The two largest teaching unions have announced they will vote on industrial action after the government failed to improve its pay offer, raising the prospect of strikes closing schools and colleges this winter.
The NASUWT union said ballots were being sent to its members, with voting to close on 9 January, while the National Education Union said it would do the same next week after the vast majority of its members said they supported a ballot on strike action.
The Department for Education has offered a 5% pay rise to teachers and headteachers in England for the current academic year but the NASUWT said it wanted a 12% rise to meet the rise in the cost of living. Offers of 5% have also been made in Scotland and Wales.
The union said the ballot came after ministers “failed to engage in negotiations” despite repeated calls to do so. Last week the schools minister Jonathan Gullis said the government would “not budge” over the 5% pay award.
Patrick Roach, the NASUWT’s general secretary, said ministers “will be entirely responsible” for industrial action unless they deliver a better deal.
“The government has failed to recognise the damaging impact of years of real terms pay cuts on the morale of teachers, which is fuelling the teacher recruitment and retention crisis,” Roach said.
The 5% pay offer was “unacceptable” when inflation was more than 10% and would cause “even more financial misery for hard-working teachers”, he said.
“The government must ensure additional money is provided to schools and colleges to ensure that this year’s pay award does not become a lottery.”
The NASUWT will ballot members in England, Wales and Scotland, while the NEU will ballot members in England and Wales.
The NEU said more than 60% of teachers had voted in a preliminary ballot over the last three weeks, with 86% supporting strike action.
If the results of the preliminary ballot were repeated in the formal ballot, the NEU would comfortably meet the government’s legal criteria for a national strike, which requires at least 50% of a union’s total membership to vote in favour.
Mary Bousted, the joint general secretary of the NEU, said: “The latest pay rise, which the present government refuses to fully fund, will simply not do. Our members expect a fully funded, above-inflation pay rise and have today demonstrated their willingness to consider strike action in pursuit of one.”