The National Education Union’s leadership has threatened to organize a vast demonstration during the Conservative Party conference. They accuse the Education Secretary, Gillian Keegan, of being in denial about the education sector’s staff shortages and inadequate pay for teachers.
The Joint General Secretary of the NEU, Kevin Courtney has addressed union members at its annual conference, saying that the biggest demo Manchester has seen for decades will take place. The union intends to continue its campaign right into the general election year and win. Furthermore, the government’s reaction appears foolish as it is reportedly rattled by the NEU’s campaign, and pay talks have come to an impasse.
The NEU conference has voted for five days of strikes at schools in England during the summer term. Also, a new members’ ballot has authorized further industrial action until the start of 2024. Three teaching unions, including the NEU, have emphatically rejected the government’s pay offer. Nevertheless, Keegan has responded that negotiations have ended for the year.
The other Joint General Secretary, Mary Bousted, accuses Gillian Keegan of being of "airy unconcern" towards low pay and staff shortages in schools. Bousted states that teacher vacancies in England are significantly higher than before the pandemic and a third higher than just a year ago. Many schools cannot recruit candidates, and when they advertise for teaching posts, no one applies. The support staff has started leaving because they can earn more stacking shelves in supermarkets.
Bousted has also made a plea for school leaders not to work as part-time Ofsted inspectors. This comes after the untimely and tragic death of headteacher Ruth Perry following a punitive inspection report. The NEU conference voted for a campaign to abolish Ofsted and replace school inspections and gradings with a more collaborative approach. Also, students in higher education face delays in graduations due to potential disruption to end-of-year exams, with the University and College Union planning to boycott marking after Easter.
The NEU conference in Harrogate was the last one to be addressed by Kevin Courtney and Mary Bousted. They have been leading the NEU since 2017, formed by the merger of the National Union of Teachers and the Association of Teachers and Lecturers.