|Volume 53 Number 23, August 5, 2023
In February, over 100,000 teachers in England and Wales initiated their largest wave of action in 30 years, holding eight days of strikes between February and July. Unions were demanding a fully funded pay increase due to rising inflation and ten years' worth of real-terms pay cuts. As well as a pay level that has fallen 23% in real terms since 2010, leaving some teachers in desperate conditions, teachers cited excessive workload, rising class sizes, access to support for special educational needs, a crisis in recruitment and retention of staff, schools that are in a state of disrepair to the point of real danger, and so on. Another issue has been the system of inspections carried out by the Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted).
The largest union representing teachers was the National Education Union (NEU). The Teachers' Union NASUWT and school leaders from the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) also joined the strikes for the first time in the current dispute. It is the first time in its 125-year history that NAHT members have taken strike action over pay.
As the NEU explains , on July 13, the government published the School Teachers' Review Body (STRB) report on teachers' pay, recommending a 6.5% pay rise from September. The government has finally conceded to fully implementing the STRB recommendation. NEU, ASCL, NAHT and NASUWT members have now voted to accept the progress made and end industrial action, says the NEU.
The agreement stands for one year. It will be funded from external sources, as demanded by teachers. It is the unwavering strike action that forced the government to increase its offer, having initially rejected the STRB recommendations, and spend an extra £900 million to fund it and protect support staff jobs. However, it is important to note that salaries have not met the required level, so that the issue remains ultimately unresolved.
Following the agreement, Dr Mary Bousted and Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretaries of the National Education Union, said:
"The NEU submissions to the STRB went a long way towards changing the government's position on pay and funding. The strike action taken by our members also shifted the dial, securing the highest pay award for over thirty years. Members should be proud they have also secured extra funding for schools.
"The engagement of members over pay has been high throughout this campaign, and our decisions have been led by them at every turn. The re-ballot for strike action comfortably passed the government's highly restrictive thresholds. ...
"The government should be in no doubt that we will hold its feet to the fire on delivering for teachers and support staff on workload and funding and continue to represent the profession in future STRB consultations. It remains the view of the NEU that school and college funding is far from adequate. It remains a commitment of the NEU to campaign for further increases in teacher pay.
"Everyone in the school and colleges community deserves an education system that attracts and keeps teaching staff, and one that ensures every child gets the attention and support they deserve. Our campaign for a better-funded education system will not go away."
Throughout, teachers faced a refusal to negotiate, imposition, and attempts from the government to eliminate any say. They held the line in this offensive, remaining united in self-defence to assert their No! to dictate, speaking out about their conditions and refusing to be silenced. A challenge facing the workers' movement as a whole is how to organise itself further so that it can put the justice of its cause into play to favour its own interests. A realisation has emerged that conditions have changed and that working people must act in new ways.
The strikes highlighted the importance of workers exercising their role in empowerment, control, and decision-making. Teachers had to put their organisations' weight behind their demands and establish talks and negotiations. The struggle for control over the future of education has opened up various key questions, but decisions at present remain firmly in the hands of elite powers and their government. The struggle for teachers having a say over education and their conditions is still ongoing. The solution to the crisis lies with teachers themselves, and forms can and must be found to empower them to discuss and provide those solutions.
The struggle for a properly funded and modern education system has been ongoing for years, with teachers questioning the future of education that is being underfunded and undermined. People demand better schools and teachers' pay, and the crisis in staff recruitment must be reversed. It is crucial to stop servicing and paying the rich, so that the necessary funding can be found to fully-fund vital services and social programmes like education.
The crisis has exposed the importance of the future of education and the need for a solution that lies with the teachers themselves. These strikes have shown that teachers and the public alike are not willing to support cutbacks in education funding, which will not solve problems and ensure decent education is delivered as a right. Teachers and parents demand education as a right, as crucial to nurturing the modern human being.
Everyone has the right to the highest standard of education, and the paramount issue is how society should be organised to fulfil that right. Education itself plays a role in forming the conception that people have rights by virtue of being human. While the outcome of the recent strike struggle meets some demands, the wider need to meet the material and cultural requirements of the entire population remains on the agenda.
Teachers need to be recruited to the proper levels, with the appropriate support of auxiliary staff and assistants. They should be a decisive voice in determining how schools are run on behalf of the general population, not mixed up with narrow private interests that now permeate the system through arrangements such as Academies. A modern educational authority should have the aim of funding and facilitating the provision and development of education through the experience of the educators themselves. The curriculum should be decided based on who it serves and the needs and future of society.
A whole change of direction is required, away from the capital-centred and towards a human-centred education system. Education is at the heart of a new society, organised on the basis of guaranteeing the rights of all and their material and cultural needs, as well as allowing workers to control their lives and livelihoods. This is what poses itself in terms of education's unique relevance to the future of a society based upon developing and releasing the human factor and social consciousness. It is a world apart from the Old, as represented by the Department of Education, Ofsted, and their conception of "deliverology".
Society is facing a critical situation with increasing educational demands, including pressures on teachers, diminishing staff, pension attacks, poor salaries, and rising living costs. The decline of schools and colleges, lack of resources and funding, and media and Westminster politicians' slanderous behaviour are contributing factors to this dangerous catastrophe in the making. The teachers are preparing the strategy and tactics of their impending struggle as the government and the elite continue to prepare their attacks with destructive consequences. Teachers are dealing with the future of education right now. In declaring Enough is Enough, they are posing the alternative direction in which society must go.
This has been a year of real achievement for the teachers, and Workers' Weekly congratulates them on these achievements and their persistence in bringing about a resolution which favours them. It doesn't stop here. It is a year that can be built on in the future, with their recent struggles highlighting the importance of workers exercising their role for empowerment, control, and decision-making. Teachers will be ready to take the struggle for the future of education, and education as right, into a new phase.
 "Pay offer consultation results", NEU, July 31, 2023