Teacher strikes

ASCL to ballot members for strike action

National ballot over pay, conditions and school funding will be the first in leadership union's history

National ballot over pay, conditions and school funding will be the first in leadership union's history

The dispute over teacher pay and school funding deepened this week as the leaders’ union ASCL announced plans to ballot its members on strike action for the first time in its history.

The move raises the prospect of coordinated strikes by teachers and leaders in the autumn term, after the National Education Union (NEU) and NASUWT also announced they would re-ballot their members. The NAHT leaders’ union will decide next week whether to go back to members.

ASCL was the only union of the four not to ballot last year in response to the pay deal for 2022-23. But it said it had been left with “no option” after its members rejected ministers’ offer of a one-off payment for this year and 4.3 per cent rise for most staff from September.

Its ballot will be held at some point this term, and “if members vote for strike action, we expect that this would take place during the autumn term”.

Action is a last resort

Geoff Barton, the union’s general secretary, said it was “clearly a very significant step”, but the government had “left us with no option other than to conduct a formal ballot for national strike action”.

“This action is taken as a last resort and with a heavy heart, but we cannot accept the continued damage to education caused by government neglect and complacency.”

He criticised the “intransigence of a government that we can only conclude does not value the education workforce or recognise the severe pressures facing the sector”.

Unions had made every effort to resolve the matter through negotiation, he added.

“Unfortunately, the government’s offer has failed to sufficiently address pay and conditions, and, critically, did not provide enough funding for even the meagre proposal it put forward.”

Ministers’ mixed messages

The government gave mixed messages over the dispute earlier this week, when Rishi Sunak insisted his door was “always open”, just hours after Gillian Keegan, the education secretary, rejected calls for fresh talks.

Ministers had warned their pay offer was final, and that they would revert to the School Teachers’ Review Body process as normal if it was rejected.

Sunak appeared to strike a more conciliatory note as he took questions at a school in north London on Monday.

“Our door is always open, and we continue to hope that we can find a way through,” he said.

But that same morning, Keegan insisted discussions about pay would “now happen via the independent pay review body”.

Strikes ‘exemption’ guidance

Keegan also criticised the NEU for calling strikes in the run-up to exams.

Proposed walkouts on April 27 and May 2 would take place about two weeks before the start of GCSE and A-level tests. Any further strikes announced by the union would take place in late June at the earliest.

However, the union has asked districts to make local arrangements for year 11 and 13 pupils so they could continue to go to school during strike days.

In guidance published this week, it said members given an exemption to support exam year pupils during strikes should be paid for a full day, even if they only worked for part of that day.

Those paid for strike days would be encouraged to donate to the union’s hardship fund.

Ofsted inspectors and senior Department for Education staff will also be balloted for strike action by their union, the FDA. Junior staff in the PCS union are also being re-balloted for more action following several walkouts earlier this year.

The NEU also announced on Friday it had won a fresh mandate for strikes by teachers in sixth form colleges. They are balloted separately to school teachers because their pay is set separately. 89.4 per cent voted yes on a turnout of 53.3 per cent.

Teachers in 74 sixth form colleges will join the planned strikes by school teachers on April 27 and May 2, and the re-ballot result means they can strike again in the autumn term.

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