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NEU debates industrial action push for ‘national contract’

Members of the National Education Union (NEU) will debate a motion calling for national industrial action in pursuit of a “national contract” for all school staff.

At present, only local authority maintained schools have to follow the statutory school teachers’ pay and conditions document and observe national teacher pay scales. Academies can set their own pay and conditions, though many replicate the national approach.

Delegates at the NEU’s annual conference in Bournemouth next week will debate a motion which, if passed, would instruct its executive to “draw up and plan to build for national ballots for industrial action” to win a “national contract”, which would be binding on all schools.

The plan should “draw on the lessons from the 2022-23 pay campaign”, which saw NEU members take several days of strike action over the government’s initial pay offer.

It would involve drawing up a “timetable for action, aimed at winning a new national contract…by September 2025”.

If passed, the motion would also call for action to remove the clause in the school teachers’ pay and conditions document that states teachers “must work such reasonable additional hours as may be necessary to enable the effective discharge of the teacher’s professional duties”.

It comes after the government’s Working Lives of Teachers survey found full-time teachers’ average hours were 52.4 per week last year, up from 51.9 in 2022, despite a push to reduce workload by government.

‘We’re very much in a negative spiral’

Daniel Kebede, the NEU’s general secretary, told journalists this morning of “massive discontent” in the profession.

“All of our surveys at the moment are highlighting that workload remains a critical issue. It’s not even just the number of hours at the moment that is causing great concern, it’s the intensity of the work that’s being fuelled by pupil need coming out of the pandemic but also being fuelled by the crisis in recruitment and retention.

Daniel Kebede

“We’re very much in a negative spiral at the moment. Teachers and school staff are leaving the profession. That creates an increased workload on colleagues and then more leave. We do need quite a radical shift, and yes, I can imagine [this motion] passing and being committed to a national campaign on workload.”

The motion states that national action on pay “has shown that, with a clear national lead and determined organisation by workplace reps and local officers, the union is able to go beyond workplace disputes to build unified campaigns aimed at winning unified gains for our members”.

“The union should now put in place an industrial action strategy to win our policy for the ‘government to negotiate a national contract for education, binding on all employers.”

This would include removing the clause in the school teachers pay and conditions document that “a teacher must work such reasonable additional hours as may be necessary to enable effective discharge of a teacher’s professional duties”.

‘Lessons from 2023 pay campaign’

If passed, the motion would instruct the NEU’s executive to seek negotiations on such a contract, and “draw up and enact a plan to build for national ballots for industrial action to win a national contract, drawing on lessons from the 2022-23 pay campaign”.

It would also instruct the executive to approach other unions to seek their support, and “prepare a timetable for action, aimed at winning a new national contract for education by September 2025”.

But delegates may also debate a motion with more immediate steps on pay.

The union’s preliminary ballot closes this Thursday. It asked members if they would vote for strike action for a “fully funded, above-inflation pay rise”.

The union’s executive will hold a special meeting at the beginning of conference to decide its next steps, and “may decide to place a special motion on the issue of pay”, Kebede said today.

He added it would be “remiss of me to give you too much of a heads-up on what the indicative ballot says now”, but “what I would say is that it does highlight discontent amongst the profession”.

A report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies today warned teachers’ pay was 9 per cent lower in real terms last year than in 2010, worse than every public sector worker except doctors, and far worse than private sector workers, who are 3.9 per cent better-off. 

Unions fear below-inflation pay rise

The NEU and the NASUWT teaching union, which will hold its conference this weekend, have both conducted preliminary ballots amid fears the government is gearing up to deliver a below-inflation pay rise from September.

Gillian Keegan, the education secretary, told the School Teachers’ Review Body that pay rises should return to a “more sustainable level” than seen in the last two years.

The Department for Education has said it believes there is only headroom in budgets for the next financial year for schools to raise overall spending by 1.2 per cent, or £600 million.

Ministers have previously estimated that each 1 percentage point increase in teacher pay costs about £270 million – meaning the headroom would only allow for a pay rise of around 2 per cent.

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