No pay offer made in ‘disappointing’ talks to avoid teacher strikes, union says

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Further strikes by teachers are set to go ahead this month after the Education Secretary failed to make a pay offer in “disappointing” talks, union bosses have said.

Gillian Keegan met the general secretaries of unions representing teachers and headteachers on Wednesday morning in a bid to resolve a pay dispute which threatens more walkouts in England and Wales in the coming weeks.

Kevin Courtney, the joint general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU), told the PA news agency the meeting with Ms Keegan had a “better tone” than previous talks, but there was “no movement” from the Government.

Speaking to PA outside the Department for Education (DfE), he said: “I have to say that in terms of actual outcomes, the meeting was disappointing.

“There is nothing in it that could persuade us not to go ahead with the action that we’ve got scheduled for the week after half-term.

Regional walkouts by NEU members are planned for February 28, March 1 and March 2, with national strike action planned for March 15 and March 16.

The NEU suspended a day of strike action in Wales this week while it considered a pay offer made by the Welsh government.

The union has now rejected the pay offer – where teachers were offered an extra 1.5% on this year’s 5% pay award, as well as a 1.5% one-off payment – and it has rescheduled strike action in schools across Wales for March 2.

Mr Courtney said: “Whilst there has been movement in Wales and a forecast movement in Scotland, there has been no movement at all on this year’s pay from that meeting, nor any discussion on next year’s pay.”

On Tuesday evening, the Scottish Government made a new pay offer for teachers in Scotland – where teachers who earn up to £80,000 would be given a 6% pay boost backdated to April 2022 and a further 5.5% from the start of the 2023 financial year, representing 11.5% over two years.

But the EIS teaching union rejected the pay offer on Wednesday, with the union confirming its programme of strikes will continue “until a more credible offer is put on the negotiating table”.

Patrick Roach, general secretary of the NASUWT teaching union, said: “Given developments in Wales and Scotland in the last week, the Education Secretary has some catching up to do.

“Whilst other administrations are trying to find a way forward, the same commitment to find a settlement is now needed from ministers in Westminster.”

He said: “While the tone of today’s talks signalled a greater sense of urgency on the part of the Government, we have to report that once again there is no new offer to improve the inadequate pay settlement which has sparked the ongoing dispute.”

Mr Barton added: “We cannot go on like this. Unless there is tangible progress towards an improved offer, the prospect of further strike action by NEU members is inevitable and will lead to members of our union, and other education unions, also concluding that industrial action is the only option left.

“Our consultative ballot in the autumn was in favour of moving to a formal ballot on industrial action, but we have held off from that step and tried to resolve the dispute through negotiation.

“However, there is a limit to how many times we can come out of a meeting with the Education Secretary without progress being made.”

A DfE spokesperson said: “Education Secretary, Gillian Keegan held further constructive talks with union leaders today.

“They discussed a range of issues such as workload reduction, and recruitment and retention.

“The Education Secretary instructed officials to hold further detailed talks with unions and committed to more talks ahead of planned strike action.”

The DfE offered a 5% pay rise to most teachers for the current school year but the NEU is demanding a fully funded above-inflation pay rise for teachers.

The majority of schools in England were forced to shut their doors to some pupils during the first day of walkouts by NEU members earlier this month.

Mr Courtney told PA: “I say to parents, we disrupted their children’s education on February 1 and we disrupted their home lives, and we disrupted their work lives. We genuinely apologise for that.

(PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics)

On Wednesday, Jason Elsom, chief executive of Parentkind, a membership organisation for parent teacher associations, called for the talks between union leaders and ministers to find “a resolution” to avoid further strikes.

He said: “The feedback we’ve received indicates parents are aware of the impact shortages of teachers is having on their children’s education and trust that teachers only make the decision to strike as a last resort.

“We’re clear that both parties should meet with mutual respect and understanding, to negotiate a resolution. Only through constructive and positive dialogue can further strikes be avoided.”

An online poll of more than 1,200 parents, carried out by Parentkind in January ahead of the first day of teacher strikes in England and Wales, found that 63% agreed that teachers should receive a pay settlement in line with current inflation and 54% said they supported strike action.

University staff and civil servants staged more strikes on Wednesday as the latest wave of industrial unrest continues to sweep across the country.

Tens of thousands of University and College Union (UCU) members remained on strike at 150 universities across the UK in a dispute over pay, pensions and conditions.

Around 100 members of the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union at the British Museum in London, working in visitor services and security teams, continued their strikes on Wednesday as part of a dispute over pay, pensions, redundancy terms and job security.

PCS members are also on strike this week at the Department for Work and Pensions, DVLA and the Animal and Plant Health Agency.

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