On January 16th, the NEU, the UK’s largest education union, announced that they would be striking for seven days in February and March. Around 300,000 teachers and support staff voted- with a majority of over 90%. It’s the first teachers strike since 2016, although plans to run longer than just one day – but no school is to be affected more than 4. This comes after years of teachers demanding more pay and less workload- many hope this will be a turning point.

‘It’s been a long time coming’, says Samantha Anderson, an English teacher. I’m sure a good deal would agree.

‘I teach a full day, then I’m running detentions, then I have to go through all the behaviour incidents of the day, phone parents, fill in forms.. Most days I don’t leave till seven, so I’m essentially doing eleven hour days- and then coming back and having to do more at home sometimes as well. 12 hour days are not great… 60 hour weeks… it’s not good.’ That’s Jonathan Patel, an Oxford City head of year talking about how he feels overworked. And many teachers share a similar sentiment.

‘We’re only paid 9-3- anything after that we’re not paid.’ says Samantha Anderson.’ We’re underpaid if you go by the hours. If my pay reflects the workload that is fine. If the workload decreases- if we’re not made to do so much- I think we’ll be fine with the pay.’ Teachers spend hours planning lessons, marking, and generally working outside of school- only for this not to be recognised in terms of pay.

‘I think people see teaching as an easy job, which is six hours a day with lots of holidays, but don’t actually see the pressures and workload that go behind it’, says Maeve Robinson, who is another English teacher ‘The workload is significantly higher than lots of other jobs that offer the same amount of pay.’ And these aren’t just individual experiences- In a survey by the teacher wellbeing index, in 2021, 72% of teachers reported being overworked and stressed due to their job, while 77% reported poor mental health due to their job. This is another issue. ‘We don’t have enough funding for mental health- we just don’t.’

And being a teacher is difficult, says Mr Patel. ‘It’s one of the hardest jobs in the world and one of the best jobs in the world- it’s always different. Not every day is great. I think everyone should be in that position for a day- like jury service- just do the job of a teacher for one day. Just to see how ridiculously difficult it is, on every level. And then I think people would have some appreciation of how demanding it actually is.’

 So what do teachers actually think of the strikes? ‘I’m absolutely 100% supportive of them, because I just feel like it’s necessary at this point. I feel like to reach the point where teachers are willing to strike, it’s reached a really critical moment, and things have got so bad that it seems like there’s no other alternative,’ says Ms Robinson. She also disagrees with criticisms surrounding strikes. ‘To me it’s frustrating when people criticise strike action by saying you’re not putting students education first. We’re thinking long term and it’s not a sustainable system- if we’re losing teachers, if we’re not given enough time to do our jobs, that’s not putting student’s education first. By taking strike action; it’s a really important step into improving education for everyone.’

Ms Anderson agrees, saying it’s for a long term good. ‘Strikes are powerful- I’m glad we’re doing it. People need to realise that if you want change, there has to be action striking is to create disruption. I know some parents think we’re being selfish- we’re not being selfish. Students will be fine- it’s a long term game we’re playing. Parents need to support that, and recognise that we don’t just go striking for no reason.’

The teachers aren’t happy with their working conditions- but what do they think the outcome of all this is? Some are not so optimistic. ‘The government thinks way forward is to ignore everyone and do nothing. And there’s a lot of people striking. So I’m not hopeful anything’s going to change.’ Mr Patel says. But he would like teachers to have ‘a 20% pay rise, and for the government to commit to a several billion investment in school facilities around the country- a lot of people have schools that are almost falling down.- essentially invest in infrastructure and invest in teachers.’

Ms Anderson is unsure what the outcome will be. ‘I think something might happen- only because it’s the first time in 10+ years that so much of the UK is striking. I don’t think we’ll get what we want in the first strike- we need the other union, the NASUWT to strike as well to have more power. And I want the government to listen. Listen to what we want. I’m not saying fulfil every one of our needs- just listen to what we’re saying. We’ve been saying for years- we’re overworked, underpaid, have too much workload, not getting enough funding- we just want to be heard and taken seriously.’

These strikes will raise definitely raise awareness- I think the government will be forced to listen. Hopefully these strikes will make people realise how invaluable teachers are- we cannot take for granted the people essential to our society.

*All of the names of the teachers have been changed to preserve their privacy.