Teacher strikes: what happened last year?

2023 saw a significant number of teacher strikes in schools in England and Wales. National Education Union (NEU) members took part in strikes across 11 different days from February to July 2023. They were joined by non-union members (including some Edapt subscribers) who were able to take part under the same legal protections as NEU members unlike members of other teaching unions like the NASUWT.  

At the time, NASUWT had voted in favour of industrial action but had failed to meet the legal threshold required for industrial action. Further ballots were held later in the year in July where the thresholds were passed by NASUWT and NAHT but a collective decision was taken by teaching unions later that month to accept the 6.5% pay offer for the 2023-24 academic year. 

This was portrayed by union leaders as a chance to bank some progress on pay and to return in 2024 for an improved pay and funding offer. So now that 2024 is upon us, will we see more teacher strikes in 2024? 

The simple answer is that this seems the most likely direction of travel at the moment but this article will analyse the situation in more detail and explain the current positions of the NEU and NASUWT with a view to predicting a possible timeline and likelihood of action.

Edapt are an apolitical and independent organisation (not a trade union) who offer edu-legal support and professional casework services in individual employment disputes and allegations, similar to some of the services offered by a traditional trade union

Current Stances – What are the unions asking for?

Whilst there are a number of concerns and issues that both the NEU and NASUWT have with the current government such as Ofsted gradings and minimum service levels, strike action can only be called on work disputes, typically focusing on pay or working conditions. Specifically, the NEU’s campaign is asking for “a fully-funded, above inflation pay rise that constitutes a meaningful step towards a long-term correction in pay for teachers and support staff”. For a teacher in England at the top of the main pay scale a long-term correction in pay back to 2010 levels in real terms would amount to a £12,000 increase in salary. Whilst it is difficult to be sure of intentions, it seems unlikely that the current government will meet these requests in full given the resistance to above inflation pay rises that have been seen both in education and other sectors. Inflation is forecast to fall to 2% by May 2024 but has averaged 5% since the last pay deal was agreed.


A graphic illustrating the possible timeline of teacher strikes in England in 2024 from March to October.
Teacher strikes 2024 – potential timeline

Indicative Ballots

Both the NEU and NASUWT are holding online preliminary ballots with their members during the month of March with these closing on the 28th and 20th of the month respectively for each union. These ballots will give an indication to union leadership as to whether their members have the appetite to take further strike action this academic year. If the membership is in favour of more strike action, it is likely that formal motions will be put forward at the teaching union conferences in the first week of April, with a high likelihood of these motions passing a delegate vote.

Budget Day – 6th March

Budget Day could play a potentially significant role in this dispute with the Chancellor Jeremy Hunt due to announce government spending plans. A significant increase in funding for schools and education could reduce appetite for further strikes but it would have to be a very large number in the region of billions of pounds for union leaderships to change their current direction of travel.

Formal Ballot

Assuming that the indicative ballots and formal motions are passed at conference, it is likely that teaching unions will quickly move to conduct a formal postal ballot to be held in May or June. By law, these ballots have to be held by post which is an additional frustration for unions who would prefer to conduct these online as it is easier to engage their members. In order for any strike action to take place at least 50% of eligible members must respond to the ballot and at least 40% of those members must vote yes for action. It should be noted that the School Teachers’ Review Board typically post their recommendations for teacher pay rises during the month of May so this, alongside a government response, will likely have an impact on any ballot.

Will teachers vote yes for strike action?

Of course any commentary on this is speculative at this point but we can look at what has happened in the past for an indicator of likely outcomes. The biggest challenge for teaching unions in obtaining the mandate for strike action is overcoming the thresholds of eligible voters set out in law. Previous ballots have shown that significant proportions of their memberships do not take part in these ballots perhaps through apathy, disagreement or through communication issues. The January 2023 ballot for example was affected by postal strikes.

Out of the two big teaching unions, the NEU is probably most likely to vote for strike action given previous activities. Their membership is the most engaged and they surpassed the 50% threshold in January 2023 with 53% of their eligible members voting in the ballot. The NASUWT did not meet the threshold in January 2023 with only 42% of their members returning ballots but they did reach the threshold on a new vote in July 2023 with 51.9% of their members returning votes.

If those that do return their ballots, previous votes have overwhelmingly been in favour of strike action in both unions. What we don’t know much about with any certainty is what the approximate other 50% of union members have thought on these issues.

Of course there are thousands of other teachers who may or may not choose to join in any potential strike action as non-union members and still have the same legal protections as those within the union. For example, last year our Edapt subscribers had a range of views on the strikes with some choosing to join their colleagues in support, whilst others were against the idea of striking. As an apolitical organisation, we don’t take a stance on education (or other) policies, focusing solely on providing protection and support for our subscribers with objective analysis on issues relevant to their work such as articles like these.

When are the most likely dates for teacher strikes?

By this point, we have made a significant number of assumptions. If formal ballots are returned in May or June, teaching unions will have a 6 month window in which to conduct their action. We predict that they would likely take some action before the end of the Summer Term (perhaps at the start of July) and also in September/October in an attempt to apply further pressure to the government in the lead up to the most probable date for an election. Again lots of assumptions here but this is our best estimate given what we currently know.

If you are an Edapt subscriber (or interested in an Edapt subscription) and have questions about potential strike action, get in touch with our expert casework team who will be able to answer your queries.

Subscribe to Edapt today from as little as £8.37 per month to get access to high quality edu-legal support services to protect you in your teaching and education career.


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