Education & Family

Teachers to ballot over school funding walk-out

NUT strike
Image caption Teachers heard warnings of a looming funding shortfall for schools, whoever wins the election

Teachers have backed calls for a ballot on strike action over shortfalls to school funding in England and Wales.

The National Union of Teachers claims a funding gap could leave one in 10 teachers facing redundancy.

Head teachers have said they face a budget squeeze from the rising cost of pensions, national insurance contributions and pay.

A Conservative spokesman criticised the NUT's push for strike action as "out of touch" and "irresponsible" .

David Laws, Liberal Democrat schools minister, said talk of strike action was "premature".

The union says it will hold a strike ballot after the election, but before the autumn statement if "no progress" is made in talks on school funding with the next government.

'Redundancies'

The ballot motion was backed at the NUT conference in Harrogate, where delegates heard claims that funding shortages would threaten redundancies.

Image copyright Judith Burns
Image caption The NUT will hold a strike ballot if there is "no progress" in talks with a future government

NUT executive member Ian Murch said over the period of the next Parliament, if funding per pupil remained fixed at the current level, "every school will be looking at getting rid of one teacher in 10, and one member of support staff in 10.

"We have not seen cuts like this in a generation and lots of members will be looking at losing their jobs."

He told delegates: "It's too late for most schools to do much cutting this September.

'Very difficult'

"So early next year, across England and Wales as employers face up to the financial realities, there will be a night of the long knives in every school and every college as teachers are cut, support staff are cut, courses and programmes are cut, and the focus will be how can we raise class sizes, how can we provide less provision for special needs."

Welsh delegate Beth Davies said in schools in Wales were also suffering, and that there was significant underfunding in some local authorities with some schools losing as much as £100,000.

The Institute of Fiscal Studies has estimated that even with the pledges of the Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats to protect school spending in England at current levels, rising costs will mean schools could face up to a 12% shortfall on their budgets over the next five years.

Among the funding pressures are rising teachers' pay, pensions, national insurance contributions and an increasing numbers of pupils.

The motion said "if no progress is made in talks with the new government on the issue of funding" the union should be prepared to take strike action.

It commits the NUT to working with other unions to "prepare for and ballot for a national campaign of strike and non-strike action" on the "impact of cuts on pay and working conditions".

During the general election campaign there have been different pledges to protect school funding.

Labour said it would protect the schools budget in line with inflation, and the Conservatives promised to protect per pupil funding in cash terms but not accounting for inflation.

Liberal Democrats have pledged to protect school, early years and college funding in real terms.

The Lib Dems education spokesman David Laws said it was premature to plan strike votes "before a single vote has been cast in the general election".

"Liberal Democrats are clear: you can't raise standards; recruit great teachers, and help every child reach their full potential if schools are starved of cash. We will protect the full education budget in real terms - including schools, early years and 16-19 education.

"Time and time again in government Liberal Democrats have had to stop the Conservatives from cutting education budgets.

"Tory plans for the next parliament would cut billions, with devastating consequences for schools, children and their families. Meanwhile, Labour's borrowing plans would waste £4bn a year on interest payments that could otherwise be spent on public services," said Mr Laws.

A Conservative spokesman said: "The NUT leadership's irresponsible decision to agitate for further strike action shows just how out of touch they are with parents and children across the country.

"We have had to make difficult decisions to tackle the record deficit we inherited, but we have protected spending on schools in real terms and spending per pupil has gone up over the course of this Parliament.

'We have committed to protect the money that schools receive for every individual child they teach. As pupil numbers rise, so will the amount of money that schools receive. This means we have committed to spending £590m more on schools over the next five years than Labour plan to."

Labour's shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt said: "A Labour government would protect the entirety of the education budget," said Mr Hunt, saying that it would include early years and post-16 spending.

But in a speech to the NASUWT teachers' union in Cardiff, Mr Hunt cautioned: "The cold truth is that there is no magic wand we can wave to take away the double squeeze of public finance and demographic pressures."

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