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NEU leader Kebede puts ‘any incoming Labour government on notice’

Daniel Kebede (James Manning/PA)
Daniel Kebede (James Manning/PA)

The leader of Britain’s largest education union has put any incoming Labour government “on notice” as he called for education to be prioritised.

Daniel Kebede, general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU), warned politicians that the union was prepared to take “further industrial action” if teachers are not given a deal on pay and funding.

In his first speech to the union’s annual conference as general secretary, Mr Kebede said the Labour Party’s promises for education were “a long way off from the scale of change” needed.

He also hit out at the Conservative Government as he accused Education Secretary Gillian Keegan and her predecessors of doing an “effing terrible job”.

Mr Kebede called for an incoming government to invest in education, tackle child poverty, make teaching more attractive, and introduce reforms to the curriculum and the inspection system.

Speaking in what is expected to be a general election year, he said: “These changes cannot be done on the cheap and Labour should say proudly that their number one priority is education. Because austerity policies have destroyed education.

“So let me be clear, conference, we did not tolerate Tory cuts and we won’t tolerate Labour cuts either.

“So just as we have placed this Government on notice, Keir Starmer and Rachel Reeves, we are putting any incoming Labour government on notice also.”

During his speech at the conference in Bournemouth, the union chief highlighted Labour’s promises to increase teacher numbers, provide free school breakfasts for primary children, replace single-word Ofsted judgments with report cards, and review assessment and curriculum.

But he said: “While all of these are welcome reforms, they are a long way off from the scale of change that we need to see in education.”

A motion, passed at the conference, called on the NEU to “intensify campaigning and mobilising” of its members ahead of the Government’s pay offer for teachers for September.

Delegates at the conference voted to wait to see what the Government’s pay offer for teachers will be for 2024/25 before potentially moving to a formal ballot on strike action.

The Government has yet to publish the recommendations of the School Teachers’ Review Body (STRB), or its decision on whether to accept them.

Speaking about the motion, Mr Kebede said: “Now I heard you loud and clear, conference. And this Government, and any government that follows it, needs to hear us loud and clear also.

“That we are ready, we are prepared and we are able to take further industrial action that ensures our members and our schools get the deal that they deserve.

“Our members have never taken industrial action lightly. They would always rather be in the classroom, doing what they do best – teaching and supporting our children.

“But if you give them no choice, they will act again to save our schools – and Gillian Keegan, it will be on you.

“You cannot fall back on the STRB. We all know it is not independent.

“Gillian Keegan, this is your chance. You can avoid further industrial action. The ball is in your court.”

Speaking about the current Government’s track record, he told delegates on Saturday: “After 14 years they have failed education, they have failed education professionals, the children we teach and the communities we serve.

“Gillian Keegan has said she is doing an ‘effing good job’, but Gillian, let me speak for the half a million members of the NEU – you are not.

“Indeed, you, and the nine other education secretaries we have endured over the past 14 years, have done, to use your vernacular, an effing terrible job.”

NEU members staged eight days of strike action in state schools in England last year in a pay dispute.

Last month, the Department for Education (DfE) said in evidence to the STRB that teachers’ pay awards should “return to a more sustainable level” after “two unprecedented years”.

In July last year, the Government agreed to implement the STRB’s recommendation of a 6.5% increase for teachers in England, and co-ordinated strike action by four education unions was called off.

A Labour spokesperson said: “Boosting opportunity for every child through high and rising standards in education will be one of Labour’s five missions for government.

“After 14 years of stagnation under the Conservatives , Labour will put education at the forefront of national life once again, so we can transform the life chances of children across our country.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Our plan to raise standards across the education sector is working which is why, thanks to the dedication of our hard-working teachers, we have a world-class education system where primary children are the ‘best in the West’ at reading and 90% of schools are now rated good or outstanding up from just 68% in 2010.

“Overall school funding is rising to over £60 billion in 2024/25, its highest ever level in real terms per pupil – and teachers have already benefitted from two historic pay awards totalling over 12% in just two years.

“Alongside this, over 150,000 two-year-olds are now confirmed to have places for 15 hours a week of free childcare, as part of the largest ever expansion of childcare in England ever.”