Pay talks between the government and unions have once again ended with no resolution to the dispute, prompting warnings of new strike ballots if progress is not made.
Talks resumed this morning in a dispute over pay and school funding that has already prompted a nationwide walkout of teachers earlier this month.
Further strikes by the National Education Union are planned in two weeks, and look set to go ahead after today’s meeting ended with no improved pay offer.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the ASCL school leaders’ union, said unless there was “tangible progress towards an improved offer”, then it will lead to “members of our union, and other education unions, also concluding that industrial action is the only option left”.
“We cannot go on like this,” he added.
ASCL could launch ballot if progress stalls
ASCL has not held a formal ballot of its members, despite an indicative ballot last year showing support for action, albeit with a lower turnout than would be needed in an official vote.
Barton said the union had “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.”
Education secretary Gillian Keegan has been criticised for refusing to discuss this year’s pay award with union bosses.
According to the Financial Times, prime minister Rishi Sunak is considering offering public sector workers a lump sum by backdating next year’s pay rise to the start of this year.
However, it is not clear whether this would also apply to teachers, whose pay is set based on the academic, not financial year.
Barton said today’s meeting included “discussion about addressing systemic issues which drive unsustainable workload pressures on education staff but nothing concrete in this direction either”.
NAHT expects to re-ballot members ‘soon’
The NAHT has vowed to ballot its members again, after falling short of the turnout threshold in its last vote, which was affected by postal strikes.
General secretary Paul Whiteman told Schools Week that unions “need to see some concrete progress from government pretty quickly, because otherwise, it just looks like we’re going through a process of window dressing”.
“The government can can say that they’re engaged in dialogue with us. But until that moves to something substantive, then the pressure to re-ballot is always going to be there.
“I think the frustration of members will be such that we have to do it reasonably soon. With every day that goes by with no progress, the more urgent that becomes.”
The NASUWT teachers’ union has also pledged a re-ballot after it did not meet the turnout threshold, but has not confirmed when it will take place.
General secretary Dr Patrick Roach told Schools Week the union remained committed to a fresh ballot, and the “clamour will continue to increase if members believe that ministers are deliberately stalling”.
“It’s good that ministers are now in the room. But it’s extremely disappointing and frustrating that it seems to be taking so long for the education secretary to come forward with any clear proposals in terms of how she would intend to address the concerns that our members have.
‘We are here to negotiate’
“I’ve been very clear with Gillian Keegan that we are here to negotiate. The education secretary needs to put something to us that we can seriously consider and take back to our members. The door from our point of view is definitely open.”
Kevin Courtney, the NEU’s joint general secretary, told this newspaper further talks were planned, but without an improved offer, strikes on February 28 and in early March will go ahead.
He pointed to improved pay offers made in Wales and due to be made in Scotland, though his own union has today rejected the Welsh government’s offer of an extra 1.5 per cent pay rise and 1.5 per cent one-off payment.
Courtney said there had been a “better tone” in the meeting, but “disappointing outcomes”.
“There was no movement on this year’s pay, or even on next year’s pay, that we could point to. And the dispute is about pay and funding, and there’s been no movement.
“There is still some time, but at the moment, it seems that we’re on for February 28, March 1 and March 2. We’re urging our members to stay strong and be part of that, because it’s only the threat of action that gets them talking to us in the first place.”
A DfE spokesperson said the talks were “constructive”, and covered “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.”