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Editor’s Blog: Will the pay award stop the strikes?

As I write this, it’s the last afternoon of the school year and teachers are looking forward to a well earned rest. But those in the four main unions can’t fully relax yet as they must decide whether the government’s 6.5% pay offer is enough for them to cease industrial action in September.

With parental support thought to be waning after months of disruption and concern that the government won’t bend any further, union chiefs have strongly recommended that members accept the offer.

NEU joint general secretary, Kevin Courtney, wrote to members saying they feared support for further walkouts would reduce now that teachers’ action had resulted in a significant pay hike offer.

He told members: “There is the alternative of rejecting the offer. But if you do this, we think it’s really important that you understand that [you] would be committing yourself and your colleagues to a radical intensification of industrial action in the autumn term.

“We think that nothing less would shift the government and even that radical intensification might not shift the government. We think that is a very risky course of action.”

Female teacher is teaching shapes to her primary school students. She is asking hem a question and some of the students have their hand in the air to answer.

Just a day before the government increased its offer from 3.5% + £1,000 to 6.5%, the NASUWT union revealed it had overwhelmingly voted for action in September.

We don’t yet know if the improved offer has quelled the thirst for action at NASUWT but the Guardian has reported rumours that groups within the NEU are beginning to lobby members to reject the offer. All four unions are due to vote yes or no in the coming days.

I for one, hope they accept the offer. Speaking as a former union rep who spent many years in conflict with management on behalf of my colleagues, it goes without saying that I have supported the strikes despite the inconvenience to me and the disruption to my children’s education. Yes, it is short of inflation, and no, it won’t solve the teacher shortage problem overnight, but in the context of the current political climate it’s a fantastic result and more than most people would ever have expected.

Teachers are overworked for sure – I often cannot believe the hours that I hear some teachers are working. Far too many. But are they vastly under paid? Possibly a bit but I doubt many teachers go into the profession for the money – similar to journalists! We do it for the love of the job and at the end of the day, all those professions that are a vocation rather than ‘just a job’ are vulnerable to being taken for granted. If you’re doing something you actually care about, sadly people will take advantage of your commitment and loyalty. We don’t just roll over and accept poor treatment, and boy, unions are vital in these sectors, but pushing too hard isn’t going to win friends or get vastly better results, in my opinion.

Tackling the things that ruin job satisfaction, such as having to cover vacant posts, doing excessive admin and working silly amounts of overtime, would mitigate any slight pay quibble, I would imagine. The Education Secretary has launched a ‘Workload Taskforce’ and while it’s easy and not unexpected to be cynical about conditions improving, the fact that the DfE is actually acknowledging the issues would seem to provide some optimism.

The National Foundation for Educational Research has said the 6.5% pay boost is unlikely to make a significant overall difference to long-term teacher supply on its own but I believe working with the government, now that a pay award has been offered, will bring quicker results than continuing the industrial action.

If the next government fails to follow through then by all means more action could be justified, but it’s time to pause and re-assess and see if we can end the disruption for our children.

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