Opinion

This was the year teachers decided enough was enough

As 2022 comes to a close, the effects of turmoil and financial strain remain in spite of a late thank you in the chancellor's autumn statement, writes Patrick Roach

As 2022 comes to a close, the effects of turmoil and financial strain remain in spite of a late thank you in the chancellor's autumn statement, writes Patrick Roach

9 Dec 2022, 5:00

2022 will no doubt be remembered for many things. Three prime ministers. A succession of ministers coming and going at the department for education. The worst cost-of-living crisis in living memory made in 10 Downing Street by a government whose actions crashed the economy. Deepening teacher supply pressures and government data confirming that crisis has turned to disaster with the publication of some of the worst ever initial teacher training recruitment figures. Teacher wellbeing and morale at rock bottom. And the government’s flagship schools bill in tatters, with no clarity on what plans exist for its resurrection.

The government will want to claim that, with November’s budget statement committing an additional £2 billion per year for the next two years for schools, education has turned a corner. But the reality is that even on the government’s own figures, this only takes school spending per pupil back to levels last seen in 2010 in real terms, despite mounting evidence of a crisis in the provision of support for children and families as schools try to fill the gaps caused by massive cuts to wider children’s services.

But 2022 marks a turning point. As the year draws to a close, teachers and headteachers are preparing for industrial action to demand a better deal for teachers and for pupils’ education. Their message is clear: enough is enough. Government is out of touch with the public mood, blaming everybody but themselves for the crisis in our schools and across the country, and their refusal to engage in genuine dialogue and negotiation demonstrates contempt for the profession.

This year, we have seen reports of more and more teachers struggling to make ends meet – worried about how they will pay rents or mortgages, put food on the table or heat their homes. The government’s claim of delivering the biggest pay rise for a generation was exposed by the shocking evidence that teachers’ pay is 25 per cent lower in real terms than it was a decade ago, and that the generality of classroom teachers are now £50,000 worse off.

More and more teachers are struggling to make ends meet

Following the chancellor’s budget statement, independent economic forecasters predicted that all households will see their biggest drop in living standards on record in the next few years. And with inflation at a 41-year high, bodies like the IFS are highlighting the chasm between pay and household bills and the risk that there won’t be anyone left to run our schools unless things change.

And the reality is that the government’s promise of cash for schools hasn’t signified any extra money. Ministers have admitted that the announcement will only return spending to 2010 levels, and meanwhile the squeeze on early years and post-16 provision and cuts to other children’s services continue.

This year has not just marked a twelfth milestone on the long road of under-investment but signalled more to come. After 12 years wasted by a government that has let down children and young people and given up on teachers, the latest remit letter to the pay review body shows the government is planning more misery by capping teachers’ pay at 2 per cent in 2023.

For years, the government has worked on the principle that they can get away with paying teachers as little as possible. And, for years, they have asserted that it’s possible to run our schools, colleges and other public services on a shoestring. Teachers have given it their all, but they have had enough.

Teachers didn’t create the cost-of-living crisis and trade unions like the NASUWT are demanding that teachers and other working people shouldn’t be left to pay the price for it. We are sending a clear and emphatic message to government and employers that they deserve better; nothing less than a fully-funded real-terms pay award of 12 per cent will do.

Economically and politically, 2022 has been a grim year. But it has marked the beginning of the fight to secure decent work and fair pay for teachers, and that gives me hope – not just for 2023 but beyond.

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