Education Secretary to meet union leaders in last-ditch talks to avoid teachers’ strike

The NEU joint secretary said this is the “last chance” to avoid the strike this week

Last-ditch talks will be held between union leaders and the Education Secretary in a bid to end the teachers’ strike.

Members of the National Education Union (NEU) in England and Wales will walk out on Wednesday (1 February), with more strikes planned in the coming weeks.

Previous union talks with Gillian Keegan have failed to break the deadlock, leading to the teachers’ pay dispute continuing to disrupt schools across the country.

A source close to the Education Secretary said she will use the meeting to reiterate her call from the weekend for teachers to inform schools if they plan to strike.

The source also said the government will “continue to be open and collaborative in meetings with the unions”.

‘Teachers are leaving in droves’

Dr Mary Bousted and Kevin Courtney, joint general secretaries of the NEU, said the planned strikes are “not about a pay rise but correcting historic real-terms pay cuts.”

They said: “Teachers have lost 23% in real-terms since 2010, and support staff 27% over the same period. The average 5% pay rise for teachers this year is some 7% behind inflation. In the midst of a cost-of-living crisis, that is an unsustainable situation.

“Teachers are leaving in droves, a third gone within five years of qualifying. This is a scandalous waste of talent and taxpayers’ money, yet the government seems unbothered about the conditions they are allowing schools and colleges to slide into.

“The government must know there is going to have to be a correction on teacher pay. They must realise that school support staff need a pay rise.”

They added: “We have continually raised our concerns with successive education secretaries about teacher and support staff pay and its funding in schools and colleges, but instead of seeking to resolve the issue they have sat on their hands. It is disappointing that the government prefers to talk about yet more draconian anti-strike legislation, rather than work with us to address the causes of strike action.”

‘Last chance to avoid the strike’

Kevin Courtney said he hopes the Secretary of State will “bring forward concrete proposals to end this dispute and avert the strike action.”

He said: “This is the last chance to avoid the strike on Wednesday. However, on Friday (27 January) the Department for Education failed to meet the deadline to its evidence to the teachers’ pay review body.

“We can only assume this is because they know that their recommended increase for teachers’ pay will not be acceptable to our members and will contradict the evidence they must have put in about teacher recruitment and retention difficulties.”

The news of talks between union leaders and Keegan comes before a strike by up to half-a-million workers is set to take place this week, over bitter pay, jobs, and conditions disputes.

Teachers, train drivers, civil servants, university lecturers, bus drivers and security guards from seven trade unions will walk out on Wednesday in what will be the biggest day of industrial action in over a decade.

Protests will also be held across the country on the same day against the government’s controversial plans for a new law on minimum service levels during strikes.

Unions have dubbed it the “anti-strike bill”, saying it could lead to workers who vote legally to strike being sacked.

Thousands of people are expected to join a march through central London to Westminster for a rally to be addressed by union leaders.