Heads 'not scared' of industrial action over funding, says union leader

Headteachers are “not scared” of taking industrial action over school funding, says the head of the country’s largest school leaders’ union, as members prepare to vote on the direction of their campaign.

The annual conference of the National Association of Head Teachers will begin in Telford today, with delegates set to hear from Damian Hinds, the education secretary, this afternoon.

We don’t rule it out. It’s something we will use judiciously

One motion will propose that the union’s leaders explore options to challenge the funding crisis “up to and including industrial action”.

School leaders could refuse to make any redundancies or change staff terms and conditions to balance their budgets, or even set projected budgets that “reflect the actual cost of running a school” as part of any action, the motion says.

Paul Whiteman, the NAHT’s general secretary, told Schools Week of “frustration and anger” among his members over “how long it’s taking to deal with the funding crisis”.

The latest analysis by the Institute for Fiscal Studies shows school funding is down 8 per cent in real terms since 2009-10.

“I have always said that industrial action is a last resort for any union, and in particular in a professional environment where we’re looking after children and are so active in communities. It is so difficult in those circumstances to take action that doesn’t do damage to the community relationship,” he said.

“But we’re not scared of it either. We don’t rule it out. It’s something we will use judiciously. This motion is just reaffirming our commitment to that.”

Whiteman praised heads for the campaign so far, which had educated “parents, grandparents and the communities that our members serve as to the depth of the crisis”.

He also insisted that heads were not daunted by criticism of their campaign or accusations of political bias.

“When you know that you can’t deliver what you’re being asked to deliver because the money just isn’t there, that’s not a party political statement, that’s just a statement of what people are struggling with.

“We’ve demonstrated over the past two years that our members, in the middle of crisis, are prepared to tell the truth and are prepared to reveal the inconsistencies in what a government will say and the truth on the ground.”

Despite this strength of feeling, Whiteman expects Hinds to get a “warm and professional reception”.

“I am sure in the questions there will be some difficult and robust questions around funding, but I would expect them to be professional.”

Members will also debate the recruitment and retention crisis, after new NAHT survey figures suggest that 66 per cent of heads struggled to recruit for leadership vacancies last year, while 12 per cent failed to recruit at all.

“I don’t think we’re going to see a solution to recruitment and retention until the pay issue is addressed,” Whiteman said.

“The depth of anger is palpable when we talk to our members about that.”