Exclusive: Union admits 'massive hurdle' over pay action

Chances of a pay strike recede as senior NEU figures admit that teachers' unhappiness might not translate into action

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The chances of union action over an "unfair and demoralising" teacher pay deal are receding, Tes has learned.

Last month joint NEU teaching union leader Kevin Courtney urged his members to start preparing for a strike ballot and warned of a “summer of anger”.

"It will grow across the summer," he said. "We are going to come back and we are going to be more angry about this whole thing.” 

And Dave Harvey, one of the union's executive members, warned that industrial action was "on the cards".

But both were speaking before the actual pay announcement, which will see many classroom teachers get an extra 3.5 per cent.

There was still "dismay" from unions about the partially funded nature of the deal, which will also see most teachers get real-terms cuts.

However, senior union figures now think that translating that unhappiness into action could be difficult. Mr Harvey, executive member for outer London within the NUT section of the NEU, said that the numbers required to turn out and vote in favour of strike action under new union laws presented a "massive hurdle". 

Others within the union agree. The views of NEU activists across 20,000 schools will now be sought in the coming weeks.

Only if there is a positive message in favour of action will the union go as far as inviting its 400,000 members to take part in an indicative ballot to "test the water" for strike action.

But there are doubts that sufficient support for action would be attainable in light of the 3.5 per cent rise going to 40 per cent of the profession.

Some within the union privately admit that many teachers will be content with the deal, including some of those on the upper pay scale, who are set to receive a 2 per cent increase.

There is also the view that the government was intelligent in its timing of the announcement, at the start of the summer holiday when teachers were still in a good end-of-year mood.

Timing of pay announcement 'disgraceful'            

But Mr Harvey denied teachers on the lower pay spine had been “bought out” by the 3.5 per cent offer.

“It’s the young teachers who are getting more this time," he said. "But we hope they would show support for their more experienced colleagues, and by thinking ahead in that they themselves will be on the upper pay scales in a few years’ time when they could be getting a lesser rate.”

He added: “If there is a mood for action in schools then we would proceed to an indicative ballot to test the water for industrial action, but that would be up to our joint executive committee."

Jerry Glazier, another member of the NUT national executive (within the NEU), said many teachers “superficially latched on to the headlines” following the pay announcement and saw the 3.5 per cent increase as good news.

But he said the timing of the announcement was “disgraceful” as it didn’t give teachers enough of a chance to reflect on the deal, which is only part-funded by the government, and is “divisive” in that it does not apply to teachers on the upper pay scales.

“The reality will begin to filter through as teachers go back to school in the autumn term," Mr Glazier said. "Some schools might not be able to afford to pay the 1 per cent of the pay rise which they are required to pay and this would be extremely upsetting for teachers."

Strike action could also depend on whether more money is made available for teachers’ pay in the government’s Comprehensive Spending Review in November. The timing of the spending review means that any industrial action wouldn’t start until January, say executive members.

Meanwhile, an emergency motion could be put before the annual TUC conference, taking place in Manchester between September 9 and 12, calling on the government to heed the advice of its own advisory panel, the School Teachers' Review Body, which recommended that 3.5 per cent also be given to senior leaders and headteachers (who have only been offered 2 per cent and 1.5 per cent respectively). 

Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the NEU, said a 3.5 per cent pay increase across the board was essential in order to recruit teachers and retain them. She said more than 52 per cent of teachers left the profession within 10 years of qualifying and that one in five maths and English lessons were being taught by a non-specialist.

The government consultation on its proposed pay award ends on Monday.



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