Over the Easter Break, the two largest teaching unions the NEU and NASUWT held their annual conferences. Whilst motions were passed on a wide range of issues from on Ofsted, mental health and wider global matters, one of the key outcomes came in the form of an update on potential teacher strike action with both unions conducting online indicative ballots in March leading up to their conferences.

What were the results of the indicative ballots?

The NEU announced their ballot results first (rather cheekily on the eve of the NASUWT conference). In England, 90.3% were in favour of industrial action whilst in Wales the figure was 87.2%. However, only half of eligible members voted in the ballot with turnouts of 50.3% and 54.1% respectively. This means that if this vote was to be replicated in a formal postal ballot, they would only just meet the minimum turnout threshold needed to have a legal mandate for strike action.

The NASUWT were less clear with their communications reporting that “78% of eligible members surveyed did not support moving to a national statutory ballot”. Whilst this appears on the surface that there is a strong movement against strike action, the opaque wording of the statement and noticeable lack of reported turnout figures suggests that the NASUWT may have had a significant problem in getting their members to engage with their ballot. The precise wording of their results does not make clear whether it was 78% of the votes returned that voted against or that 78% of their members either didn’t vote or voted against. The lack of clarity raises further questions rather than providing a clear stance.

Will there be teacher strikes as a result of these votes?

Potentially but not for a little while yet. In order to take official strike action a formal postal ballot needs to be conducted. Following the indicative ballot results, the NEU passed a motion at its conference to wait until they have the proposed pay offer for next academic year before moving to a formal ballot. With the STRB due to report its recommendations for teacher pay in May, the government is expected to publish their response in the weeks following that. Given that this is likely to be in June, the timetable for any potential strike action now looks like that it will be pushed back into September with unions unlikely to try and coordinate a formal ballot over the summer holidays.

The NASUWT have not totally ruled out further industrial action but have significantly changed their stance from last year with General Secretary Patrick Roach saying “it was not the time for gesture politics and token action” but that his union was focused on winning disputes in individual schools.

Why aren’t teachers voting in the ballots?

Given the NEU turnout of just over 50% and the lack of turnout figures reported by the NASUWT, it’s safe to say that hundreds of thousands of teachers are simply not engaging with the political elements of their unions although the reasons for this can be varied.

We know from reliable research from Teacher Tapp that the main reason why teachers join a union is for legal support and protection and that as many as 1 in 4 would rather not be in a union if they could source this support elsewhere. Here at Edapt we focus on exactly that, providing protection without the politics.

So what will happen next?

All eyes now turn to the STRB recommendations which are due to be published in May. Given the remit terms set out by the government, it seems unlikely that the body will recommend the double digit increase in pay that unions have been calling for. This sets the unions on a collision course with the government most likely for June when the government will respond to those recommendations.

The NEU will be most likely to issue a formal ballot to its members but may conduct a snap poll based on the pay deal first. It would seem that any formal ballot would likely close in September in order to maximise their campaign and ensure a turnout of more than 50% which will be needed to take formal strike action. With a general election most likely to be held in the Autumn, it would also help to raise the profile of the issue at a time where they may be able to gain more political influence.

As we saw last year, we may well see the NASUWT join forces with the NEU on this issue although this now seems less likely given the most recent ballot.


We will continue to provide an objective and independent analysis of the latest developments with regards to possible industrial action.

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.


Latest Support Articles

Our support articles provide up to date advice on a wide range of topics including pay and conditions, maternity and paternity, dealing with allegations and staying safe online.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *