NEU on strike at Oaks Park High School. Photo: James Ivens
NEU on strike at Oaks Park High School. Photo: James Ivens

Stephen Brown, Oxford Socialist Party and NEU member

Teaching union leaders need to find courage and take a leaf out of the RMT playbook if we are to make the government sit up and take notice. We need our union leaders to be much more militant in their approach and commit publicly to a fight in a way they haven’t done in recent years.

We don’t want another indicative ballot. There is no point demanding better and then accepting less. That’s why Socialist Party members in the National Education Union (NEU) have been campaigning for a national strike ballot. The NEU leadership has now announced one will start in the autumn. The teaching union NASUWT is also threatening an industrial action ballot.

The government’s pledge to increase teachers’ starting salary to £30,000 by 2024 is a step in the right direction, but it is still a below-inflation pay rise. If the government proposal is accepted by the School Teachers Review Body (STRB), the majority of teachers will receive below-inflation 3% and 2% pay rises over the next two years respectively.

Education minister Nadhim Zahawi’s letter to the STRB at the end of last year claimed he wanted to ‘promote recruitment and retention.’ The government predicts that the new pay deal will help to retain around a thousand new teachers a year by 2024.

Let’s imagine for a moment that this is true. In 2019 alone, almost 40,000 teachers left the profession. Only 5,000 can be accounted for by retirement. That same year, less than 30,000 trainees came into teaching. Add to that the well-worn statistics that 15% of teachers leave within two years of qualifying and a third within five years, and you can see that an extra 1,000 teachers won’t touch the sides!

Like most schools, we have to trawl agencies from Canada, South Africa, and Australia to fill vacancies.

Last month, one recently qualified teacher said to me that he took a pay cut to become a teacher and has spent the year stressed, exhausted, and often overwhelmed by workload; on top of that he finds that he is struggling to pay his rent. He will leave the profession next month.

While £30,000 sounds like a huge improvement as a starting salary, compare it to what train drivers get and you can see what a difference having a union that stands up for its workers can achieve! All of those unions which gathered in Parliament Square for the TUC rally on 18 June must put their shoulders to the wheel, and build towards coordinated action for the pay rises we need.