UK Officials Cautious on Eve of National Union of Teachers Strike

(Photo: CBJ News Report)

(Photo: CBJ News Report)

On July 5, the National Union of Teachers (NUT) in the United Kingdom will hold its first strike action since 2014. Members voted overwhelmingly in favor of action with a view to addressing the issues of school funding and resuming negotiations on teacher contracts.

The NUT’s ballot has shown that 91.7 per cent voted in favor of strike action, with a 24.5 per cent turnout.

The Department for Education, however, has criticized the imminent strike by focusing on the low turnout. A spokesperson for the department has said:

“It is disappointing the National Union of Teachers has chosen to take unnecessary and damaging strike action, which less than a quarter of its members voted for.”

This will be the latest of a number of strikes that the NUT has called in order to address issues that have seen little change over the last few years.

The Department for Education’s spokesperson has urged the NUT not to proceed with the strike, saying that they should “resolve pay disputes at the negotiating table rather than playing politics with children’s futures.”

The NUT’s most recent action in 2014 was taken alongside members of UNISON, UNITE, GMB, PCS and the FBU. On that day, teachers took action alongside fire fighters, civil servants and council and health workers.

In some parts of the country, including Hackney in London, marches and rallies will be held. Toby Mallinson, NUT joint divisional secretary in Sheffield, where rallies will also take place, has countered the Department for Education’s statement by saying that:

“Teachers go into the profession to make a difference to children’s lives and to develop in them a love of learning. No teacher takes strike action lightly. Inadequate levels of funding, however, are having a negative effect on both children and teachers that cannot go unaddressed.”

Also mentioned were the Institute of Fiscal Studies’ claims that schools are facing the worst funding cuts since the 1970s, as well as the worry that predicted inflation rises following the EU referendum will mean even further cutbacks.

According to the NUT, in real terms this means fewer teachers whilst class sizes increase, as well as less subject choices, the arts being worst hit, and fewer materials for the classroom.

Similarly, in Havering, NUT secretary Ray Waxler has said that teachers did not want to disrupt students’ educations, but that the issues are so serious that action is necessary. He cited a breakdown in the education system, which he says has become “chaotic” in recent years due to cuts as well as recent actions taken by government.

Kevin Courtney, the NUT’s acting general secretary, has also criticized the UK’s new academy programme, saying that “there is no evidence it leads to better results in schools and [that it] is fuelling the teacher retention and recruitment crisis.”

A letter written by Courtney to Nicky Morgan, the secretary of state for education, has outlined what can be done to avoid the strike action.

Three requests were made, including the request for a promise that meaningful talks will take place looking for a resolution to the dispute; that academies be told they must at least have regard to the national terms and conditions; and that schools be sufficiently funded to cover the increased staff costs imposed on them.