Education secretary invites teaching unions to talks on condition strikes are cancelled

Credit: PA

The education secretary has written to teaching unions inviting them to “formal talks on pay, conditions and reform” on the condition that next week's planned strike action is cancelled.

The Department for Education said it hopes to find a “fair and reasonable settlement” in a bid to resolve a pay dispute which threatens more walkouts in England and Wales in the coming weeks.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “The Education Secretary has written to teaching unions inviting them to build on the constructive discussions that have already taken place and move into formal talks on pay, conditions and reform.

“Our hope is that we can find a fair and reasonable settlement that recognises the vital role teachers play, while acknowledging the wider economic pressures facing the country and the government’s priority to halve inflation.

“A condition of these talks will be that the National Education Union calls off next week’s strike action.”

Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU), said although the union is open to talks, "there is nothing substantial in the secretary of state’s letter that suggests to us we should call off strikes for next week.”

Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the NEU, speaking to the media at the Department For Education in London. Credit: PA

He said: “Hopefully, this new commitment to talks to ‘end the dispute’ signals a change in the willingness of the DfE to countenance change. “However, the letter from the DfE offering talks still contains no suggestion that they are willing to talk about pay rises this year and are willing to fund them. “The DfE’s evidence to the STRB published today suggest a pay rise of 3% for experienced teachers for next September. “This is still less than the current forecast for RPI and CPI inflation for quarter three this year – so that projected rise will amount to a further pay cut on top of the already substantial pay cuts since 2010."

Regional walkouts by National Education Union (NEU) members are planned for February 28, March 1 and March 2 – with national strike action planned for March 15 and March 16.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said he is “pleased” to be invited by Gillian Keegan to further talks about pay.

Mr Barton said: “While today’s talks were polite, they were frankly meandering and with industrial action on the horizon once again, it is actions that are now required.

“We are pleased to have been invited to further formal talks on pay with the Secretary of State later this week.

“We hope these discussions will have a greater degree of urgency and ultimately result in the long overdue improvements to teacher pay and conditions that are needed to end this dispute.

“That is surely in the best interests of children and young people.”

It comes as teachers could be set to see a 3.5% bump in their pay packet in the 2023-24 financial year, following a recommendation to the School Teachers’ Review Body.

In its submission for next year’s review, the Department for Education said: “The department’s view is that an award of 3.5% (3% awards for experienced teachers, plus awards to raise starting salaries to £30,000) will be manageable within schools’ budgets next year, on average, following the additional funding provided at autumn statement.”

However, the department said that difficulty forecasting energy costs could mean more money than expected could became available.

Meanwhile, nurses have agreed to pause major strike action as they begin “intensive talks” with the government with a view to finding a settlement in the bitter dispute over pay.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) and the government issued a joint statement saying that the talks would focus on “pay, terms and conditions, and productivity enhancing reforms”.

Strikes had been set to take place across England from March 1 to March 3, but Health Secretary Steve Barclay is now due to meet with RCN representatives on Wednesday.

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know