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Northern Ireland school leaders visit Downing Street to urge PM to intervene in pay dispute

School leaders from Northern Ireland this afternoon took their fight for fair pay to Downing Street.

A delegation of NAHT members from Northern Ireland delivered a letter for the prime minister to Number 10. The letter, signed by 444 school leaders from across Northern Ireland, calls on Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, to intervene and provide the funding needed to deliver a pay increase for school leaders and teachers.

NAHT members joined teaching unions in strike action in Northern Ireland this morning.

They are angry that while school leaders and teachers elsewhere in the UK have received a pay increase for the current school year, the government says there is no funding for a similar salary uplift in Northern Ireland.

This is in addition to a widened disparity in pay across the UK. The teaching profession in Northern Ireland has now not received any increase in pay for over three years, during which time teachers and school leaders in Northern Ireland have been granted successive increases.

Employing authorities in Northern Ireland have blamed their inaction on pay on the political stalemate and continued absence of an executive in Stormont.

While school leaders and teachers in England received a 5% pay rise for 2022/23 and 6.5% increase for 20023/24 following an industrial dispute, the UK government has failed to replicate this in Northern Ireland under the so-called Barnett formula.

On 2 November, the Department of Education publicly announced that the ‘rise for teachers in England for 2023/24 was funded from existing Westminster budgets and so there will be no additional money for Stormont to help end the long-running stalemate over teachers' pay’.

Education unions have received no new pay offer whatsoever, and NAHT says school leaders’ pay has fallen heavily in real terms over the last decade. It has calculated they have faced a 37% drop since 2010 based upon average CPI inflation rates between January and July this year.

Liam McGuckin, NI president of school leaders' union NAHT said: “It is beyond disgraceful that professionals dedicated to delivering the best possible education for children in Northern Ireland face seeing their pay frozen for a third successive year, especially during a period of high inflation.

“We are extremely worried about the damaging effect this is having upon recruitment and retention of school staff, and the impact upon children’s learning.

“In the continued absence of an executive in Stormont, the buck clearly stops with the UK government, which is treating schools and families in Northern Ireland with contempt.”

Paul Whiteman, general secretary at school leaders’ union NAHT, said: “Schools in Northern Ireland understandably feel like they have been forgotten by the UK government. This is simply unacceptable.

“School leaders do not take industrial action lightly, but they felt they had no other choice but to walk out this morning.

“Our visit to Downing Steet today delivered a powerful message that not only do ministers have the power to provide funding to end the current impasse, they have a moral obligation to do so in the interests of fairness for school staff and pupils.”

Jonny Gray, principal of Arvalee Special School said: “The care and compassion with which our teachers and school leaders treat our children is neither valued nor reflected by the wider education system that has failed our schools in so many ways.

“Our school estate is inadequate for the children we serve, our schools’ funding has been decimated, our children with additional needs are being failed by the system, our schools are operating without adequate support and our workforce is overwhelmed and underpaid.

“The entire teaching profession has been in dispute for over a year, without any movement from the employing authorities whatsoever. We therefore took our case to Downing Street to appeal, at the highest levels, for government to intervene to save the education of our children.”

Clare Majury, principal of Holywood Nursery School said: “The teaching profession is not only on its knees as a result of enormously increased workload when most of the meaningful support has been taken away - it is also completely demoralised and devalued because of pay degradation. Colleagues in England, Scotland, Wales and the rest of Ireland have had successive increases in pay.

“This is a wholly unfair and unacceptable way to treat a workforce of public service that has consistently filled in the holes of a broken system, for the sake of our children, for so many years.”

Before heading to Downing Street, the NAHT delegation hosted a briefing for MPs at Portcullis House in Westminster titled, End the Stalemate in Politics and Education, which was sponsored by Claire Hanna MP.

NAHT’s strike action today – the second in its history in Northern Ireland after an earlier walk-out in April – comes after the union also began action short of strike in September, which is continuing.

First published 29 November 2023