The coalition government faces mounting opposition to its austerity programme after two of the main teaching unions voted to ballot members for a national strike over pension changes.
A one-day strike could close schools as early as June, affecting millions of children. Delegates at the National Union of Teachers’ annual conference voted to co-ordinate action with other public sector unions.
Ian Murch, of the NUT’s executive, said: “Teachers don’t want unreasonable benefits subsidised by people poorer than themselves. We leave that kind of behaviour to bankers. Our pockets are repeatedly being picked by this government.”
The Association of Teachers and Lecturers, a smaller and traditionally moderate union, voted to ballot members on a strike at its annual conference in Liverpool last Tuesday. The PCS civil servants’ union is also expected to hold a strike ballot.
Industrial action is expected to continue into the autumn term if the unions do not reach a settlement with the government. Teachers say any strike in the summer term will not affect exams.
The pension reforms outlines in a government-commissioned report by former Labour minister Lord Hutton, include raising the retirement age for state employees from 60 to 66 by 2020.
Final-salary schemes will be scrapped and replaced by career averages, while ministers will get more powers to raise employee contributions.
The government says the cost of paying teachers’ pensions is forecast to rise from around £5bn in 2005 to almost £10bn by 2015, as more staff retire and life expectancy increases.
NUT delegates also called for a general strike against cuts to public services.
Teachers in Camden schools went on strike last month over local government cuts which they say will close two children’s centres and reduce provision for pupils with special needs. Andrew Baisley, secretary of the NUT’s Camden branch, said: “These are not backroom bureaucrats as [education secretary Michael] Gove would have us believe. These cuts make life difficult for everyone in schools. Classroom teachers have to pick up the slack. These services made our schools a big society.”
Francesca Haimes, a children’s centre teacher from Tower Hamlets, said that in her borough “200 years of combined teaching experience has been lost in children’s centres,” with teaching staff cut from 15 to four.
Max Hyde of the NUT executive said: “We don’t believe in rationing music education and the arts to those who can pay only. You don’t have to be rich to be creative.”
Christine Blower, general secretary of the NUT, said: “These are ideological attacks which will see the social provision in this country vastly reduced.”