The Government doubled down on its refusal to commit to accepting teachers’ pay review body proposals, despite a union boss promising an end to teaching strikes if a salary bump recommendation is offered.
Education minister Robert Halfon said it was “impossible to say” what decision would be taken as he was pressed for a response to industrial action posing disruption to schools on Friday.
Teachers are walking out in a long-running dispute over pay, having rejected the Government’s offer of a £1,000 one-off payment for the current school year (2022/23) and an average 4.5% rise for staff next year.
The decision has now been passed to the independent School Teachers’ Review Body (STRB) but ministers have refused to commit to accepting its recommendations, citing the “difficult economic circumstances”.
Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU) which is taking action, said the chaos “could stop” if the Government agrees to the body’s recommendations.
She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “This could stop. What the Government must do is publish the individual pay review body recommendations.
“If it is 6.5%, they must fund schools in order to be able to pay that. And if that were the case, I believe that this would stop, so it is in the Government’s hands.”
But Mr Halfon warned ministers needed to balance the needs of teaching staff with the needs of the taxpayer as he toured broadcast studios on Friday.
Appearing on Sky News, he said: “Let’s find out what the pay review body says first.
“The message from the Government is that we have to be as fair as possible, given the very difficult economic circumstances… We have to be as fair as possible to teachers and support staff, I completely get that. But we have to be fair to the taxpayer and make sure we bear down on inflation as well, as that is the biggest tax on the cost of living – that would affect everyone, teachers and support staff included.”
Pressed on whether ministers had changed their stance in recent months on accepting pay review recommendations, Mr Halfon replied: “You are asking what is impossible to say at this point in time. The pay review bodies will publish, the Government will make its decision in due course.”
Union leaders have warned that schools could face co-ordinated strike action by education unions in the autumn term if a deal over pay cannot be reached.
The NEU – alongside the NASUWT teaching union, the NAHT school leaders’ union and the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) – are balloting their members in England to take action in the new school year.
NEU joint general secretary Kevin Courtney said: “No teacher wants to be taking strike action and this week’s strike action should not have been necessary.
“The responsibility for it lies at the door of the Prime Minister and the Education Secretary who continue to refuse to re-enter negotiations with education unions to reach a settlement on a fully funded pay increase for teachers.”
The Department for Education (DfE) said the action would cause disruption to pupils and parents and result in the cancellation of children’s end-of-term events.
It is the second day of action this week, following Wednesday’s strike which resulted in many schools being either fully closed or restricted access to certain groups of pupils.
The Government is following a policy of public pay restraint as part of a strategy to curb inflation, which has led to a series of disputes with workers.
The DfE insisted a “fair and reasonable” pay offer had been made to the unions.
A department spokesman said: “This strike action will see the cancellation of end of term events and important transition days to secondary schools, impacting children and causing more disruption for parents.”
The DfE said it “hugely” valued the work of teachers and had listened to demands for a £2 billion increase in schools funding.
On pay, the spokesman said: “As part of the normal process, the independent School Teachers’ Review Body has submitted its recommendations to Government on teacher pay for 2023/24.
“We will be considering the recommendations and will publish our response in the usual way.”