School leaders have turned the pressure on Stormont after voting in favour of industrial action from the start of September unless a resolution is found to their ongoing pay dispute.
Members of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) voted overwhelmingly in favour of action short of strike.
Principals said they will not accept another year of pay cuts after rejecting an offer in February.
That offer amounted to an average of 2.49% over two years, though not all would be able to avail of it immediately.
NAHT Interim Director Graham Gault said the decision to move towards action has arrived after years of significant restraint from members.
“The ultimate arbiters on what action we will take, having exercised significant restraint in recent months, are our members,” he said.
“An overwhelming depth of feeling was evident at NAHT (NI)’s recent conference, with our school leaders making it clear that they have carried a fractured, limping system along, with great personal sacrifice.
“For more than the last decade, they have started every year to significantly increased demand, significantly reduced support and the insult of a pay cut.
“To be treated in this way, cumulatively, is an insult from our government and our employers. The powerful response to our consultative ballot presents a definitive message to the employers that they must not ignore.”
The NAHT said that declining leadership capacity is putting children’s education at risk.
The union had written an open letter to the Department of Education in April outlining their continuing concerns and the frustration at the lack of progress in addressing them.
Members were surveyed in June when 93% said they would be prepared to take industrial action short of a strike if the employers fail to provide a fair pay settlement by the August 31.
“The response rate to the indicative ballot (78%) demonstrates the depth of feeling around the issue of fair remuneration for the vitally important and demanding role of school leadership,” said Paul Whiteman, NAHT General Secretary.
“Leadership supply for our schools is teetering on the brink. School leaders’ pay has been cut by a fifth in real terms since 2010, and this, in combination with high stakes accountability, crushing workload, long hours and inadequate school funding, is driving leaders from the job they love. We need a new, fair deal on pay to make a life-long career in education attractive and sustainable.
“It is highly unusual for school leaders to contemplate taking industrial action. This signals the depth of the despair members feel. The government can’t push these professionals to the back of the queue any longer. If NAHT members tell me that they are prepared to take action then I take them seriously and so should government.
“NAHT understands the strength of feeling of its membership and it is now plain for the government to see.
“We appeal to the government to meet with us and arrive at a fair settlement before the summer break so that we can move forward with confidence into the new academic year.”
Liam McGuckin, NAHT (NI)’s president added: “The pay offer made by the employers in February was considered to be derisory by our members.
“School leaders are not asking for anything unreasonable; they are telling the employers that they have been demeaned and damaged by consecutive pay reductions of over 20% in the last decade, for a job that has become increasingly challenging and less-well-resourced and supported.
“We still believe that genuine attempts to resolve this issue can result in an acceptable settlement, and we remain determined to do all that we can, as a trade union, to exhaust all avenues open to us in order to avoid any escalation to a formal pay dispute. Time and patience have, however, almost expired.”