The crisis sweeping through Britain’s schools

'People have the right to be paid fairly,' one teacher told ITV News Social Affairs Correspondent Sarah Corker.

Pay, workload and school funding are the key issues at the heart of the escalating dispute between education unions and the government.

For years, inflation has outstripped pay rises in the sector, while workloads in the classroom have increased. Teachers warn they are now at breaking point.

The government has offered a pay rise of 5% for most teachers, far below inflation and the unions’ demands of 12%. Unions argue that teachers' pay has fallen by a fifth in real terms since 2010.

A key factor in the dispute is how much of any increase would have to come from existing school budgets that are already under extreme pressure.

Primary school teacher Sean Kelly explained to ITV News why teachers, such as himself, have decided to vote in favour of strike action

The largest education union, the National Education Union (NEU), balloted its 300,000 members on strike action.

In England, 90.44% of teacher members voted to strike on a turnout of 53.27%. In Wales a 92.28% majority voted to take industrial action on a turnout of 58.07%.

The National Association of Headteachers balloted 25,000 members, and on Monday revealed that 87% of members in England taking part in the union’s pay ballot voted in favour of action short of strikes, while 64% supported strikes. But the turnout was 42%, which is below the threshold required by law.But headteachers in Wales did vote to strike after voting in favour of industrial action over pay and funding.

Headteachers are already working on contingency plans for future strike action, which could include a return to Covid style measures, such as home schooling and online lessons.

Official guidance states that the Department for Education (DfE) "expects headteachers to take all reasonable steps to keep schools open for as many pupils as possible".

But education leaders say if there aren't enough staff to keep children safe then they will be sent home.

That would mean more disruption to learning for a generation of children already behind due to the pandemic, and parents could be forced to take time off work when they can least afford it.

"There comes a time when the profession has to stand up" - NEU joint general secretary Mary Bousted said a crisis in staffing meant education was in a "perilous" state

Schools in England have already been promised an extra £2 billion next year, but with double digit inflation and schools grappling with surging energy and wage bills, headteachers fear that won’t touch the sides.

Union leaders have said they want to negotiate, but that there had to be a better pay deal on the table for their members.

Right now, that looks unlikely as it's understood that ministers are focusing on gathering evidence for next year's pay award, and will discuss what is "affordable for the country" when it comes to salaries.

Education secretary Gillian Keegan the decision was "deeply disappointing" and said the action would "impact children"

Crunch talks between unions and the Education Secretary, Gillian Keegan, are set to continue on Wednesday. The two sides remain far apart.

What do the numbers tell us?


Most teachers in England and Wales had a 5% pay rise in 2022 - 8.5% for new teachers starting in September 2023.

That's still well below the rate of inflation - currently at 10.7%. Unions want 12% and extra government funding to cover that rise.

Teaching salaries

Independent analysis by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) suggests senior teachers in England have in effect had their pay cut by £6,600, or 13%, since 2010, as pay hasn't kept up with inflation.

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For teachers beginning their careers today, starting salaries in England are due to rise to £30,000 a year by September 2023, while average pay was £38,982 in the 2021/22 school year.

For teaching assistants salaries start between £14,000 and 18,000 a year depending on location.

Staffing levels

Headteachers have warned that low salaries are fuelling a recruitment and retention crisis as teaching staff are leaving the profession to earn more working in supermarkets or retail.

According to the NEU, a third of teachers leave the profession after five years.

Recruitment for some secondary subjects is consistently much lower than the average; physics is 83% below target in 2022/23, design and technology 75% below target and computing 70% below target.