Teachers in England at ‘end of their tether’, says union chief

NEU general secretary says ahead of Wednesday’s strike that teachers are undervalued, underpaid and overworked

Teachers are at “the end of their tether”, Mary Bousted of the National Education Union has said, as the government called last-ditch talks on Monday in an attempt to avert this week’s schools strikes in England.

Teachers are expected to be among up to half a million workers across the public sector taking strike action on Wednesday 1 February, as Rishi Sunak’s government continues to face a relentless wave of industrial unrest.

They will be joined by civil servants across government departments, train drivers and university lecturers and staff.

The education secretary, Gillian Keegan, has summoned the education unions for discussions on Monday afternoon, but Bousted, the NEU’s joint general secretary, told the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg that she saw little sign of movement from ministers.

“I don’t see that the government at the moment is serious about negotiating; and we would not have got to this point if they had started to negotiate with us last October, when we first decided to ballot our members,” she said. “Teachers are at the end of their tether. They are undervalued, they feel underpaid, they are completely overworked.”

The NEU is demanding an above-inflation pay rise, fully funded by the Treasury so that schools are not forced to dip into already tight budgets. Bousted added that the NEU had signed up more than 34,000 new members since the result of the strike ballot was announced. “That shows the strength of feeling,” she said.

Keegan’s remit covers England. Welsh teachers are also striking on Wednesday, and rolling teachers’ strikes have been under way in Scotland.

The National Association of Head Teachers announced last week that it would reballot its members on industrial action if pay talks with the DfE broke down or failed to reach a conclusion.

The strike ballot that the NAHT began last year failed to reach the 50% voting threshold, with many members complaining that they were unable to vote because of disruption to postal services.

The NAHT also published its evidence to the School Teacher Review Board independent pay body for next year’s (2023-24) pay round, which said increasing numbers of school leaders were leaving the profession.

Sunak and his chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, have repeatedly insisted they are not willing to reopen the current year’s settlements for public sector workers, claiming that doing so could stoke inflation.

Teachers were awarded an average of about 5%, but with inflation in double digits, that amounted to a significant real-terms pay cut for many. The Institute for Fiscal Studies recently calculated that senior teachers had in effect seen their pay decline by £6,600 since 2010.

When the levelling up secretary, Michael Gove, was asked on Sunday about the possibility that the teachers’ strike could be averted, he said: “Gillian [Keegan] is a warm, determined, thoughtful and caring secretary of state. She has been looking forensically at the issues that we have in education. She wants to avoid the need for strike action.”

The shadow education secretary, Bridget Phillipson, said she did not want to see the schools strikes go ahead, but she understood teachers’ concerns.

“This isn’t just about pay. It’s about the fact that they feel undervalued and under-appreciated for the work that they do,” she said. “Like all parents, I’m concerned about the disruption that will cause. But the only reason these strikes are happening is because government ministers haven’t been serious about negotiating.”


The Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) is stepping up its campaign of industrial action on Wednesday, with all of the 100,000 members whose ballots met the threshold for industrial action going on strike in unison.

The PCS has previously targeted specific departments and agencies separately. Scores of government employers are expected to be affected, from Border Force to the Department for Work and Pensions.

The TUC will use Wednesday’s widespread stoppages to step up its campaign against the government’s anti-strikes legislation.

Ministers have not yet published a formal impact assessment of the bill – usually provided to MPs alongside legislation – and the TUC is accusing the government of trying to “keep MPs in the dark”.

Its general secretary, Paul Nowak, said: “This spiteful legislation would mean that when workers democratically vote to strike, they can be forced to work and sacked if they don’t comply.

“The minimum service levels bill is undemocratic, unworkable and almost certainly illegal. And crucially it will likely poison industrial relations and exacerbate disputes rather than help resolve them.

Labour has tabled a string of amendments to the legislation, which is due to be debated in the House of Commons on Monday, including one aimed at preventing striking workers from being sacked.

The party’s deputy leader, Angela Rayner, said: “Conservative MPs face a clear choice today over whether they will vote to safeguard rights at work or rip up key workers’ protections from unfair dismissal. Labour is looking to force them to go back to the drawing board with this dog’s dinner of a bill that will do nothing to resolve disputes and instead risks pouring petrol on the fire.”


Heather Stewart

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Pay talks with teachers in England could start next week after latest strikes
National Education Union going ahead with two more days of industrial action that will disrupt schools

Richard Adams Education editor

15, Mar, 2023 @6:00 AM

Article image
More teacher strikes in England look inevitable, union leaders say
NEU joint secretary says teachers will ‘not back down’ as pay negotiations with government reach stalemate

Sally Weale

15, Feb, 2023 @3:19 PM

Article image
Largest teaching union threatens to ballot members in England on strike action
National Education Union writes to education secretary Nadhim Zahawi, calling for ‘inflation-plus’ pay rise

Richard Adams Education editor

22, Jun, 2022 @9:59 AM

Article image
Teachers’ strike in England and Wales to go ahead after talks fail
Union accuses education secretary of ‘squandering opportunity’ to avert planned action on Wednesday

Sally Weale Education correspondent

30, Jan, 2023 @4:36 PM

Article image
Teachers in England and Wales vote to strike as nurses prepare further action
Thousands of schools set to close as NEU members plan mass strike on 1 February, followed by regional stoppages

Sally Weale and Denis Campbell

16, Jan, 2023 @7:13 PM

Article image
One-off payment ‘unlikely to avert teacher strikes in England and Wales’
NEU chief welcomes hour-long meeting with ministers on Monday but says ‘months have been wasted’

Peter Walker Political correspondent

09, Jan, 2023 @9:10 AM

Article image
New strike chaos as teachers and NHS staff warn of action over pay
Rail unions set to walk out on Tuesday, as clashes loom over public sector pay offers falling short of inflation

Toby Helm, Michael Savage and Jon Ungoed-Thomas

18, Jun, 2022 @6:19 PM

Article image
Teachers' unions threaten joint strike action in autumn
NUT and NASUWT announce 'unprecedented' joint protest over government's education policies

Dan Milmo, industrial editor

28, May, 2012 @12:56 PM

Article image
New teachers' salary in England could reach £30,000, says DfE
Announcement is part of plans to increase recruitment and improve profession’s status

Richard Adams Education editor

01, Sep, 2019 @11:01 PM

Article image
Teachers plan work-to-rule protest to warn government over cuts to pay
Half a million NUT and NASUWT members in England and Wales will refuse to work beyond core responsibilities

Dan Milmo, industrial editor

10, Sep, 2012 @12:05 PM