This is a fast-moving topic and should be read as correct at the time of publication.

England: Current situation

There was a series of school teacher strikes in England and in 2022 and 2023. Unions were calling for better pay and working conditions. 

By 31 July 2023 all of the four main school teaching and leadership unions in England announced that their members had decided to accept the Government’s pay offer for the 2023 to 2024 academic year. This amounted to a 6.5% cash-terms increase (with slightly more for some new teachers). This was the increase recommended by the statutory pay body for teachers, the School Teachers’ Review Body (STRB). 

The statements from the four main teachers’ unions are set out below:

Late each year, the Government writes to the STRB in what is known as a remit letter. This is part of the annual teacher pay round. On 20 December 2023, Education Secretary Gillian Keegan published her remit letter for 2024/25. The NEU criticised this, saying it was “completely inadequate”, and that the Government was “again attempting to constrain the STRB by forcing it to work within the existing inadequate funding envelope”. ASCL urged the STRB to “assert its independence as it did for 23/24”. NASUWT was similarly critical.

Government planning introduction of minimum service levels in education

The Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Act 2023 received Royal Assent in July 2023. It allows the Secretary of State to make regulations imposing minimum service levels during strike action, in six sectors including in schools and education settings. A Library briefing paper provides further background on the legislation.

Under the 2023 Act, where unions serve a strike notice, employers covered by Act and related regulations can issue a ‘work notice’. This would require individuals to work on strike days to meet minimum service levels. Employers have discretion on whether to issue work notices to deliver the minimum service levels.

Department for Education (DfE) consultation

On 28 November 2023 Education Secretary Gillian Keegan said the Government had failed to reach voluntary agreement with the main teaching unions to guarantee minimum service levels (MSLs) during any future strike action.

The Government has launched a consultation on the scope of the minimum service levels in education, and the plan to prescribe MSLs in regulations for this sector.

 The consultation suggests two options for prioritising pupils for face-to-face attendance on strike days:

  • Option one would prioritise vulnerable pupils and students; those due to take formal assessments and public examinations; and children in years seven and below from families where both parents were critical workers, or in single parent critical worker households
  • Option two would cover more children, and allow all primary-aged pupils to attend, plus secondary age pupils in the priority groups identified under option one

The consultation will close on 30 January 2024.

Announcing the consultation, Gillian Keegan said the measures would “provide greater reassurance and certainty for children and parents”. She described strikes to date as:

[P]art of the biggest outbreak of industrial action in a generation, with far reaching consequences across the education system. Cumulatively over 25 million school days have been lost over 10 strike days in schools alone.

Response to the minimum service level plans

Daniel Kebede of the NEU said the Government wanted to be “tough on strikes, but not on the causes of strikes”, citing serious concerns about recruitment and retention, pay and workloads.

Paul Whiteman of the NAHT said the Government had entered talks about a voluntary agreement “in incredibly bad faith” and that “this is a purely ideological fight from the government, aimed at removing workers’ fundamental rights”.

Geoff Barton of ASCL cited concerns the legislation would be used “to impose a miserly pay award next year which will further erode the real value of teacher pay and worsen a recruitment and retention crisis which is causing huge damage.”

Dr Patrick Roach of NASUWT – the Teachers’ Union, said ministers had “put forward no compelling justification for MSLs in schools and colleges”.

Minimum service levels in Scotland and Wales

Unlike education law more generally, employment law is reserved in Great Britain, and the 2023 Act allows the UK Government to apply minimum service levels across England, Scotland and Wales. However, as noted above, under the 2023 Act, the decision on whether to issue a work notice to striking staff, and therefore to operate MSLs, is for employers to make.

The DfE consultation says the Government is “engaging with the Scottish Government and Welsh Government on the geographical scope of the regulations and will continue to work with them on the detail of these proposals”.

Welsh Education Minister, Jeremy Miles, wrote to Gillian Keegan on 20 December 2023 stating:

The act and subsequent regulations are not the right response to strikes. The introduction of these new laws not only trample over the devolution settlement but unfairly limit the action of the workforce to take industrial action … Welsh Ministers will not participate in this fundamentally flawed exercise.

