Further strikes by school teachers in the UK are set to occur this month after negotiations regarding pay increases failed to make progress. The UK government, responsible for education in England, has not made new pay offers for the current financial year. Scotland and Wales made increased pay offers, but were rejected by unions. Education Secretary Gillian Keegan met with the general secretaries of unions representing teachers and head teachers in England on Wednesday morning, but union bosses called the talks “disappointing” as there was “no movement” from the government. Kevin Courtney, the joint general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU), said the meeting with Keegan had a “better tone” than previous talks, but there was “no movement” from the government. Regional walkouts by NEU members in England are planned for Feb. 28, March 1, and March 2, with national strike action planned for March 15 and March 16. The Department for Education (DfE) said that the education secretary has “committed” to more talks with union leaders ahead of the planned strike actions.
The DfE offered a 5 percent 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. The NEU suspended a day of strike action in Wales this week while it considered a pay offer made by the Welsh government, which offered teachers an extra 1.5 percent on this year’s 5 percent pay award, as well as a 1.5 percent one-off payment. The union has now rejected the pay offer and has rescheduled strike action in schools across Wales for March 2.
On Tuesday evening, the Scottish government made a new pay offer for teachers in Scotland, offering teachers who earn up to £80,000 a 6 percent pay boost backdated to April 2022 and a further 5.5 percent from the start of the 2023 financial year, representing 11.5 percent over two years. But the EIS teaching union rejected the pay offer on Wednesday and said it will continue with its planned industrial actions “until a more credible offer is put on the negotiating table.” Scotland’s Education Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville described a union’s decision to reject the latest teacher pay offer as “deeply disappointing.”
Education unions have used the new pay offers from the Scottish and Welsh governments to put pressure on the UK government. 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.” Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said further strikes are now “inevitable.” He said: “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.”
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.” 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.”
PA Media contributed to this report.
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