Government fail to deliver on funding and teachers’ pay – demand action to win 5%

photo US Department of Education (Creative Commons)

photo US Department of Education (Creative Commons)   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

James Kerr, Lewisham National Education Union (NUT section)

The government’s announcement on teacher pay, released when many education workers are already on holiday, is in effect a further real terms pay cut for most and will go nowhere near solving the teacher recruitment and retention crisis.

The timing, and the fact the government have had to ditch the 1% pay cap, demonstrates they are feeling the pressure. Earlier in the week, a new toolkit for schools to use to support in workload reduction was also released, a far cry from their blasé attitude towards teacher recruitment and retention up until now.

The facts and figures in the ‘School Teachers’ Review Body’ report expose the extent of that crisis. While pupil numbers are rising, the number of teachers leaving the profession continues to increase. Yet the government refused to even accept their recommendation of a 3.5% increase to all teachers. Instead, the 3.5% rise (in reality only a 1% real terms uplift with CPI inflation running at 2.4%) will apply to at best 40% of teachers. The 2% for the Upper Pay Scale (UPS) is merely a smaller than usual pay cut and all teachers will be impacted as they pass through threshold to an eroded UPS. The leadership scale is even lower at 1.5%.

The headlines that the rise is ‘fully funded’ are also inaccurate. 1% will come from school budgets, budgets that are already strained to the limit and in many cases can’t take anymore. The rest isn’t new money from the Treasury but raided from other Department for Education (DFE) pots. That’ll mean further cuts. How will that solve the crisis in provision for students with special educational needs? What other services are under threat as a result? An immediate demand placed on the government should be to answer these questions. Parents and students should know about what this will mean for them too.

The official response from the National Education Union (NEU) missed the mark on all these questions. Mary Bousted, general secretary, welcomed the news and Kevin Courtney described the additional DFE funding as “a tribute to our campaign”. Yet, the NEU had demanded 5% across the board, a demand that has not been met.

This will have disorientated NEU members who try to work out the reality of the award. It also undermines a very important united front with the headteacher unions, who had recently issued a powerful joint statement calling for a fully funded pay rise and instructing Heads to go into deficit to buy time to win the money needed.

This mistaken approach must urgently be corrected. It will only have reassured a government that is dishonestly trying to spin the real facts as it tries to head off a fightback from education workers at a time when they are weak and divided. We can’t simply chalk this up as a victory to sell back to members but need to prepare for an autumn campaign to win the funding we need for education.

To really win the money schools need to fund pay, jobs and reduce workload, a national strike ballot will be needed. The summer announcement means that teachers have been unable to meet together to discuss its implications. However, at the start of next term, union meetings must be urgently called to analyse the details and to convince school staff that we either confront this government or continue to face a continuation of cuts to children’s education, and our pay and conditions. Inspired by the West Virginia educators, union groups are also building for ‘fed up Fridays’, starting on 14 September.

Regrettably, it looks like we might also need to convince our own leadership and that will probably mean more time is needed to make sure the union is ready to go out and win a national ballot. But that national ballot is urgently needed.

The deep crisis in education, exemplified by the teacher recruitment and retention crisis, will not be solved by recycled cash or smoke and mirrors. A massive injection of funds is required and we will need to fight for it.

This version of this article was first posted on the Socialist Party website on 25 July 2018 and may vary slightly from the version subsequently printed in The Socialist.