What was the 2023 to 2024 teacher pay deal for England worth? 

The Government says the offer meant “teachers and leaders in maintained schools will receive an increase of at least 6.5%” (in cash terms) in the 2023/24 academic year, beginning in September. Individual schools and academy trusts still have some pay flexibility and discretion over pay and pay progression. 

Earlier, in the 2022/23 academic year, the School Teachers Pay and Conditions Document (STPCD)[PDF] increased the top and bottom of the main teaching pay bands by around 5% in cash terms. There were higher increases of up to 9% for new teachers.  

The pay award for the 2023/24 academic year did not cover non-teaching staff, such as teaching assistants and school administrators. Their pay is not subject to statutory pay review body recommendations; many (but not all) support staff are paid according to local authority terms and conditions.

What additional funding is the Government providing for teacher pay?

Schools are generally in control of their own delegated budgets, and most of their expenditure is on teachers’ pay. Pay rises for teachers (and other staff) can therefore have significant implications for schools’ financial health.

The Department for Education (DfE) is making additional payments of around £1.4 billion to schools to partially cover the 6.5% average teacher pay award, over financial years 2023-24 and 2024-25. This is being paid through the Teachers’ Pay Additional Grant. There is also a hardship fund of up to £40 million for schools and local authorities facing the biggest financial challenges.

This additional funding comes on top of cash increases already announced at the 2022 Autumn Statement.

The DfE had already assessed that schools had enough headroom to cope with pay rises of around 4% (in cash terms), and says it is funding the full cost of the pay award “above 3.5%”. Consequently, it argues “the additional funding to support this pay award is higher and more generous than what our calculations tell us schools can afford”. It says the funding comes from surplus within existing DfE budgets.

School strikes in Scotland

School support staff members of the union UNISON took strike action in Scotland during the 2023 autumn term. Support staff members of two other unions – Unite and the GMB, were due to strike but their action was called off after members voted to accept a pay offer from the Scottish local authority employers’ organisation, COSLA, which negotiates for Scottish local authorities in pay disputes. UNISON members also voted to accept a pay offer and bring the dispute to an end, in late November 2023.

Earlier in the year, the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) ran a rolling programme of teacher strikes in early 2023 over pay and conditions. It held national strike days on 28 February and 1 March 2023, as did the NASUWT in Scotland. 

The Scottish teacher pay dispute came to an end later in March when COSLA made a revised pay offer.

This offer was accepted by the EIS and other unions:

School strikes in Wales

Members of the NEU in Wales were called to strike on Thursday 2 March 2023. They were also called to participate in the strikes on 15 and 16 March 2023. However, on 10 March the NEU announced that, following a revised pay offer which would be put to members, those strikes would be called off.

NEU Cymru teaching members subsequently voted to accept the teacher pay offer.

NAHT Cymru’s members rejected the offer, and carried on action short of strike until a deal was reached in November 2023.

The ballot by the union Undeb Cenedlaethol Athrawon Cymru (UCAC) and the ballot by NASUWT (for state-funded schools in Wales), which were held earlier in the year, both fell short of the turnout threshold and so those unions did not strike.

School strikes in Northern Ireland

Teacher and school support staff strike action is ongoing in Northern Ireland.

The latest round of teacher strikes took place on 29 November 2023, and involved members of the NASUWT, NAHT, the NEU, the Ulster Teachers’ Union (UTU) and the Irish National Teachers Union (INTO). Further strike days are planned for spring 2024.

The Northern Ireland Teachers’ Council (NITC) represents all five unions in Northern Ireland. Chair of the NITC, Jacquie White, said “there is no sign that the Department of Education or the Secretary of State are in any rush to settle this dispute”, despite teachers and school leaders participating in action short of strike for more than a year.

Vice Chair, Justin McCamphill, pointed to the pay gap for teachers across the UK, saying this had reached “epic proportions …the Secretary of State needs to come out of hiding and ensure that the education system in Northern Ireland is properly funded”.

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