A potential government offer of a one-off payment to teachers is unlikely to be enough to prevent upcoming strikes in England and Wales, the head of the biggest teaching union has warned ahead of talks with ministers on Monday.
Mary Bousted, the joint general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU), said while talks with the education secretary, Gillian Keegan, were welcome, she was sceptical about what could be achieved.
Unions representing teachers, medics and transport workers will be meeting with ministers on Monday, after the government formally offered talks last week.
While ministers are insistent they cannot increase existing pay offers for the current 2022-23 year for a series of public sector workers on strike or balloting for strikes, including nurses and ambulance staff, they are considering a one-off payment to NHS staff.
A similar offer to teachers would be “superficially attractive”, Bousted said, but was problematic because that increase would not be built into future pay.
“Teachers have lost 24% of their pay in real terms since 2010. Support staff have lost 27% of their pay in the same period. And that is causing a workforce crisis in schools,” she said.
“We haven’t met the secretary of state in person since she’s taken office. So we always welcome a meeting and it is good that she wants to listen to our concerns. Beyond that, I don’t know what the scope of the meeting is or what any further plans might be.”
The results of a formal ballot of NEU members on strike action is due next week, with Bousted pointing out that the preparatory process for this had begun in early autumn.
“There have been months which have been wasted, with the government not talking,” she said. “At least now we have a meeting, but I think we have to be realistic that this is an hour’s meeting with quite a few trade union leaders, where both sides are going to be setting out their positions, which are already well known.”
Bousted said teachers were hugely mindful of the impact on pupils of a strike, but believed that the current situation with pay and resourcing, and the knock-on impact on teacher retention, was not tenable.
“Children are being harmed every day by the crisis of the workforce shortages in our schools. One in eight maths lessons are being taught routinely by non-specialists,” she said.
“We want a pay rise which is incorporated into pay in a proper way. They’ve got to commit to proper negotiation, because this is not just a crisis about the cost of living, although that is a crisis.
“The crisis has been building for 12 years, as we have seen teachers leave our schools. Children are left without the specialist teachers they need in order to fulfil their potential and the ones that are left have to work twice as hard because they’re covering classes.
“It is a crisis. Parents know about it. They see what their children are going through. And so if we take strike action it is a last resort to say this cannot continue.”