The Government must come back to the negotiating table over teachers’ pay and “return some certainty” ahead of the exam period, the head of an organisation representing academy trusts has urged.
Leora Cruddas, chief executive of the Confederation of School Trusts (CST), has issued a plea for ministers to re-enter talks with education unions ahead of strikes due to take place in schools across England this week.
“We must be wary of a stalemate which could play out over many months, potentially into next academic year,” Ms Cruddas warned.
Teacher members of the National Education Union (NEU) are due to stage fresh walkouts on Thursday and Tuesday in an ongoing dispute over pay.
“Talking is the only way this dispute will be resolved and ensure that children, who are our first priority, can get back to learning.”
The Government offered teachers a £1,000 one-off payment for the current school year (2022/23) and an average 4.5% pay rise for staff next year.
Four education unions – the NEU, the NASUWT teaching union, the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) and the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) – have rejected the pay offer.
Schools in England could face further walkouts in the autumn as the NEU is using the exam period next month to begin a re-ballot of teacher members on further industrial action later this year.
The NAHT is expected to announce whether they will reballot their members over possible action at the union’s annual conference in Telford on Friday.
Ms Cruddas added: “Employers know that strike action and the decision to ballot is not a decision that teachers and leaders will have taken lightly.
“The school system is being hit hard by rising inflation, energy costs and the cost-of-living crisis. More children and families are now living in absolute poverty and schools are bearing the strain of much greater need, including mental health needs, in the school population.
“We urge the Government to come back to the negotiating table with the education trade unions.”
Mary Bousted and Kevin Courtney, joint general secretaries of the NEU, said: “Gillian Keegan is failing to address the multiple problems damaging our children’s education – around teacher recruitment and retention problems, and inadequate school funding.
“She has been told by the profession – and a significant majority of the profession – that her pay and funding offer is not good enough.
“Her response has been to deny the way the wind is blowing. She is refusing to return to the negotiating table.
“It is this inaction, this silence which has left NEU teacher members in England’s schools and sixth form colleges to reluctantly take two more days of national strike action in the coming week.”
A Department for Education (DfE) spokesperson said: “We have made a fair and reasonable teacher pay offer to the unions, which recognises teachers’ hard work and commitment. Next year, school funding will be at its highest level in history – per pupil, in real terms.
“We know schools are facing increased costs like energy and staffing, and are providing an extra £2 billion in each of the next two years to cover those costs. As a result, school funding is set to rise faster than forecast inflation in both 2023/24 and 2024/25.”