Teacher Strikes 2023 – What to expect during Summer Term
Updated 12th July 2023 to reflect latest NASUWT position
This article aims to provide an update on the ongoing pay dispute between the English education unions and government, explaining how it may impact schools and education staff in the Summer Term and beyond.
This objective guidance by Edapt is written with neutrality in mind with a goal to inform teachers so that they can understand how the situation might affect them and make informed decisions going forward. Edapt are an apolitical and independent organisation (not a trade union) that offer edu-legal support and professional casework services in individual employment disputes and allegations, similar to some of the services offered by a traditional teaching union. Some school staff choose to join Edapt instead of a trade union membership. Edapt recognises that industrial action, teacher strikes and the related issues are emotive topics but in line with its apolitical ethos, provides no judgement on these areas.
Previous articles explain the history of the dispute, detail the pay offer made and provide objective guidance of the legal implications of industrial action for school staff. It is worth noting that the dispute initially began over the 2022-23 pay offer but now involves both the pay offer for 2022-23 and 2023-24.
What were the union responses to the government’s pay offer?
On the 24th March, Gillian Keegan (Secretary of State for Education) wrote to the teaching unions putting forward a formal offer following six days of negotiations. Teaching unions agreed to put this offer to their members but disagreed with the government’s request to put it to their members in a neutral capacity. ASCL was the only union to do so.
All four unions conducted indicative online ballots which also included other questions that union executives were seeking input on, including the appetite for future industrial action if the pay offer were to be rejected. It should be noted that these online ballots do not represent a formal ballot that can be used for official industrial action as these must follow strict rules which came into force following the Trade Union Act 2016 e.g. must be administered by post.
A summary of the stances as of June 2023 in relation to industrial action is shown below:
All four of the teaching unions have rejected the current pay offer and have called on Gillian Keegan and the government to engage in further negotiations. Without any new negotiations, more industrial action is highly likely.
What has the government said in response?
The government stated that the pay offer on the table was the final offer and if rejected by unions, would be withdrawn. An update from the Department for Education stated that the pay review will now pass forward to the School Teachers’ Review Body (STRB). This position was reiterated on the 17th April by the Secretary of State during a number of media interviews seemingly indicating that no further negotiations would take place on pay offer for 22-23.
This means that the proposed £1000 one-off payment for the 22-23 academic year would not be made and that the pay award for 23-24 would now be up to the STRB which was due to submit its report to the government in May. The government have not announced any intention to return to the negotiation table.
During May, there was an alleged leak of the STRB recommendations that have been passed to the DfE which indicated that a pay offer of 6.5% had been recommended for 2023-24. There has been no official confirmation that this is the case but is widely accepted to be true.
In a response to a parliamentary question in June about when the DfE’s response to the STRB would be published, the Secretary of State said that it would be published “in the same sort of time frames as we usually do”. Based on previous timings, this would indicate a publication date near the end of the Summer Term in July.
What is the meaning of “fully funded” and have the government offers been fully funded so far?
As any pay rise has to be made from school budgets, there has been a lot of focus on how any proposed pay offer will be funded. Alongside the pay rise figures, a considerable amount of disagreement exists as to whether the offer will be “fully funded”. This led to both the Department for Education (DfE) and NEU writing to the Office for Statistics Regulation (OSR) to verify whether the claims that the pay offers would be fully funded are valid.
The OSR agreed that the under the DfE’s definition of “fully-funded” (taken to mean on average on a national level), there is evidence to suggest that the offer would be meet that definition. However, the OSR also stated that some users may interpret fully funded to refer to the individual school level and that in future communications should be clearer about what they mean by fully funded. The OSR were also keen to point out that their summary was not an assessment of whether any pay offer would be affordable for schools but were instead making a judgement as to whether the proposed funding matched the statements made.
The unions’ concerns are that each school will be impacted differently and that some schools will have to cut budgets further in order to meet the pay rise. In other words, a national-level costing does not say much about whether individual schools will or won’t be able to afford the pay increases. This is particularly the case for special schools who have a disproportionately greater number of staff per pupil compared to mainstream schools.
What teacher strikes are definitely happening this term and who can take part?
At present, the only union with a mandate for official strike action are the NEU. So far the NEU has held a total of 9 days of industrial action although any one school or teacher would have only taken part in a maximum of 6 days as some industrial action was held on a regional basis. The NEU have proposed a further 2 days of industrial action on Wednesday 5th July and Friday 7th July. These dates were confirmed by their National Executive on 17th June.
Whilst the other unions have pledged solidarity with the NEU over the dispute (hosting a joint press conference at the NAHT Conference in April), the timescale of the ballots and re-ballots that have been scheduled for this term mean that they will not be joining any action in July. The graphic below indicates who will be able to legally take part in that action if it goes ahead. More detailed guidance on joining the strike action is available here.
