Sheila (right) on the picket line as part of the NEU national pay and funding strike. Photo: Bristol Socialist Party
Sheila (right) on the picket line as part of the NEU national pay and funding strike. Photo: Bristol Socialist Party

Sean McCauley, Worcestershire NEU district secretary, personal capacity

Nominations for the two National Education Union (NEU) vice-president positions opened on 1 November, with voting to begin in January.

These vice-presidents will go on to become the national NEU presidents in 2025 and 2026 and are part of the national leadership of the union for three-four years in all. Their role is crucial in influencing the outlook of the leadership. A vice-president is seen as one of the principal spokespersons of the union.

Therefore we need a proven fighter, with a track record of taking a bold stance on issues such as pay, funding and workload, elected into the role. Socialist Party member Sheila Caffrey, Bristol NEU and sitting National Executive (NEC) member, is seeking nominations from local districts.

Even with the nomination window having been open only a few days, as we go to press, Sheila already has the nomination of Vale of Glamorgan and Leicester districts.

From the very start of her time on the NEC in 2021, Sheila has taken a consistent position on the need for national action on pay and workload. At that stage, the prevailing mood within the leadership of the union, including the ‘NEU Left’ grouping, was that it was not possible to win a ballot for national action, but to instead fight school by school. The magnificent national action taken this year has shown what’s possible.

A fight in individual workplaces where, for example, workload is excessive is a vital part of the union’s campaigning, and some gains will be made, but it risks only touching the surface. Sheila champions the need for the union to lead a national fight for a new National Contract that sets an overall limit on the hours teachers work. That must include fair pay for support staff, and ensure employers don’t force support staff to exceed their hours and responsibilities. It should include supply staff, reintroducing local authority supply pools that pay the going rate and contribute to pension schemes. And it would need to be a real National Contract that all employers, including academies and multi-academy trusts (MATs), must abide by. All of this can only be won through a national fight, which will mean national action at some point.

Fight cuts

On funding, Sheila was to the forefront of exposing that the Tories’ “technical error”, which has resulted in a cut of £370 million to school budgets in April 2024, will mean cuts will be made. Even without this cut, 3.5% of the 6.5% teacher pay award was already unfunded. That’s why Socialist Party members recommended rejection of the 6.5% offer in June and July this year, urging that we could have secured a higher figure and better funding.

At the September NEC, Sheila and other Socialist Party members argued that the union should use our live ballot mandate, re-won in July, in order to fight the cuts, and if there was a legal challenge to that from the Department for Education, to reballot on funding. Sadly, the executive and general secretary, Daniel Kebede, said no, and kicked the can down the road to the December NEC.

Sheila is the kind of fighter we will need at the top of the union under a Starmer-led government. Remember that Labour shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves went on record in June saying that she would not accede to the ‘independent’ review body’s 6.5% recommendation. Starmer has made it clear he will be a safe pair of hands for big business, which means he will keep a tight hold on the government purse strings.

Unlike Tony Blair in 1997, he will not inherit a growing economy but one in crisis. Let’s not forget too that it was Blair who ratcheted up private finance in schools, which has burdened many with unsustainable debts; it was Blair’s New Labour that pushed widespread academisation.


Already there have been indications that some at the top of the union are unlikely to support national action this academic year, even if the Tories submit an insulting offer for next year’s pay. What’s more, there have also been some indications that in the build up to the general election and for some time after a likely Starmer victory, the main leadership bloc in the union will not want to ‘rock the boat’. That could leave us without any attempts being made in 2024 and even 2025 to secure a deal which seeks to redress the 16% shortfall in teacher pay since 2010, or a bold national lead on workload. Our view, and the view of the majority of union activists and members, is that we will need to continue to fight under a Starmer government on pay, workload and funding.

Education funding cuts should be resisted. What’s more, all cuts to councils can be resisted, if only the political will were there from our elected representatives. Setting budgets that make no cuts but meet needs instead, using reserves and borrowing – and using council powers to license school deficits – can offset cuts in the short term and allow time for campaigns to be built. We should demand that a Starmer-led government restore funding levels across the board.

Arguing for this as a union is crucial, but how different would it be if there were actually candidates and elected representatives in Parliament and local councils that back trade union policies. That’s why we need a new political party for trade unionists and young people, a new workers’ party.