Last Monday, the National Educational Union (NEU) announced that teachers had voted to go on strike. This is something that has been brewing under the surface for many months now. Just like in other industries, things have been pretty hard for teachers lately.
The cost of living crisis has shed light on issues that have existed for a long time in the school system. During the lockdown, teachers were working long hours to make hybrid learning work – something that they had never been trained for and didn’t have the technology to do well. Very few teachers can afford a flat, and disposable income is a thing of the past. Workload and morale are huge problems, too. It’s no wonder that teachers are leaving and strikes are coming soon.
Now, things have been bad for most of us in the past year or two. I don’t deny that at all! However, there have been issues with the way schools operate for a long time before that. Teachers put up with a hell of a lot – including more and more responsibilities and less unwinding time at home. Now that the cost of living has gone up, these things are even more unbearable.
I’ve seen lots of people who seem very confused about why teachers are striking! I get it! Lots of media companies cover strikes like union leaders are ignorant or malicious. Strikes make your life much harder. However, there is a point to this. In my opinion, it’s a very good one, too.
So, let me explain to you what is going on and why.
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Why Are Teachers Striking?
I’m not an economics teacher, and I have never studied the subject at school or uni. I’ve just brushed up on the basics in some books and during history classes! Naturally, that’s going to mean my explanations are pretty simple. I’ll try my best, though!
If you only look at the numbers, teachers seem to make more money every year. Things aren’t that simple, though! Once you take a look at how much inflation we’ve had as a country, our salaries actually work out to be worth less and less each year.
On its website, the NEU looks at RPI inflation. Basically, that looks at the goods we buy from shops: eggs, bread, clothes, entertainment… anything that you could buy in a retail store. It sees how much those items have gone up in price. The figure for RPI when the NEU made its statement was 11.7%. According to the government’s Office for National Statistics, RPI inflation reached 13.4% In December 2022!
That means we teachers can’t live the way we used to before. Our grocery bills have gone up, along with all other expenses. Fares for travel are more expensive, too. In the meantime, we’re being expected to dedicate more time and energy to our jobs. It’s just not sustainable.
Teachers are the people educating the next generation. We can’t be overworked, underpaid and tired from our part-time jobs. It means we can’t give students the quality teaching they deserve.
It’s no wonder that so many new teachers are leaving.
But we can’t expect this pay rise to come from schools that don’t have a lot of money as it is. So, teachers are striking to increase the budget from the government. It all comes back to them in the long run, anyway!
When is it Going to Happen?
In total, there are going to be seven strikes run by the NEU throughout England and Wales. However, not all teachers are striking all the time. With the way the dates are planned, each area only goes on strike for four of the seven days.
The strikes include teachers from both schools and sixth-form colleges.
The dates from the NEU for England and Wales are as follows:
- 1 February 2023 (the whole of England and Wales). There will also be strikes from other sectors on this day, so make sure to plan childcare or remote working if necessary.
- 14 February 2023 (the whole of Wales).
- 28 February 2023 (Northern and Northwest England, Yorkshire and The Humber).
- 1 March 2023 (East Midlands, West Midlands and Eastern England).
- 2 March 2023 (South East and South West England, including London).
- 15 March 2023 (the whole of England and Wales).
- 16 March 2023 (the whole of England and Wales).
This is only for the NEU, though. Keep an eye on other teachers’ unions, such as NASUWT. They did not reach the 50% threshold to pass strike action. However, they could try again to secure a legal strike.
There is a long list of strike dates from Scotland. You can check it out on the BBC website.
I’ll edit this page once I’ve found out a little more about any possible dates for Northern Ireland. At the moment, it seems like they’re considering their next steps.
Are All Teachers Going on Strike?
Not all teachers are going to go on strike. There are many reasons why they might not:
- Being part of another union that did not reach the threshold needed to strike legally.
- Being a member of the NEU but choosing not to strike for personal reasons. While most of the NEU teachers who voted said they would strike, some said they wouldn’t.
- Not being part of any union at all for personal reasons.
- Being a teacher who is officially considered part of the specialist or support team at school. Support and specialist staff did not reach the votes needed to strike. So, there is a bit of a grey area about those who teach as a smaller part of their job.
However, it is important to remember the knock-on effect that teachers striking will have.
Some teachers have children at other schools. Where this is the case, they might not be able to come in even if they choose not to strike. They will have to look after their children at home instead. Or, they might work remotely.
As I said before, other sectors are striking at the same time as teachers. 16 train companies will be taking action on 1st February, which will make it hard for people to go to work. This may affect teachers even if they choose not to strike.
It is important to note, though: non-striking staff cannot be asked to cover classes for striking staff. It would be pretty unfair, to be honest. Staff on strike don’t have a duty to set cover work for their classes, so it’s would be pretty hard to step in.
