inflation over the last decade. In real terms, teachers’ earnings, even with the proposed pay awards on offer, will still lag behind where they were in 2010.

The pay rises proposed by the government, of between 5% and 8.9% are below the level of inflation. This is unacceptable. To rub salt in the wound, the government is not even providing all the additional money schools and colleges will need to pay for it.

It is wrong that teachers are being forced to work for longer and longer and harder and harder, while being rewarded less and less. It is outrageous that we are seeing teachers’ living standards falling at a time when the country should be investing more in securing children’s educational recovery after the pandemic.

We cannot have great education without teachers. Parents and the public know that – and it’s little wonder that most parents say they agree that teachers should be paid more.

The prime minister and the chancellor say they are pro-education, but they are not willing to pay for it. That could mean yet more teaching and support staff leaving the profession. Meanwhile, cash-strapped schools are having to replace those who leave with less experienced, and therefore cheaper, teachers – or leave roles unfilled. The losers in all this are the pupils, especially those who need specialist support and can’t access it.

Teaching is now at the bottom of the graduate pay league table. Our members are saying it’s time to stop the rot. Teachers cannot be expected to pay the price for the government’s economic incompetence.

Our demand for a restorative, fully funded pay award for teachers and headteachers, starting with 12% this year, is a necessary and reasonable response to both the current economic crisis facing teachers and the growing problem of recruitment and retention in the profession.

We have been pressing for ministers to recognise the seriousness of the situation. We have asked them to get around the table to address teachers’ anger and avert the risk of industrial action. We have waited, but so far no talks have been offered to seek to resolve our dispute.

Taking industrial action is the last thing teachers want to do, but our members have been left with no other choice. All teachers want is to be rewarded properly and fairly for the work they do, rather than being forced to accept the biggest real-terms cut to their pay in a generation.

  • Patrick Roach is general secretary of the NASUWT, the teachers’ union

  • Do you have an opinion on the issues raised in this article? If you would like to submit a response of up to 300 words by email to be considered for publication in our letters section, please click here.

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