Teachers' strike set to go ahead with more than 23,000 schools expected to be affected

The latest wave of strikes is beginning to qualify, if not as a general strike, then certainly another winter of discontent. ITV News Political Correspondent Carl Dinnen reports.

Teachers in England and Wales will go ahead with seven days of walkouts this week in a dispute over pay.

The announcement comes after union leaders said the Education Secretary Gillian Keegan has “squandered an opportunity” to avert the strike action.

The National Education Union (NEU) has planned seven days of strike action in England and Wales, with the first on February 1 coinciding with walkouts by staff at universities, train drivers and 100,000 civil servants.

The NEU has said strike action could affect more than 23,000 schools.

This comes as firefighters and control room staff have voted to strike over pay, the Fire Brigades Union announced on Monday.

If the strikes go ahead this will be the first nation-wide fire strike over pay since 2003.

Following last-ditch talks with Ms Keegan on Monday afternoon, Mary Bousted and Kevin Courtney, joint general secretaries of the NEU, said: “Gillian Keegan has squandered an opportunity to avoid strike action on Wednesday.

“The Government has been unwilling to seriously engage with the causes of strike action.

“Real-terms pay cuts and cuts in pay relativities are leading to a recruitment and retention crisis with which the Education Secretary so far seems incapable of getting a grip. "

Teaching unions have branded last minute talks with the education secretary to avert a strike as a "squandered opportunity". Social Affairs Correspondent Sarah Corker reports.

Mr Courtney said teachers in England have a more “excessive workload” compared to teachers in other countries.

Speaking outside the Department for Education (DfE) after a meeting with its Ms Keegan, he said: “Teachers here work about the same amount of time in classrooms with children, but they do far more work outside the classroom.

“Teaching’s always been long hours but long hours preparing exciting lessons for your class is not the same as what we have now, which is unfeasible hours preparing evidence for a bureaucratic system that doesn’t trust you.

“Our members report that that’s how they feel, that lots of the work they’ve been asked to do isn’t about teaching better lessons or engaging the children it’s about … the system as a whole not trusting them.”

Mr Courtney added that though the dispute is primarily about “pay and funding”, and not workload, he would be “very happy” to “point” the Government to actions it could take to ease teachers’ workload in this country.

Ms Keegan said it was “hugely disappointing” that the NEU would proceed with strike action in England and Wales on Wednesday.

“These strikes will have a significant impact on children’s education, especially following the disruption of the past two years, and are creating huge uncertainly for parents,” she said.

“With talks ongoing on a range of issues, including around future pay, workload, behaviour and recruitment and retention, it is clear that strikes are not being used as a last resort.”

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Ms Keegan added: “I have been clear today that unions do not need to strike to meet with me. I also reiterated my call to union leaders to ask their members to let head teachers know if they intend to strike, helping schools to minimise the impact on children.

“I will continue doing everything possible to protect children’s education.”

The DfE has offered a 5% pay rise to most teachers for the current school year, but the NEU is demanding a fully funded above-inflation pay rise for teachers.

Mr Courtney said talks with the DfE on Monday revealed a “hint” that the Government might come back with “something that was more like an offer” for teachers to avoid further planned strikes after Wednesday.

“There certainly is time between February 1 and February 28 to find something that will enable us to call off the strikes on February 28 and later dates in March," he said.

“The question on whether they are prepared to move on it is something that we’re going to have to test out in practice.

“There was just a hint at the end of the discussions today that they might come back with something that was more like an offer … and so we’re hoping for further meetings, and we’re hoping for serious engagement because the issues we’re raising with them are very pertinent and very real.”

Education Secretary and Chichester MP Gillian Keegan Credit: PA

A headteachers’ union boss described the talks with the Education Secretary as “deeply disappointing”.

Following the meeting with Ms Keegan, Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said: “Parents will have been looking for the Government to avert the planned strike on Wednesday.

“Instead, the Government continues to talk around the issues rather than putting anything on the table which allows for any meaningful negotiation. It is deeply disappointing.”

Mr Barton added: “We are sorry to report that there is therefore no resolution to the dispute and the strike is set to go ahead.”

Downing Street has said a decision by teaching unions to go ahead with strike action is “deeply disappointing”.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman urged the unions to keep head teachers informed of their plans so they can prepare accordingly.

“Children were some of the hardest hit during the pandemic when schools needed to be closed,” the spokesman said.

“To have the ability to get into classrooms taken away from them again is particularly difficult. Obviously it has a knock-on impact on parents who will have to scramble to get childcare. So, it is very disappointing.

“We do hope the unions will take the last few days (before the strike) to keep head teachers informed of their intentions so we can properly prepare and make sure children are safe and looked after in their classrooms.”

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