“The agency supply system shows what happens when profit is involved. Terrible pay and conditions for workers while money is taken out of the front line.”
By Daniel Kebede, National Education Union
Today, 300,000 teachers, alongside support staff in Wales, will take their first day of strike action for a fully funded pay award in line with inflation. They join postal workers, rail workers, civil servants, university workers and nurses in fighting for decent pay.
Over the past decade, teachers have lost more than 20% of the value of their pay. The figure is even higher for support staff. Now both sets of workers have been given another bellow-inflation pay award, effectively a further pay cut.
What is more, this pay award is not fully funded by government, meaning that the money is taken directly out of school budgets, rather than coming from central government. With 90% of schools in England facing real-terms pay cuts in 2023, schools cannot afford to pay this award in the long term without further damage being done to students’ education.
However, those on strike today are not the only ones impacted by the decline in teachers’ pay.
Supply teachers, one of the largest groups of agency workers in the country, have been doubly hit by the government’s failure to invest in teachers’ pay and in school budgets.
Firstly, whilst many are not paid to scale – they don’t receive the national pay set out in the School Teachers’ Pay and Conditions Document – their pay is in many ways determined by what happens to these national pay scales. As teachers’ pay falls further and further behind in real terms, supply teachers are paid less and less.
At the same time, with school budgets being cut to the bone, there is less money available to engage supply teachers and many schools are forced into cheaper options, such as using unqualified staff to cover classes. Of course, it is our children who suffer as their right to be taught by a qualified teacher is eroded.
The agency supply system shows what happens when profit is involved. Terrible pay and conditions for workers while money is taken out of the front line.
Yet the vast majority of supply teachers are not able to be balloted for action, due to the government’s restrictive anti-union laws which claim they do not have a ‘legitimate trade dispute’ with their employer because they are not directly employed by schools.
However, just because they cannot be included in the industrial action we take today, does not mean they are not integral to the campaign. Many supply teachers will be giving up a day’s work, and a day’s pay, today to stand in solidarity with their directly-employed colleagues. We must stand in solidarity with them.
If we are to take on the question of pay, as NEU members have shown they are determined to do, we cannot ignore the position faced by supply teachers.
In addition to campaigning for increased school funding and striking for better pay, we need to step up our fight against the agencies, which overcharge schools whilst ripping off those working on supply. We need to use all the tools at our disposal, including the Agency Worker Regulations, to win a better deal for supply teachers. And we need to continue to campaign for the right of every child to be taught by a qualified teacher.
Only a united fight over pay, which brings together teachers and support staff with other groups of workers, but also which unites all those who work in our schools and colleges, has any chance of success. It is up to us to build that strong, united fight.