What is likely to happen next term? Will there be more strikes and if so which unions are likely to take part?
The four unions have agreed to coordinate any future industrial action and are all currently holding ballots for industrial action with results due to be reported in July. If successful, unions will have a six month window in which to conduct further industrial action which in theory could go into the first part of Spring Term 2024.
In trying to predict what will happen there are two key factors to consider:
- Appetite for industrial action within the membership
- Ability to meet the legal thresholds required under the Trade Union Act 2016
Indicative ballots seem to indicate an attitude for industrial action across all four unions, although this does vary. The determining factor is likely to be how well unions can mobilise their members to respond in the ballot as whilst they have been above the threshold required in indicative online ballots, only postal votes can be counted for final ballots on strike action.
A useful reference point for the ability to convert an online consultative ballot into an official postal one can be seen from the previous ballot results. For example, in October 2022, 62% of eligible NEU members responded to the online ballot but only 53% registered a vote by post for the subsequent ‘official’ ballot, although there were mitigating circumstances with the postal strikes.
It is difficult to say whether each union will meet the threshold needed to be able to take industrial action. A summary of the likelihood for each union is given below although it should be noted that that all of the assessments made here are based on a number of assumptions and unknowns and cannot be said with a high degree of certainty. Only time will tell if they are accurate or not!
As the only union to have met the threshold in the previous ballot, it is most likely that the NEU will do so again in their latest ballot. With the highest turnout in the pay offer ballot of 66% and also the fact that they have gained more members from other unions since the winter ballot who are most likely to be engaged in the vote, it would appear that the NEU is the union which is most likely to vote for further industrial action to be taken next academic year. At their most recent conference, a motion was passed to focus future industrial action around the Conservative Party Conference in October.
NASUWT (Updated July 2023)
Having previously fallen short of the threshold in their January 2023 ballot, the NASUWT announced on 12th July that their members had voted in favour of industrial action. 88.5% of eligible members voted to support strike action and 94.3% voted to support of action short of strike action. The ballot exceeded the 50% threshold with 51.9% of eligible members casting their votes. The NASUWT confirmed that they will engage in action short of strike action in September with the possibility of coordinating future strikes with other unions once their ballots have closed.
ASCL have never taken strike action before but on 20th April they confirmed that they would be balloting members during the Summer Term. Compared to their sister unions, ASCL’s public messaging had been markedly less geared towards industrial action although this latest position marks a significant change in approach. They did not hold a formal ballot of members in 2022. Their consultative ballot on the pay offer had a turnout of 56%. Members were not asked about their appetite for industrial action were the offer to be rejected. Given the turnout figures for previous ballots, it will be a challenge for them to meet the threshold for industrial action
General Secretary Paul Whiteman spoke at the recent NEU annual conference and struck a noticeably more direct tone with the government when sharing the NAHT’s results. In their consultative ballot on the government pay offer, turnout was 64% with 78% of voters indicating that they would be willing to take industrial action including strike action. Their last consultative ballot in October had a similar turnout but with only 55% of voters indicating a willingness to vote for strike action. The formal ballot that followed achieved a turnout of 42%, short of the 50% threshold. Given the rise in appetite for strike action and a 5% rise in membership since December, the likelihood of meeting the threshold seems to have increased although it will be likely to be close to that amount. Of the three unions yet to take strike action, it would appear that the NAHT are the most likely to vote for strike action this term.
What are my options if I want to join the industrial action this term but my union does not get a legal mandate for it?
Our previous guidance summarises the position in detail but to summarise briefly, you could join the NEU before a strike date or leave your current union and join a non-union alternative like Edapt where you would be afforded the same legal protections as NEU members. This is an option for teachers who are supportive of the industrial action but may be less comfortable with other stances and positions that the NEU has taken on other issues. Regardless of your preferences, we recommend that all teachers should join a union or an edu-legal alternative such as Edapt to ensure you have adequate protection against allegations.
What can I do if I have questions about the industrial action and strikes?
Edapt subscribers are able to access advice and guidance from our professional caseworkers by getting in touch with us. We will try to support non-subscribers with queries where we can. Edapt’s advice is always given on an independent and apolitical basis, aiming to provide objective information so that teachers and education staff can make informed decisions. If you are a union member, you may wish to contact your union for further advice.
If you are neither a member of a union or an Edapt subscriber, we would recommend joining one or the other to ensure that you always have access to some support.
We will continue to update our support articles (including this one) as the situation changes to try and ensure that all teachers are kept up to date.
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The information contained within this article is not a complete or final statement of the law.
While Edapt has sought to ensure that the information is accurate and up-to-date, it is not responsible and will not be held liable for any inaccuracies and their consequences, including any loss arising from relying on this information. This article may contain information sourced from public sector bodies and licensed under the Open Government Licence. If you are an Edapt subscriber with an employment-related issue, please contact us and we will be able to refer you to one of our caseworkers.