NUT scraps call for strikes over pay
The largest teachers' union has decided not to push ahead with national strike action in its dispute with the Government over a below- inflation pay deal.
The National Union of Teachers' executive did not believe it had a strong enough case, with the economy deteriorating and a low turnout in its ballot of teachers.
Of 250,000 members given a vote, only 29.7 per cent responded. Of those, a small majority - 52 per cent - voted in favour of action, which could have led to a series of one-day strikes.
But with the economic downturn gathering pace since the ballot papers were sent out in September, the union was concerned that any strike would not get public support.
Christine Blower, acting general secretary of the NUT, said: "We did achieve a majority in the ballot, but it was not the biggest majority we've ever had.
"We needed to listen to those people who didn't think it was right to take strike action at present."
Another member of the executive, who did not want to be named, said people were "in awe" of the current economic climate and did not believe it was the right time for strike action.
The union is disputing a 2.45 per cent pay rise from September, which will be followed by 2.3 per cent deals in 2009 and 2010.
Inflation, according to the consumer price index, the Government's target measure, increased to 5.2 per cent in September, dwarfing the pay award. However, it is widely forecast to fall fairly rapidly over the coming months.
The School Teachers' Review Body, the independent group which recommends teachers pay, will report in January. Further action could be considered by the unions if it recommends a lower pay deal in light of falling inflation.
Ms Blower said the campaign for a better deal would continue.
Earlier in the year, NUT members voted for the first one-day national strike in 21 years. The walkout in April closed or partially shut 9,500 schools in England and Wales. When the NUT balloted for strike action at the time, it received a much stronger Yes vote than this week, showing a significant change in teachers' attitudes.
Just over 48,000 of its members voted in support last time, with just under 16,000 voting against. About 54 per cent of the members voted.
Nigel Utton, headteacher of Bromstone Primary in Broadstairs, Kent, who voted in favour of striking again, said: "Our profession has been undervalued for years and it's time that the Government realised that.
"What a wonderful way it would be to stimulate the economy by putting more money into teachers' pockets."
The NUT's decision was welcomed by other union leaders, who had been critical of the call for strikes.
Mick Brookes, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: "I'm really delighted. It's a victory for common sense.
"We share the concern about levels of pay, but the economic situation would have made it a very damaging move."
Martin Ward, deputy general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: "We can only welcome the decision.
"Teachers have got jobs, which increasing numbers of people have not. A strike would not have been well received by the public."
A spokeswoman for the Department for Children, Schools and Families said she was pleased the NUT had acted "responsibly".
"Parents will be relieved that their children's education will not be disrupted further, and so are we," she said. "This Government highly values the teaching profession and we know teachers are vital to our children, the economy and the country." She added that since 1997 average teachers' pay had risen 19 per cent more than inflation.
A joint poll by The TES and the National Confederation of Parent Teacher Associations at the time of the strike in April showed little parental sympathy for the action. Nearly a third of the 750 respondents said it had lowered their view of teachers.
PAY IS LOW, BUT A JOB IS CRUCIAL
Janine Wulf, an English teacher at Swanshurst School in Birmingham, said it was the wrong time to take strike action.
"The push for better pay is on-going, and that is right. But we need to think of different ways of getting that across rather than walking off the job.
"People in my school have been talking about the change in the financial situation. Going on strike will be spun negatively.
"It is also bad news for the pupils."
Paul Whelan, a Year 6 teacher at Sherwood Primary in Preston, said he would not have been able to afford to go on strike.
"I'm in favour of going on strike, but last time it cost me about Pounds 80. I'm young and I need to save every penny I can.
"Voting Yes would not have been popular with the public."
Dave Bullock, senior assistant principal at Lee Valley High in Enfield, said: "There are teachers getting paid a pittance and their salaries are not keeping pace with inflation.
"I appreciate economic times are difficult, but teachers have a hard job. I was in favour of a strike, but accept the decision that has been reached."
FROM THE TES ONLINE FORUMS
Posted by smileyblonde
"In the last week I've had letters from my energy company advising me that my bills are about to rise, a letter from my landlord saying my rent is rising, and my local council is caught up in the whole Icelandic banking fiasco.
"I was thinking that I couldn't strike when others were losing their jobs and having their houses repossessed. But now I'm facing the prospect of having to leave my home and a job at a school I adore because other people have made mistakes in their jobs."
Posted by Red Frog
"In the present climate, I'm just happy to still have a job.
"I think it would be stupid to ignore the difference between today's situation and the last strike. We will not get public sympathy for asking for more money, however justified that request may be."
Posted by Giraffe
"A 2.45 per cent pay increase is an insult. We have taken below inflation rises for four years. Inflation is over 4.8 per cent, but fuel and food have risen far higher. Even student loans are increasing at 4 per cent."
Posted by Pinny24
"There's an old adage which applies here: don't pick a fight you can't win.
"With the way the economy is going at the moment, the last thing the Government is going to do is give teachers more money."