The National Education Union will formally ballot members in sixth form colleges for industrial action after 85 per cent of respondents to an indicative ballot backed strike action.
Turnout in the indicative poll of 4,100 members in 77 sixth form colleges was 76.6 per cent – well above the 50 per cent threshold for formal ballots required under tough union laws that came into force in 2016.
The 85 per cent support for a strike is also more than double the 40 per cent required, meaning if the results are repeated in the formal ballot, industrial action would go ahead.
Overall, 97 per cent of respondents backed calls for a pay rise to exceed RPI, which was 11.7 per cent when the pay claim was submitted.
The response represents the first proper indication of the sector’s desire to take strike action in response to pay offers set out earlier this year. Unions have warned these are now well below the current rate of inflation.
A separate indicative ballot of teachers and support staff in schools is due to close on Friday. The NEU has given education secretary Kit Malthouse until noon that day to come up with a better pay and funding offer or face a formal ballot.
Sixth form college teachers have their pay set differently to school teachers, so the union has to hold separate ballots on the different pay offers.
However, the NEU said the pay offer from the Sixth Form Colleges Association had essentially “mirrored” the pay offer for teachers, which amounts to an 8.9 per cent increase in starting salaries, but a 5 per cent rise for most teachers.
Joint general secretary Dr Mary Bousted said sixth form college teachers had “suffered a real-terms pay cut in the region of 20 per cent since 2010”.
“In the midst of a cost-of-living crisis, [they] are not prepared to see their income fall further.
‘No-one wants to take strike action’
“No one wants to take strike action, but year after year of below-inflation pay increases have now had a major impact on the value of their pay. Government needs to address what is now a serious problem for the sector.”
Graham Baird, director of HRservices at the SFCA said leaders “fully support the NEU’s call for a significant increase in teachers’ pay”.
“Despite receiving significantly less funding than schools, we have been able to match the STRB award for teachers in the school sector.
“This is at the very edge of affordability for our members, and it will require additional funding from the government to ensure that teachers in sixth form colleges receive the pay increase that they deserve.”
A DfE spokesperson said sixth form colleges were “independent of government and set their own pay”.
“To support colleges, we are investing an extra £1.6 billion in 2024/5 compared to 2021/22 so that more young people aged 16-19 can access high quality education and training.”
The NEU isn’t the only union talking to its members about potential industrial action over pay.
The NASUWT teaching union warned last week it would have “no other alternative than to ballot to support industrial action” if a better deal is not put forward.
School leaders’ union ASCL consulted members about potential industrial action for the first time in its history this year.
Two-thirds of respondents backed a ballot on action short of a strike, while splitting 50/50 on a full walkout, an outcome described as “remarkable” by general secretary Geoff Barton.
However, only 16 per cent of members responded to the survey, and Barton warned legal requirements would make any industrial action “very challenging”.
NAHT the country’s other headteachers’ union, has also asked its members if they will consider industrial action.