The National Education Union has said it is “prepared to recommend a pause” to next week’s strikes to its executive if “substantive progress” is made in further talks this week.
Education secretary Gillian Keegan yesterday wrote to unions to invite them to “formal talks on pay, conditions and reform”, but only on the condition that strikes next Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday were called-off.
The NEU is one of three unions in a formal dispute with the government over this year’s pay deal, worth 5 per cent for most teachers and leaders. Its members across England walked out for the first time earlier this month.
Multiple meetings between the government and unions have so far resulted in no resolution to the dispute over pay and school funding, as leaders have said Keegan and her officials have not been prepared to formally negotiate.
The union announced today that it had replied to the education secretary to “welcome the commitment to substantive and formal talks to resolve the dispute – which is fundamentally about pay and funding this year”.
“In a sign of goodwill, if substantive progress can be made, we are prepared to recommend a pause to strikes next week to our national executive committee this Saturday.”
The union said it would only make the recommendation if the government “comes forward with a serious proposal to end the dispute ahead of Saturday and we consider it compelling enough”.
“As things stand, however, no such offer has been made and the strikes remain in place.”
What is not clear, however, is if the executive will vote to suspend the strikes.
‘We are ready to begin negotiations now’
Joint general secretaries Dr Mary Bousted and Kevin Courtney said the union was “ready to begin negotiations now”.
“We are prepared to negotiate every day, and throughout the weekend, to make progress. But the government is not willing to begin negotiations until the NEU agrees, prior to the commencement of negotiations, to pause its action next week.
“It seems incredible to us that ministers are intent on putting this obstacle in the way of substantial negotiations.”
They added that it was “unacceptable that ministers are not willing to give any information about the scope of the proposed negotiations nor the funding available to increase pay for teachers this year (or indeed, if any funding is available to do this)”.
“This means, in effect, that ministers are requiring the NEU to give up the only thing that has brought government to the negotiating table, without any assurance that the negotiations are, indeed, serious and in good faith.”
It comes after the Department for Education published its evidence to the school teachers’ review body ahead of next year’s pay award.
It has recommended a 3 per cent rise for most teachers and leaders, and an increase in starting salaries to £30,000 from September.
Bousted and Courtney said the government’s offer of negotiations “is set in the context” of its recommendation to the STRB, which would mean teachers “would face a further substantial pay cut next year”.
“We reiterate – we are ready to negotiate. We are prepared, should the negotiations make real progress, to pause next week’s strikes. But the government has to show good faith.”
Heads’ union lambasts ‘olive branch with thorns’
The NAHT school leaders’ union, which is also in dispute with the government over pay, criticised the DfE’s “olive branch with thorns attached”.
General secretary Paul Whiteman said it was a “ludicrous situation, created by the government”, adding that the DfE had “no understanding of how to conduct good industrial relations”.
“After a series of meaningless encounters, the secretary of state holds out a public olive branch with thorns attached that make it impossible to grab.
“I have to wonder if this is by design in an attempt to boost public support rather than a genuine attempt to deal with the recruitment and retention crisis they have created.”
As revealed by Schools Week, Whiteman recently committed the NAHT to re-balloting its members, after its last vote fell short of the turnout required.
“It seems NAHT is being steered by the government into balloting members now just to facilitate talks. How ridiculous.”
NASUWT is the third union in the dispute. Its general secretary Dr Patrick Roach said he needed to see “constructive talks and negotiations commence urgently”.
“If we are to avoid a further escalation of industrial action in schools, the government needs to act with integrity and bring proposals to the table that we can consider and discuss.”