Your Weekly Sector News 03/02/23

Stay up to date with One Education, bringing you all the latest news stories and headlines from the sector. Keep reading to find out more about the teachers’ strikes, new demands from unions, and how school budgetary pressures could undermine education recovery.
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Schools close as more than 100,000 teachers go on strike

Earlier this week, more than 100,000 teachers went on strike, joining thousands of civil servants, university staff, and train and bus drivers for what is thought to be the biggest day of industrial action in a decade. As a result, more than half of schools across England were either fully or partially closed, according to data from the Department for Education (DfE).

This was the first of seven days of strike action planned by the National Education Union (NEU) in pursuit of a fully-funded, above inflation pay rise. Estimates suggest that 82.6 percent of secondary schools were either fully or partially closed, alongside 71.2 percent of special schools and 47.8 percent of primaries. Education secretary, Gillian Keegan, commented that ‘one school closure is too many, and it remains deeply disappointing that the NEU proceeded with this disruptive action.’ However, joint general secretaries of the NEU, Dr Mary Bousted and Kevin Courtney, contend that ‘one day’s disruption through strike action is dwarfed by the long-term damage caused by government policy on education funding, on workload, and on pay.’

Despite receiving a 5 percent pay rise in September 2022, the Institute for Fiscal Studies says most teachers are likely to experience real-terms salary cuts this year, with inflation currently standing at around 10 percent. This follows on from real-term pay cuts dating back to 2010. Since then, salaries for more experienced and senior teachers have fallen by 13 percent, whilst starting salaries have fallen by 5 percent.

To prevent further industrial action, the NEU urges the Education secretary to ‘step up with concrete and meaningful proposals,’ before the next scheduled strike day in England on 28 February. However, Gillian Keegan has said that demands for an above-inflation pay rise are economically incoherent. She explains that the government’s priority is to halve inflation so that ‘everybody in the country will benefit […] we can’t bake in inflation, which is what will happen if we start to get wages spiralling out of control.’

School support staff demand above-inflation pay rise

Together, GMB, Unite and UNISON, representing a total of 1.4 million school and council employees, have formally submitted a pay claim of 12.7 percent to the National Joint Council (NJC). This equates to the current rate of inflation with an added 2 percent. Unions have also asked for a flat increase to bring the minimum rate of pay to £15 per hour within two years.

Last year, unions secured a deal with the NJC, which meant support staff received an increase of £1,925 to their salary. However, unions say the pay award ‘has been completely wiped out by rising household costs.’

In a recent survey of more than 6,000 teaching assistants, administrative staff, librarians, technicians, cleaners and catering staff, 98 percent said the rate of pay for their school job was not enough to cope with the rising cost of living. Over a quarter had taken on a second or third job to make ends meet, whilst almost half were actively searching for better paid work elsewhere.

Following years of public sector austerity, service cuts and pay freezes, unions warn that local authority pay has become uncompetitive, worsening an already serious recruitment and retention crisis. In this context, unions say their claim for an above-inflation pay rise ‘is a bold but entirely fair one, that would go some way to reversing the average 25 percent lost from the value of NJC pay since 2010.’

In addition to their demands for pay, unions have asked for an extra day of annual leave for wellbeing purposes and a reduction in the working week by two hours. They also explain that classroom-based support staff spend a majority of their time supporting pupils with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), building up ‘genuine and hard-to-replace expertise.’ Unions say these specialisms deserve recognition and ask for a review of job evaluation outcomes for staff whose daily work involves working on SEND.

Government told to model the sustainability of school-led tutoring

In response to lost learning over the course of the pandemic, the Department for Education (DfE) announced a total of £4.9 billion in funding to support education recovery. The National Audit Office (NAO) has assessed the value-for-money of the government’s recovery package, which consists of three main interventions: the National Tutoring Programme (NTP), the catch-up premium, and recovery premium.

Overall, the NAO has found that progress has been made in addressing pupils’ learning loss, however disadvantaged pupils remain further behind than their peers. Gareth Davies, head of the NAO, says ‘it is vital that the Department maintains its focus on education recovery in the coming years to help all children to catch up and to close the attainment gap between disadvantaged and other pupils.’

But tutoring schemes are now at risk as the government plans to reduce the subsidy provided under the NTP. This year, the government is paying 60 percent towards the programme. Next year, this will drop to 25 percent. The DfE has said _‘it would like to embed tutoring in the school system because it is recognised as an effective way to address low attainment.’_ However, schools will ultimately need to fund tutoring themselves.

Leaders warn that school-led tutoring will become unsustainable once the subsidy ends, as schools continue to struggle with the pressures of inflation, energy costs and unfunded pay rises for staff. With this in mind, the NAO recommends that the government models the impact of withdrawing the subsidy ‘to assess whether tutoring in schools is financially sustainable.’

This week, as headlines were dominated by strikes, Tes magazine looked back at old editions to see how teachers’ pay and conditions have evolved over the last 100 years.

Among their archives, they found a simple yet striking observation from one of their readers – that teaching is the one “profession without which all other professions are impossible.” First printed in 1919, this still resonates with us today.

At One Education, we are committed to ensuring your staff have the support they need to raise standards in education, creating exciting opportunities for pupils and improving their life chances.

Please get in touch to find out how we can support your school.

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