Teachers who go on strike would be “unforgivable” and “irresponsible” in the wake of the disruption COVID-19 has caused to children’s learning, the education secretary has said.
Nadhim Zahawi’s comments came after the National Education Union (NEU) said it would consult with its members in the autumn and “strongly encourage them” to support action if the government does not respond to its concerns about high workloads and wages in the next few months.
The minister wrote in The Daily Telegraph: “Young people have suffered more disruption than any generation that has gone before them, and to do so now that recovery is in full swing and families are thinking about their next big step after school or college , unforgivable and unjust. “
The union has criticized the government’s proposal for a 3% pay rise for most teachers in the UK, which it said would mean a “big” pay cut given Wednesday’s inflation rate of 9.1% and 11.7% for RPI.
NEU Deputy Secretary-General Niamh Sweeney told Sky News ‘The Take with Sophy Ridge that a teachers’ strike was “more likely than it has been in my 20 years of work in the subject”.
“The teachers tell us they’re having a hard time getting to the end of the month, their heat bills and their fuel bills mean they’re struggling to survive.”
In a letter to Zahawi, the union has called for fully funded inflation plus wage increases for all teachers as well as measures to reduce the workload.
Teachers’ salaries have fallen by a fifth in constant prices since 2010, even before this year’s rises in inflation, while their workload remains at an “unsustainable” level.
The letter states: “Along with the fall in teachers’ salaries in real terms against inflation, it has also fallen relative to earnings.
“Average teacher salaries are at the lowest level compared to the average earnings across the economy for over 40 years.
“Teachers and school leaders often tell us that the workload is their overriding concern.
“But right now, our members are saying that pay is also a big issue.
“The combination of unsustainable hours, the intensity of work in those hours and ever-decreasing wage levels harm our schools and the young people we educate.
“Teachers look at their working hours and their salaries and calculate hourly rates, which are alarmingly low.
“The latest figures for teacher education are very worrying; applications have fallen by 24% compared to last year.
“One in eight newly qualified teachers left the job in their first year of teaching.
“These young people have often completed an education and then completed a postgraduate qualification.
“They are a great loss to the profession, but more importantly to the students of the country, who depend on their teachers to educate and care for them.
“You have to respond to the new economic reality with double-digit inflation and the threat this poses to teachers’ living standards.”
The union said it “would no longer stand next to it while driving both education and educators into the ground”.