School strikes across England could still take place in September, after local branches of the largest union representing teachers told the Observer this weekend that they would vote against the proposed salary offer.
Two weeks ago the government announced it would accept the schools’ independent teacher review body’s recommendation for a 6.5% pay rise for most teachers from September, and the four education unions representing teachers and school leaders advised their members to vote in favor of the offer.
But on social media last week, many teachers and school leaders were saying the hike was not enough to solve the teacher retention and recruitment crisis. Many also said they did not trust government assurances that the deal was properly funded.
After emergency meetings last week, some local branches of the National Education Union (NEU), the biggest education union – including those in Oxfordshire, Worcestershire, Birmingham and parts of London – challenged their national executives and urged their members to reject the offer.
Leigh-Amanda Seedhouse, teacher with special educational needs (SEN) and NEU Oxfordshire branch secretary, said: “There is anger out there that this offer is still short of what we were asking for and certainly does not repair the real losses we have all suffered over the last 13 years.
She told the Observer that a SEN school in his area had already been forced to open only four days a week due to the shortage of teachers.
“We cannot continue with the current crisis and this offer will not solve it,” she said.
An important question is whether the schools can afford the proposed salary increases. The Department for Education said 3% would come from ‘reprioritizing’ in its own budget, although it said no money would be taken from ‘frontline services’, including SEN funding, school building, nurseries or funding for 16-19 year olds.
Schools will have to fund the remaining 3.5% of their budgets, drawing from the £2billion the government said it would provide for each of the next two years in last year’s autumn statement.
But some schools say that money has already been eaten up by the rising cost of energy and everything they buy, as inflation has soared.
The principal of a primary school in Birmingham said she and her staff would vote against the salary offer because their budget was already at breaking point. “It’s a total mistake to say this is funded,” she said. “Yes, the government put in more money, but it all got sucked into the hole that was already there.”
She added: “We have reached the precipice. My worry is that no amount of money will solve the serious problems we have now after being underfunded for so long.
The manager said she could not afford to order even basics such as paper this quarter. The school had hired its own family support worker one day a week because public services were now so stretched that families were left without outside support, she said. However, this term, they had to let the support worker go because they couldn’t afford to pay her.
“She was helping families where six people lived in a two-bed apartment full of mold and needed help getting out,” the chief said.
“It’s bad enough that we had to hire someone to do this stuff ourselves, but now having to take it away is terrible.”
Mary Bousted, NEU General Secretary, said: “I’m not selling this as the best deal ever, but considering the government we’re dealing with it’s a real achievement and I’m very proud of our members.”
She added: “We’re saying, ‘You can absolutely reject this, but it means going into a multi-day strike in the fall and the government still won’t budge. “”
The Department of Education declined to comment.