Teachers’ strike to go ahead after education secretary ‘squandered the opportunity’ to avoid action

UK

Talks between the education secretary and the teaching unions have failed and the biggest teachers’ strike in years will go ahead.

Last-minute talks were held by Education Secretary Gillian Keegan on Monday in a bid to resolve a teachers’ pay dispute ahead of planned strikes this week.

Members of the National Education Union (NEU) in England and Wales will now walk out on Wednesday, with more industrial action planned in the following weeks.

The strike on Wednesday is expected to encompass up to half-a-million workers, with teachers due to be joined by train drivers, civil servants, university lecturers, bus drivers and security guards from seven trade unions in what will be the biggest day of industrial action in over a decade.

The NEU has announced seven days of strikes in England and Wales in February and March, with the walkout on Wednesday expected to affect over 23,000 schools.

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.

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“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.

“Training targets are routinely missed, year on year. This is having consequences for learning, with disruption every day to children’s education.”

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In a separate comment, Mr Courtney said: “I regret to say that we didn’t hear anything that enables us to say that the strike shouldn’t go ahead on Wednesday.

“There’s no offer from the secretary of state trying to bridge the gap between us.”

Meanwhile, a headteachers’ union boss has described the talks with Ms Keegan as “deeply disappointing”.

Following the meeting with the education secretary, 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.”

The teachers’ strike was confirmed shortly before British firefighters voted to carry out nationwide action in a dispute over pay.

About 88% of members of the Fire Brigades Union had voted in favour of strike action, on a 73% turnout, the union said.

Its members had rejected a 5% pay offer in November.

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