As the Schools Minister in a government determined to continue our task of raising standards in schools and improving pupil behaviour, I want to see a well-rewarded teaching profession. Last year, the Independent Pay Review Body gave teachers a 5% pay increase, with new teachers getting 8.9%. The average pay of a classroom teacher is now £39,500 on top of which teachers are members of a defined benefit pension scheme to which employers contribute an amount equal to 23% of teachers’ salaries.
I know, however, that, like most people, teachers have suffered from rising prices particularly fuel and energy.
The unions are therefore seeking an inflation-busting pay rise which would risk embedding inflation on our economy. But whatever the merits of the NEU’s demands, taking strike action to settle a pay dispute can never be right. It will disrupt children’s education at a time when pupils and students have already suffered 2-years of interrupted education due to the Covid pandemic. Strikes inconvenience parents in finding childcare and getting to work.
The Education Secretary and I have been in discussions with all four teacher and headteacher unions, including on Monday this week and our door is always open for more discussions. We have been talking with the unions about pay, about teachers workload and about the recruitment and retention of teachers. All these are issues that I know the teaching profession are concerned about.
In the Autumn Statement, the Government increased the amount of school funding by an additional £2billion in 2023 and £2billion in 2024/25, on top of the £1.5billion increase already announced. Together with the £4 billion increase in school funding for this year, that amounts to a 15% increase in school funding in just two years. Indeed, this extra £2 billion was precisely what the unions asked for in their letter to the Education Secretary in October.
Whilst, of those four unions only the NEU achieved a mandate for strike action in their ballot of members, it was nevertheless disappointing that the NEU took strike action last Wednesday, resulting in just under 10% of schools closing. 46% of schools were fully open on the day with the remaining 44% open but only to some children. We asked head teachers to do all they could to keep schools open but, if necessary, always to prioritise vulnerable children and those in exam years as well as the children of critical workers such as nurses and doctors.
I am particularly grateful to all those thousands of teachers and heads who continued to work on Wednesday, ensuring their pupils didn’t miss a single day of education. It was upsetting that these teachers and children were let down by some in positions of political leadership, such as Sadiq Khan in London and Andy Burnham in Manchester appearing to support the strikes. In the North West some 14% of schools closed and in London 25% closed, significantly higher than the national average.
No political leader should be putting any child’s education in jeopardy by condoning strike action, even for a day.
This is a Government committed to our schools and to ensuring every child has the best education and start to life. I’d rather the unions continued to talk to us than to go on strike.
This article appeared in the Telegraph on 5 February 2023. To read the original article, please click here.