Four fifths of NEU members 'prepared to strike' over school funding

An indicative ballot of members of England’s largest teaching union has revealed an appetite for industrial action over school funding.

But turnout in the poll by the National Education Union fell well short of the 50 per cent required under tough new laws for public service unions.

Eighty-two per cent of school teachers in the National Education Union who responded to a recent consultation said they would be “prepared to take part in strike action to secure better funding for schools” and the “full implementation” of this year’s pay award.

However, turnout in the indicative ballot, which will be used by union leaders to choose the next steps in their campaign on school funding, was 31.4 per cent – a lot less than what would be needed in an official ballot to authorise a strike.

It follows the “unprecedented” move in November by the NEU and leadership unions ASCL and the NAHT to consult their members simultaneously over what steps to take over the government’s “failure to address the school and college funding crisis” in the budget.

The NEU surveyed 257,849 school teachers and 4,550 sixth form college staff, receiving 82,487 responses overall, a turnout of 31.4 per cent.

Of those, 82 per cent showed support for potential strike action.

Under new union laws introduced in 2016 many public service unions need to achieve 50 per cent turnout in their ballots, and the support of at least 40 per cent of those entitled to vote, in order to go on strike.

The government has come under increasing pressure from union figures to address real-terms cuts to school budgets, especially in the wake of last year’s teacher pay announcement, and concern about the paucity of funding available to cover the proposed rises.

“The government’s policy on school funding and teacher pay is having a dreadful impact on the profession and the children they teach.” warned Kevin Courtney, the NEU’s joint general secretary. “They are presiding over a reduction in the number of teachers, alongside a growth in the number of students.

“Their policies are creating a crisis in both teacher recruitment and retention. The NEU executive will be meeting to discuss these findings and will be considering the next steps in the campaign.”

The NEU’s ballot also found that 100 per cent of members wanted the organisation to continue to campaign on school funding, including through the School Cuts website, which just last week was rebuked by the statistics watchdog.

The UK Statistics Authority stated the website’s claim that 91 per cent of schools are facing funding cuts gives a “misleading impression”, and raised other concerns. But the unions in charge of the campaign stood by its claims.