No one should be forcing a teacher to strike or to do things that aren’t in their job description.
Will Schools Close?
Not all schools are going to be closed on those strike days. It really depends on the school, the day and the number of staff going on strike.
For a start, each school will only be eligible for four of the strike days. So, on the other days, schools should run as normal. Well, as long as the industrial action from other sectors doesn’t affect anything, anyway!
Being part of an area going on strike doesn’t guarantee your school will be closed, either. There is more than one teachers’ union out there. If the majority of teachers are part of a union that isn’t striking, their school won’t close. They will just account for the teachers in a striking union.
Some schools might choose to go online rather than close completely. Other schools have many vulnerable students, so it would be better for them to be able to stay in the building.
Whether they choose to strike or not, teachers care deeply about their students. They will make sure to discuss the action with the leaders in their school and work out what works best for everyone.
If a school is going to close, they need to communicate this with all parents and students as soon as possible. That way, there is ample time to organise time off or childcare.
How Does the Strike Voting Process Work?
Teachers can’t just go on strike whenever they choose. There are many different processes that they go through before they start. Here is a breakdown of how things usually work.
- The union identifies an issue with the way that schools are run at the moment. Members discuss the issues and come up with a proposal for how they would like things to change.
- Leaders of the union go to the government with the proposals. They explain what the problem is and why it needs to be fixed. Negotiation begins with the government.
- If negotiations fail, the union asks its members to vote in an initial ballot. This ballot is hypothetical. It basically asks teachers if they agree with the offer the government has given and if they would strike if things don’t change.
- If the initial ballot is successful, the union goes back to the government with this data. They basically use it to show the government how many people are upset and what will happen if negotiations don’t work.
- The union and the government go through another round of negotiations.
- If the negotiations fail again, the union has a real ballot. This one asks teachers if they will go on strike if things aren’t solved.
- There will be months between the start and end of this real ballot. During this time, the union will continue to negotiate for change.
- The ballot results come in. In order to strike, at least 50% of union members have to vote, and there has to be a majority supporting strike action.
The whole process takes months to complete. Teachers voted in the initial ballot back in September and the second ballot closed in January 2023. The government could stop this at any stage by giving a better offer.
Why Are So Many Teachers Leaving Their Jobs?
You might have heard recently that lots of teachers are leaving the profession. In fact, according to The Guardian, a third of recently qualified teachers stopped teaching in the past decade! So, why is this happening?
Well, there are many reasons, to be honest! Here are some of the big ones:
- Teachers feel like they don’t get enough support in their first few years. They feel overwhelmed with all the things they have to do and learn.
- The list of responsibilities for teachers has increased drastically over the years. You don’t just go to a class and teach. They have to act as secretaries, counsellors, babysitters, security, data analysts, examiners, exam invigilators, and so much more. Teaching is like spinning plates!
- For many, a teacher’s salary doesn’t justify the amount of debt you go into from uni. I mean, after 4+ years of studying and over 35k in student loan debt, you’d expect to at least afford a mortgage on a flat!
- Tutoring and office jobs offer much better salaries in the long run.
- Teachers suffer a great deal of abuse from students and parents alike.
- Poor mental health hits teachers pretty badly. They feel run down and burnt out. Plus, there are a lot of very serious safeguarding issues they have to deal with that really take a toll.
- The work-life balance isn’t as good as it seems. Sure, it looks like you get long holidays. However, they don’t have enough time to plan during the school year. Lesson planning ends up getting pushed to summer break. Long hours of marking don’t help. Plus, vacations are super expensive when school is out!
There are plenty of other reasons, too! These are the ones that I’ve noticed personally.
How Will Striking Help Teachers?
You might already know that teachers are not getting paid during these upcoming strikes. So, what are we getting out of it? Why even bother?
Well, teachers are hoping that striking will help them in the long run. They hope that teaching will at least be as well-paid as it was ten years ago so the people educating the next generation can be comfortable.
Personally, I would love to be able to afford a flat of my own. However, my Central London teacher’s salary just doesn’t get me enough for a mortgage in London or the surrounding areas. I can’t even get a studio! Until I can afford it, I’m not going to start my own family. So, I have to put my whole life on hold until things get better. Or, I can just hope I get enough students to tutor full-time.
It’s more than just that, though. It’s about the future of teachers and the people who come after us.
You can’t attract high-quality workers with a low salary. That’s just basic business knowledge. We’re losing expert teachers from top universities to private schools, schools abroad and tutoring agencies.
Out of the handful of excellent teachers we have left, many only do it because it’s their passion to make a difference. The thing is, that’s a choice you can only make if you can afford a low salary. Maybe you live at home, or you can work an extra job on the side (like my tutoring).
We’ve just come out of a pandemic. Now’s not the time to allow our local schools to bleed talent. We need to bring great teachers back.
I hope that a strike will help the government to see that.