More school strikes loom as education secretary branded 'complete failure'

Hundreds of striking teachers marched on Westminster during Tuesday's industrial action, as ITV News' Sam Holder reports

A "complete failure" by the education secretary to negotiate teachers' pay could trigger strikes which hit every state school in England, a top union boss has said.

Gillian Keegan has been accused of "refusing to engage" with teaching unions over pay in a stinging statement released by the National Education Union (NEU) at the end of another day of walkouts.

Thousands demonstrated across England on Tuesday, the sixth day an individual school has faced strike action by members of the NEU this year.

NEU Joint General Secretary Kevin Courtney said the government does not recognise the "damage they are doing to education and the profession" by allowing further strikes to go ahead.

"[Ms Keegan] has taken her ball home with her and refuses to engage. This is irresponsible in the extreme and is a complete failure by the education secretary."

The Department for Education, however, says the union boss is misrepresenting the government's position and that a "fair and reasonable" offer was made which also provides an additional £2bn in funding for schools, which they asked for".

Mr Courtney warned ministers of plans by his and other education unions to carry out coordinated strikes in the autumn term, should members vote to continue with industrial action.

Around 400,000 teaching union members go on strike in the first term of next year, if members of the NEU, Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), NASUWT and Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) vote to do so when they're balloted in the summer.

Teachers were offered a £1,000 one-off payment by the government for the current school year (2022/23) and an average 4.5% pay rise for staff next year after intensive talks with the education unions.

All four teaching unions have already rejected the offer, with the NEU saying there should be "no doubt that teachers are fully committed to securing a resolution to the pay dispute. It is inescapable that something must change".

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

But the government insists its offer is fair and says coordinated "with the aim of causing maximum disruption to schools is unreasonable and disproportionate, especially given the impact the pandemic has already had on their learning".

"Children's education has always been our absolute priority, and they should be in classrooms where they belong."

The NEU's executive is due to meet this month to decide whether to approve three more strike days in late June or early July, with those walkouts expected to go ahead.

Currently only the NEU has a mandate to take strike action and it plans to re-ballot its teacher members in England to take further action in the autumn.

The NAHT and the NASUWT teaching union - which both failed to meet the mandatory 50% turnout threshold required for strikes in England in their last ballots - will re-ballot members.

The ASCL is also due to hold a formal ballot for national strikes in England for the first time.

Meanwhile, more health strikes have been averted after a majority of NHS unions agreed the government's pay offer should be implemented, however some walkouts could still go ahead with the Royal College of Nursing and Unite continuing their dispute.

Health Secretary Steve Barclay, in a message to members of dissenting unions, said he hopes they "recognise this as a fair outcome that carries the support of their colleagues and decide it is time to bring industrial action to an end".

He added: "We will continue to engage constructively with unions on workforce changes to ensure the NHS is the best place to work for staff, patients and taxpayers."