Zahawi: Teacher strike would be ‘unforgivable’

Teachers going on strike over pay would cause further disruption to pupils’ education after the pandemic, the education secretary says
23rd June 2022, 11:46am


Zahawi: Teacher strike would be ‘unforgivable’
Zahawi: Scottish education in 'freefall' and has 'no plan'
picture: Copyright holder: PA WIRE Copyright notice: PA Wire/PA Images Picture by: Stefan Rousseau

The education secretary has claimed that teaching unions taking strike action after the disruption that pupils have faced in the pandemic would be “unforgivable” and “unfair”. 

Nadhim Zahawi was responding to the NEU teaching union’s warning that it would ballot its members over a potential strike in the autumn if its demands for a fully funded above-inflation pay rise were not met.

Writing in the The Daily Telegraph today, Mr Zahawi said “threats of strike action” that would cause further disruption after the pandemic were “disappointing”.

And he claimed that the NEU’s demand to peg wages to inflation amid a war in Europe and the problems with supply chains was “irresponsible”.  

Writing to Mr Zahawi yesterday, the NEU said inflation had “increased dramatically” since the Department for Education presented evidence to the School Teachers’ Review Body (STRB), which makes recommendations on teacher pay, in March, suggesting a 3 per cent pay rise for most of the teaching profession.

In March the DfE urged the STRB to recommend that the starting salary for teachers reaches £30,000 by 2023.

The union said that a “combination of unsustainable hours”, high “work intensity” and “ever-falling pay levels” was damaging schools and pupils.

Strike threat: teacher pay offer ‘won’t address retention crisis’

The NEU also said that a ballot will not be called until after the education secretary responds to the conclusions of the STRB report, expected to be published in July.

Mr Zahawi said that “the decision by unions to threaten strike action” was “wrong”.

“The National Education calling for increases above inflation. Our teachers continue to be everyday heroes, and it’s right they are recognised, but pegging wages to inflation - with a war in Europe and supply chains recovering post-Covid - is irresponsible,” he said.

He added that pupils had “suffered more disruption” than other generations and that to “compound that now”, with recovery is in “full swing”, would be “unforgivable and unfair”.

Mr Zahawi said that the DfE had proposed the “biggest pay award for new teachers in a generation” and will “continue to consider reasonable and proportionate advice on pay increases from independent pay review bodies”.

But Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the NEU, said Mr Zahawi should take “no pride in the offer currently on the table”, adding that it will do nothing to address the teacher “recruitment and retention crisis”.

Mr Courtney also said the offer would not make the profession “any more attractive to graduates”.

“A better deal for teachers - not just on pay, but on workload - is essential in order to protect the quality of education for our children,” he added.

The NASUWT teaching union has also said it will ballot its members if its demand of a 12 per cent pay rise is not met. 

Teachers have suffered a ‘shocking assault’ on their pay

Speaking on Times Radio last night, NASUWT general secretary Dr Patrick Roach said its members had “endured a shocking assault on their pay” over the past 12 years. 

“We’re in the depths of the worst cost-of-living crisis that we’ve seen for at least the past half century,” he said.

Dr Roach said that the union is hearing from “more and more” teachers who are “seriously considering quitting the job altogether”, and pay is being cited as a “major factor”. 

Responding to the education secretary’s comments, Dr Roach said that during the pandemic “teachers stepped up to the plate”. 

He added that it was “not in the interest of young people” for their teachers to be “demoralised”, and warned that if “teachers quit the profession” and not enough new graduates join, it will do “long-term damage” to pupils’ education. 

Julie McCulloch, director of policy at the Association of School and College Leaders, said Mr Zahawi’s efforts would be “better spent on dialling down the rhetoric and securing a decent pay award for teachers after more than a decade of pay erosion which has very clearly damaged recruitment and retention”.

She said the “last thing” the union wanted to see was the profession “turned into a political football” by a government that “likes nothing more than union bashing”.

“The real issue here is that schools are facing very severe teacher shortages and the government must deal with this critical problem,” Ms McCulloch said.

Earlier this month DfE data revealed that teacher retention rates were beginning to return to pre-pandemic levels, with the number of  new teachers leaving the sector after one year rising to 12.5 per cent in 2020.

And No 10 said the prime minister does not want to see children’s education further disrupted.

A No 10 spokesman said: “Young people have suffered more disruption to their education than any generation that’s gone before.

“And it’s vital that teachers continue to help those pupils get back on track, and the last thing we want to see is anything that would risk undermining that work.”

The spokesman said that the prime minister agrees with Mr Zahawi’s comments and that No 10 “don’t want to see children’s education being impacted any more than it has been, given the amount of disruption that was caused by the pandemic”.

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