The National Education Union has said it will pause upcoming strikes – but only if a “decent” and “serious” pay offer from the government is made first.
Walk-outs by teachers across England look set to go ahead next Wednesday and Thursday, with a stalemate between the government and unions showing no signs of being resolved.
What is the education secretary asking for?
Gillian Keegan has offered to “consider a settlement” on pay, including discussions about next year’s increase and a “non-consolidated award for 2022-23”.
She would also continue discussions on “workload, terms and conditions’ improvements, and productivity-enhancing reforms”.
But the education secretary is still insisting next week’s strikes across England must be called off for formal talks to begin.
In a letter to the NEU sent on March 3, seen by Schools Week, Keegan insisted the offer of talks was “entirely in line” with that made to health unions, which have agreed to pause ambulance strikes.
The government has so far made no formal offer over the 5 per cent awarded to most teachers and leaders for this year, and has proposed a rise of 3 per cent for most teachers next year.
What is the NEU asking for?
But Dr Mary Bousted, the union’s joint general secretary, said if the government has “reached the decision that it is now serious about teacher pay negotiations and is prepared to move” on the current offer, then it “needs to get to the negotiating table”.
She said there was “no need for a precondition of halting strikes. A decent offer will result in the NEU pausing strike action as members consider the pay deal. Halting strike action for a serious offer can be done quickly, as all at the DfE know.
“What is being asked of teachers who voted in a legal democratic ballot recognised by this government and law, is to pause action when they know the only reason the education secretary has moved beyond a 3 per cent pay offer is down to their action.”
Keegan rules out ACAS talks
They hoped the process would provide cover for both sides to more easily negotiate the terms of further discussions without abandoning their public positions.
In their letter, the unions said ACAS usually operated with the parties in different rooms, and discussions remained private and confidential until both parties agreed otherwise.
“This would enable all parties to attend talks without publicly altering their position but would allow consideration of what the government may be minded to offer formally at any subsequent talks and consideration of how the unions may respond.”
But Keegan rejected the invitation, saying she recognised “that ACAS can sometimes play an important role in moving negotiations forward but I do not think it is the right step in our current situation”.
‘Government not taking this seriously’
Paul Whiteman, the general secretary of the NAHT, which is also in dispute with the government, said he was really worried it was not serious about finding ways through.
“I hope for the sake of children the government can see beyond political posturing and join us all around a table.”
Ofsted announced it will not inspect schools next Wednesday or Thursday. Instead, it will notify schools today about inspections due to start on Monday.