Last-minute talks to start in bid to avert teachers’ strike in England and Wales

Union leaders are to hold last-minute talks with the government to try to avert strike action by teachers this week that is expected to affect tens of thousands of schools in England and Wales.

Leaders of the National Education Union (NEU) will meet the education secretary, Gillian Keegan, on Monday afternoon, but with just an hour set aside for negotiations hopes for a resolution are not high.

NEU members are due to go on strike on Wednesday, with six further days of action in February and March. Schools with high levels of membership are likely to have to either close or partially close.

Mary Bousted, the joint general secretary of the NEU, said: “We are going in for talks with Gillian Keegan, and whilst we always hope we will start to see some progress, we’ve already had two meetings with the secretary of state where the one issue that needs to be on the table – pay for this year – we’ve been told there’s no money.”

The union is also concerned that the government missed last week’s deadline for submitting its evidence to the teachers’ pay review body on next year’s pay, prompting fears that their latest pay recommendation will further enrage teachers.

“We are prepared to negotiate any time, any place, any where,” said Bousted. “But we’ve yet to see any realisation on the part of ministers that they have to negotiate. They seem to think telling us it’s a very bad idea to strike and children will lose a day’s education is going to change the resolve. It will not.”

If there is no breakthrough in talks, NEU members will join train drivers, civil servants, university lecturers and other staff, bus drivers and security guards from seven trade unions in the biggest day of industrial action in over a decade on Wednesday.

The NEU says Wednesday’s action will affect an estimated 23,400 schools in England and Wales. Two other teaching unions, which also balloted their members, narrowly missed the 50% turnout threshold required for strike action.

The NEU has seen an influx of new members since its successful strike ballot. Bousted said by last Friday an additional 34,000 teachers had joined, and with more over the weekend. The union is demanding a fully funded above-inflation pay rise.

Teachers were awarded an average pay rise of about 5% by the government – with new teachers awarded a bigger increase – but with inflation in double digits, it amounts to a significant real-terms pay cut for many staff. According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, senior teachers have in effect seen their pay decline by £6,600 since 2010.

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