Teachers in England are set to launch a fresh round of strikes after members of the National Education Union (NEU) overwhelmingly rejected the Government’s latest pay offer.
Almost 200,000 teachers voted to turn down ministers’ proposal of a £1,000 one-off payment for teachers in England this year and a 4.3 per cent pay rise for next year.
Just 2 per cent of NEU members supported the deal, with a whopping 98 per cent of NEU members in England voting to reject the deal, on a turnout of 66 per cent.
New strikes have been scheduled for 27 April and 2 May, when hundreds of thousands of teachers are expected to head to the picket lines.
Here’s everything you need to know about the latest teacher strikes:
When and where will the teacher strikes take place?
The latest strike dates announced by the NEU will affect schools in England only, since similar pay disputes with NEU members in Scotland and Wales have already been resolved.
Unlike previous teacher strikes last month, which were made up of a patchwork of regional walkouts, the NEU strikes set to take place on 27 April and 2 May will apply nationally.
It means all schools in England will have to draw up contingency plans for those dates – just as they did for the national teacher strike that took place in February.
The NEU is also set to debate potential further teacher strikes as part of an “escalation” of industrial action to resolve the current impasse.
Union members will debate an urgent motion at the NEU’s annual conference on Tuesday morning over a possible three-day strike in late June or early July.
Teachers will also be asked to vote on Tuesday on scheduling a re-ballot for industrial action to secure a fresh six-month strike mandate.
The current strike mandate is due to expire in mid-July, but a successful re-ballot would allow NEU members to strike until Christmas.
Current support for the NEU’s ongoing pay campaign means the vote is expected to pass easily. It would mean members would be asked whether they support further strike action in a ballot likely to launch in mid-May and close in mid-July.
Will schools close on those dates?
All schools in England will be asked to draw up contingency plans for the strikes set to take place on 27 April and 2 May.
There is no guarantee that schools will be forced to close on those dates, with headteachers asked to prioritise normal lessons for pupils in Year 11 and Year 13.
The decision over how to proceed be will depend on how many staff in each school go on strike, and will be a choice for each headteacher to make.
More than half of schools either closed or limited attendance during teacher strikes last month, with 47 per cent choosing to shut entirely.
A legal loophole in the law means it is difficult for headteachers to predict the potential scale of chaos, as teachers are not required to inform their employers ahead of time if they plan to strike.
It caused a headache for many schools during the first bout of teacher strikes in February, when many schools were forced to preemptively announce closures.
However, subsequent strikes should have given schools a better idea about how many teachers are likely to strike this time around, and some headteachers said staff have chosen to inform them if they plan to strike to allow schools to plan better.
Parents should expect specific details in the coming days about whether their children’s school will remain open, closed or partially shuttered during strike action on 27 April and 2 May.
The Department for Education has asked schools to prioritise vulnerable children, children of critical workers and pupils taking exams if they do choose to limit attendance.
Will the strikes affect exams?
Strikes set for 27 April and 2 May should not affect public exams, which are due to start later in May.
GCSE exams will start on 15 May and finish on 21 June, while A-Levels will run from 15 May to 27 June for most exam boards. Key Stage 2 Sats for children in Year 6 will take place between 9 May and 12 May.
However, any further strike action by the NEU could potentially coincide with public exams this summer. Teacher walkouts will also probably disrupt children’s usual learning even if their exam dates are unaffected.
Dr Mary Bousted and Kevin Courtney, the joint general secretaries of the NEU, have insisted that they do not want to schedule strikes during public exams this summer, but that the union can rule nothing out.
Dr Bousted said on Monday that schools will be urged to prioritise teaching for students in Years 11 and 13 due to sit their GCSEs and A Levels.
She told i earlier this year that the NEU would do everything it could to avoid launching strike action during the summer exam season, since the move would almost certainly lose the support of parents.
Ofqual, the exams regulator, updated its exam contingency plan for England, Wales and Northern Ireland earlier this year to include guidance on keeping schools open during industrial action.
It urged headteachers to prioritise keeping schools open for “children due to take public exams and other formal assessments” and called on schools to “review their contingency plans to make this happen”.
Will the Government announce a better pay offer?
Gillian Keegan, the Education Secretary, has insisted that the latest pay deal that NEU members just voted to reject was her final offer.
In a statement on Monday, she said she would not put forward another pay offer, and that teacher pay for the next academic year would be decided by the independent School Teachers’ Review Body (STRB), which usually makes recommendations to the Government in mid-July.
The Prime Minister’s spokesperson also announced today that the Government would withdraw its offer of a one-off £1,000 payment for teachers in England for this year.
Dr Bousted and Mr Courtney have urged Ms Keegan to return to the negotiating table to take another stab at settling the ongoing pay dispute, but the Education Secretary has said she will refuse to do so for the moment.
It has plunged relations between ministers and teaching unions to an all-time low, and it remains unclear how the current impasse will be resolved.
The NEU has promised to “bring the maximum social weight to bear on the Government throughout the summer term, and beyond”, meaning the union is unlikely to halt any further action unless a better offer is put on the table.
But with teachers threatening strikes into the autumn term, and with support for the NEU currently so high, the threat of indefinite teacher strikes will likely prove a growing headache that the Government will be unable to ignore.
Government sources suggested Ms Keegan might delay addressing the issue in the hopes that public support for teacher strikes will wane as they become more disruptive towards the crucial exam season.
Others said it would be politically difficult for Ms Keegan to continue to ignore the demands of her sector when most other public sector pay disputes have been resolved, including those with NHS workers which were settled last month.