Round one is officially over. Following the initial wave of strike action by the NEU, the government has demonstrated that it is completely unwilling to deal with the crisis in education, as shown by its latest pay offer to teaching unions.
The epithets being applied to this deal cannot be put in print. Teachers are being offered a paltry £1,000 one-off payment for the past year, and an insulting 4.5% wage increase for the next.
You don’t need to have a GCSE in maths to see that, with inflation running over 10%, this deal represents an immediate, guaranteed real-terms pay cut of at least 5%.
Nor will this offer do anything to address the burning issue of staff retention and working conditions – particularly since the government has said that additional funding will only be provided to cover 0.5 percentage points of this pay increase, with the rest coming from existing budgets.
Teachers have seen their pay cut by 20% since 2010. And the average workload surpasses 54 hours a week. Consequently, 45% of teachers plan to quit by 2027, joining the third of newly-qualified teachers who have left in the past ten years.
In an attempt to sweeten this bitter pill, the Tories have added a few so-called ‘concessions’ to this pay offer.
They have claimed that they will end the requirement for Pay Review Progression, despite also stating that they will continue to encourage headteachers to keep it.
They have said that they will create a taskforce to look at workloads. Yet the fact that teachers are overworked is plain to anyone who has ever stepped inside a school.
Finally, the government has promised to provide ‘greater clarity’ on when schools will receive Ofsted inspections, and to reassess the complaints programme. But they have rejected the union’s call for an independent review. This is despite the stress of inspection being cited as a factor in the deaths of ten teachers in the last 25 years.
The real insult, however, was the following clause in the offer:
“This is a conditional offer which only crystallises if all four union executives (NEU, NASUWT, NAHT, ASCLL) agree to put the offer to their members with either a neutral or a positive recommendation.”
In other words, the employers are telling the unions that unless they sell this pathetic deal to their members, they will come out with nothing.
Divide and rule
The NEU leadership has correctly refused to sell brass as gold. But the Tories’ strategy is clear: to play the more conservative unions off against the more radical ones.
The intent is to foster the idea that “if it wasn’t for the NEU, we could have at least got a grand more this year”.
This is a continuation of the divide-and-rule tactics that the Tories are pursuing across the rest of the labour movement.
They are working to pick off striking unions one by one: giving a deal to healthcare workers here; a deal to education workers there – at each turn, leaving fewer and fewer crumbs for the rest.
Unfortunately, some unions have played into this divisive approach, calling off industrial action, and recommending acceptance of rotten deals.
And no doubt the government is hoping that teachers will tire of striking, and will therefore be amenable to accepting a below-inflation offer also.
Thankfully, however, NEU leaders have recommended rejection of this latest offer, and are preparing members for further strike action on 27 April and 2 May, if members vote accordingly in the ongoing ballot.
Perspective and programme
Initial days of strike action, including the massive national demo on 15 March, showed that teachers are more than willing to fight to save our schools and win better conditions – not just for themselves, but for the pupils they care for.
This is the mood of determination that we should now tap into.
The campaign to reject this deal, however, should not only say what we are against, but what we are for.
Above all, union members need to be provided with a clear perspective of where this strike movement is going, and what we are fighting to achieve.
Defensive battles over pay and conditions, in this respect, must be linked to political demands for socialist policies; to a bold programme that answers the problems that education workers face – and which neither the decrepit Tories nor Starmer’s Labour have the inclination or ability to solve.
Such a programme should include: reversing academisation and abolishing Ofsted inspections, to be replaced with workers’ control in schools; replacing the factory-line approach to education with a curriculum drawn up by education workers themselves; and fully-funding school budgets, by expropriating the big monopolies, in order to provide the necessary resources to allow for proper, quality teaching to take place.
Strike to win!
To win these demands, and to build up confidence amongst teachers, our struggle must be linked to those in the rest of the public sector.
This means organising a mass campaign of coordinated action, built around cross-union committees at a rank-and-file level, with the aim of hitting the government hard.
Such a movement could unite teachers and other striking workers, topple the Tories, and reverse their austerity agenda.
This prospect would really electrify the whole working class – reaching beyond the traditionally-organised layers, and inspiring those who have never taken action before.
By exposing the Tories’ rotten deal for what it is, the NEU has taken the first steps down this path. Now we must vote to reject this pitiful offer, and turn fighting words into militant action.