Sixth-form college staff across England walked out on Wednesday in the first national teacher strike in six years, with one union leader warning disruption could be repeated on a greater scale next year.
Members of the National Education Union (NEU) took action at 75 colleges after voting overwhelmingly in favour of a strike over pay. Like their colleagues in schools, most sixth-form college teachers have received below-inflation pay rises of about 5 per cent.
The NEU said the action was “strongly supported”, although it would not say how many of its 4,200 eligible members walked out. It is understood no college had to close.
The union is currently balloting teaching and support staff members in schools. The NASUWT and leadership union NAHT are also balloting members for action.
Dr Mary Bousted, the NEU’s joint general secretary, said the union would “seek to coordinate further action” in sixth-form colleges with wider walkouts.
“The strength of feeling across the public sector is as one. Today is a warning shot to government if they continue to take no action on calls for a fully funded, above-inflation pay rise for teachers.
“This demonstration of anger will be even more visible should, as we expect, NEU teachers and support staff in schools and academies across England and Wales vote to take strike action in 2023.”
About 60 staff at Woodhouse College, a sixth-form college with academy status in Barnet, north London, were eligible to walk out, with about a third joining a picket outside the gates on Wednesday morning.
‘Undervalued and left behind’
Laura Wall, an English teacher and NEU rep, said the issue was “pay stagnation”, which made teachers feel “undervalued and left behind”.
“We’ve worked incredibly hard. We’ve struggled away through the pandemic teaching. We did all the [teacher-assessed grades] and [centre-assessed grades], put all this work in and we’re still having to ask and beg for pay rises that reflect what’s going on in the larger economy.”
Sarah Alaali, who has taught maths for nine years, said she had considered opting out of her pension “just so I could afford to keep paying my mortgage. I don’t feel like the government values education.”
John Brennan-Rhodes, the college’s head of maths, said his biggest fear was colleagues leaving the profession.
“I love working here. I’m not really angry at the college itself. I think that they should be given more money so that we can earn more money.”
David Makepeace, a physics teacher, pointed to the government’s decision to scrap the cap on bankers’ bonuses.
“Now they’re back where they were earning loads of money. And yet we haven’t been compensated for all the hard work that we’ve been doing over this time, working through Covid, like the nurses, like other public sector employees.”
The Sixth Form Colleges Association acknowledged salaries were being “eroded”, but said funding was lower for their members than other settings, leaving them without the resources to “meet demands for such a high pay rise”.
The DfE said sixth form colleges set their own staff pay, and that it would invest an extra £1.6 billion in 16 to 19 education.