On 15 November the National Education Union (NEU) will open an indicative ballot for all teacher members in state schools and sixth form colleges on the linked issues of school funding and the 2018 teachers’ pay award. The ballot will run for two months, closing in early January.
For the vast majority of eligible members this will be an electronic ballot with questions and replies sent by email. The Union will be conducting a postal ballot in three areas, however, to compare the outcome of that to the electronic ballot. In the event of a decision to move to a formal legal ballot electronic polling wouldn’t be allowed under the UK’s restrictive anti-union laws.
The overall slogan of the campaign is “Hands Up, because Enough is Enough”. There will be four questions on the ballot forms. Members will be asked whether they:
• agree that there is a funding crisis,
• believe that the government should have implemented the full recommedations of the Teachers’ Review Body
• agree that the Union should campaign for the full implementation and for it to be fully-funded and
• would be prepared to take strike action to support these aims and this campaign.
It is certainly true that school and college funding is the issue that simply will not go away for the government. It is also true that the NEU has played a central role in exposing the underfunding of education and in maximising the political fallout. The Tories themselves believe that the issue of school funding cost them a large number of seats in the 2016 election and they made a failed attempt to complain to the Electoral Reform Society about NEU campaigning on the issue during the election.
It is important that the pressure on school and college funding is maintained and intensified. When it comes to education is very clear indeed that austerity has not ended. Following a period when school funding fell by 8% in real terms, the 29 October budget statement failed to provide any significant additional money. Worse still, Chancellor Phillip Hammond announced a pitiful £400 million one-off payment and described it as money for “some little extras”.
The scope for a dynamic campaign on school funding which includes parents and communities, is supported by school leaders and continues to put pressure on the government is great.
The NEU will reissue the school cuts figures this term to reflect the further increases in school costs. The DfE are sitting on unpublished school funding data which we are confident will show that the cuts are worse than previously stated. Labour used an opposition debate on 13 November to focus on funding and to oppose the government’s failure to implement and fund the pay award recommended by the Review Body.
Marches for Education will take place in London and Coventry on 20 November. Not only the NEU, but also trade union and labour movement bodies across the country, should throw their weight fully behind this campaign. It creates the potential to make a connection between our movement and every family in every community.
The weakest part of the campaign is the action ballot. Two key problems will make it extremely difficult to win the mandate in the indicative ballot which would allow us to move to a formal ballot for action.
One is the repressive restrictions imposed by the Trade Union Act 2016. Under its terms and education union like NEU is required to get a 50% turnout and at least 40% of eligible members voting yes to action. The NUT received the best turnout of all the major unions during the 2011 pensions dispute and that was 40%. The depth of anger and awareness of the issues at that time were both much higher than is currently the case.
The second key problem is self-imposed. The improved pay rise being demanded is only an improved rise for a minority of members in the ballot and is less than the Union’s own claim.
As argued in a previous article in Solidarity, this is bound to make it harder to mobilise the level of engagement and support needed to win this ballot. Certainly it can’t help. Despite that, this is a campaign that merits strike action and NEU members and activists should put their all into winning the ballot.
The two main heads’ unions, ASCL and NAHT, are balloting alongside the NEU but it unlikely that they will be including questions on strike action. A clear indication from them that they would encourage their members to support action would, however, be helpful.