Sixth form college teachers vote for strike action

Picket lines are planned from the end of November

Picket lines are planned from the end of November

Teachers in sixth form colleges across England have voted to strike over pay, and will likely walk out for the first time in six years later this month.

The National Education Union announced today that a formal ballot of over 4,000 staff in 77 sixth form colleges had yielded a ‘yes’ vote of 88.5 per cent, on a turnout of 63 per cent. The ‘yes’ vote was similar to that seen in an indicative ballot in October.

This more than meets the thresholds needed to make strike action legal. The first planned day of strike action is November 30, though the union today appealed to the education secretary to make the case for larger pay rises.

School staff in the NEU are also currently being balloted for strike action over pay, though the result will not be known until January as that ballot started later.

The union has said school staff strikes are “likely” to take place from the end of January if they are approved in the ballot.

It comes as college staff who are University and College Union (UCU) members also held industrial action over the autumn over a separate pay offer from the Association of Colleges.

Most staff in schools and sixth form colleges have been offered pay rises of 5 per cent, though starting salaries are due to rise by 8.9 per cent this year. Inflation is currently at 10.1 per cent.

The NEU warned today that sixth form college teachers had seen a “20 per cent cut in real terms pay since 2010”.

Dr Mary Bousted, the union’s joint general secretary, said the close of the ballot was “well-timed”, coming just before the autumn statement on Thursday.

“It is hoped that Gillian Keegan will quickly use her influence as education secretary to make the case for sixth form colleges. 

Below-inflation pay rises ‘unacceptable’

“Further below inflation pay increases are simply unacceptable to our members. Strike action is always taken with great regret, but the sentiment of this ballot result is clear: enough is enough.”

She said the government must “listen and take notice of the effect real-terms pay cuts are having on our members, and, if we continue down this unsustainable path, the consequences that their leaving the profession will have on both the sector and the young people they teach”.

Bill Watkin, chief executive of the Sixth Form Colleges Association, acknowledged staff salaries were “being eroded, as energy costs and other inflationary pressures increase”.

But he said the government funded sixth form colleges “at a lower level than schools, universities and other colleges”, and warned they “simply do not have the resources to meet demands for such a high pay rise”.

“It is disappointing that a generation of young people, who had their education so disrupted by Covid, now risks losing yet more time in the classroom, on the sports field and with staff whose job is to support their mental health and emotional well-being.”

Sixth form colleges are standalone 16 to 19 institutions that offer similar provision to school sixth forms. Most are now academies and some are in multi-academy trusts with schools.

Ballots are also currently being held by the NAHT school leaders’ union and the NASUWT teachers’ union. ASCL, the country’s other headteacters’ union, has said it will run a consultative ballot to test the mood of its members following this week’s autumn statement.

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