Pay talks with teachers in England could start next week after latest strikes

Pay negotiations between teachers and the government could start in earnest as early as next week, after strikes that are expected to disrupt schools across England on Wednesday and Thursday.

The National Education Union (NEU) is going ahead with its final planned two days of strikes in England, which will mean many pupils missing school or working from home, despite an offer by Gillian Keegan, the education secretary, to open talks if it called them off.

The NEU argued that previous governments held talks while industrial action was taking place, most recently in 2011, and accused Keegan of creating “a stumbling block with which to play politics” rather than negotiate.

The Department for Education (DfE) has refused to start negotiations while strikes have been scheduled, but the end of the NEU’s current round of industrial action briefly opens a window for talks to begin.

Keegan has held separate discussions with the leaders of other unions, including the National Association of Head Teachers and the Association of School and College Leaders, with the DfE hinting that teachers risk missing out on a pay deal similar to that being negotiated with nurses.

Dr Patrick Roach, the general secretary of the NASUWT teachers union, said Keegan accepted that detailed negotiations should proceed “without delay”, after meeting her this week. “There is nothing that should now stand in the way of detailed negotiations and getting a deal on to the table,” Roach said.

In a “letter to parents” published on Tuesday, Keegan said the latest strikes were unnecessary. “My only condition [for talks] was that strike action is paused so those discussions can take place in good faith and without disruption,” she wrote. “This was the same offer, and the same condition, made to unions representing nurses, ambulance workers and physiotherapists. Those unions accepted that offer, paused their strikes and are now negotiating on behalf of their members in private.”

But in a letter responding to Keegan, the NEU’s leaders said: “Teachers in Scotland have been able to consider an offer. In Wales, a serious offer has led to the pausing of NEU strike action on two occasions in the past month. No preconditions were thought necessary by the Scottish and Welsh governments, and the sky did not fall in.”

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The NEU’s plans for Wednesday include a national demonstration in London, culminating in a rally at Trafalgar Square.

Meanwhile, the University and College Union restarts its industrial action after a pause to hold talks with employers on pay and pensions. After no resolution, UCU members at 150 UK universities will go ahead with six days of strikes from Wednesday until 22 March.

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