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Teachers’ resounding victory

21 August 2023

Teachers on strike for pay and more, Manchester 1 Februrary 2023. Photo Workers.

The conclusion of the current teachers’ pay dispute has seen a resounding victory for schools in England and the unions involved, and has secured their biggest single pay rise in 30 years.

Teachers began this academic year indignant about the body responsible for determining their pay, the School Teachers’ Review Body (STRB). It had made a derisory recommendation of 5 per cent for 2022-23, and an even more miserly 3 per cent for 2023-24. The offer was announced in July 2022, presumably timed so that the summer holiday could intervene and cool the teachers’ anger.


If that was the intention, it was swiftly rebuffed. By autumn, unions announced they would ballot for industrial action. They rejected the notion of a below inflation pay offer to be met from within existing schools’ budgets. That would do nothing to tackle the long-standing problems of recruitment and retention.

One voice

The four principal unions involved, NEU, NASUWT, NAHT and ASCL, balloted their members individually. But in all their publicity and pronouncements about the dispute, they effectively spoke with one voice. And because they maintained that this was not merely about pay, but defence of a service under attack, they won encouraging support from parents and other workers.

With ballots successfully completed, the industrial action started – strike action for some, action short of strike action for others. The National Education Union, much the largest of the four major unions, struck nationally on 1 February this year. This was followed by regional walk-outs later that month, and a 2 day stoppage at the beginning of March.

‘Teachers rejected an offer with no additional funding.’

This show of determination forced a revised offer from the government – a further £1,000 this year and the 2023-24 offer upped to 4.5 per cent. Crucially however, there was no additional schools' funding. The unions quickly rejected an offer which threatened further cuts and redundancies. The NEU resumed its action on 27 April and 2 May, and planned a further 3 days of strikes for June and July.

At this juncture, a source at the STRB leaked that they were recommending a properly funded increase of 6.5 per cent from September 2023. There followed a farcical period of shadow boxing by education secretary Gillian Keegan. Despite the leak, she refused to acknowledge the STRB offer. That did not last long. The entire educational world rounded on her, citing the crippling lack of clarity for school leaders’ budget planning.


Keegan relented in the face of this opposition and published the STRB recommendation. Schools waited with to see if the government would implement this, fully aware of repeated ministerial declarations about affordability and the need to take account of inflation.

But the government dragged its heels, seemingly indifferent to the educational chaos on its watch. Finally it agreed in July to accept the recommendation in full. The unions acknowledged the significance of this breakthrough and recommended acceptance, which their members overwhelmingly endorsed.