NEU accuse government of ‘mischief making’ as teacher strikes continue

Teachers in England, Wales and Scotland on strike this week in ongoing, bitter dispute over pay

Teacher strike

The Department of Education has been accused of ‘mischief making’ in the ongoing dispute over teachers’ pay, as strike action continues this week across England, Scotland and Wales.

Teachers in the east and west Midlands and eastern regions are on strike today, as teachers in the north of England walked out yesterday, with London, south-east and south-west striking on Thursday.

In Scotland, 20 days of rolling strike action has been confirmed by the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) in March and April.

Members of the EIS are on strike this Tuesday and Wednesday in primary and secondary schools across Scotland.

Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union (NEU), accused the Department of Education of creating ‘mischief’, after a line of questioning on Sky News regarding Joint General Secretary Mary Bousted’s in-attendance at a meeting last week.

Sky News questioned Courtney on whether his co-General Secretary, ‘missed a very important meeting because she was enjoying the Norwegian Fiords.’

To which Courtney informed her the government failed to mention that Nick Gibb, Minister of State for Schools, also did not attend the meeting due to a half-term holiday.

Responding to the allegation, Courtney said: “We were fully represented at that meeting, I was at that meeting.

“Mary had a long booked holiday over half-term and we agreed she could go because I would go to the meeting with the Secretary of State.

“This is mischief making by the Department of Education and this is not a way to build trust in the negotiations, because what they haven’t told you is that a minister Nick Gibb was also not at that meeting because he was on a half-term break.

“Why did they tell you one part and not the other, it’s just mischief making and damages the prospect of making an agreement because they destroy trust in the negotiation process.”

Journalist Kay Burley then said Gibbs isn’t asking teachers to go on strike, to which Courtney set the record straight highlighting that teachers voted themselves for strike action.

He said: “We are not asking our members to go on strike, they voted in overwhelming numbers to go on strike.

“This government just doesn’t like that people are allowed to take strike action, but they are taking strike action, it’s the most effective strike action I think we’ve had since the 1980s with the amount of people involved.”

50,000 teachers joined the NEU since their strike ballot results were announced, strengthening the mandate for strike action.

“People have had enough and they want the government to invest in them and in their profession and the children in our schools,” said Courtney.

Teachers are asking for an inflation matching pay rise, to make up for the 13% real-terms pay cut they have experienced since 2010.

In 2022, there was a 23% fall in trainee teacher recruitment compared with the year before, whilst the government missed its target for recruitment of new secondary school teachers by 41%.

In the ongoing, bitter dispute, Gillian Keegan stated that the government had made a ‘serious offer’ to the NEU and has accused the NEU of failing to provide a formal response.

Speaking in Parliament, Keegan said: “On Tuesday last week as a government we made a serious offer to the leader of the NEU and the RCN to pause this week’s strikes to get around the table and talk about pay.

“This is an offer for talks about all areas in dispute and we could not have been clearer.

“It was accepted by the RCN and I would encourage the NEU to do the same.

“They have yet to formally respond. Although statements have been circulating on Twitter and TV saying they are not prepared to pause their plans.”

Yesterday, Mary Bousted responded to the Education Secretary on Twitter by posting: “It’s very good that Gillian Keegan reads my tweets.

“It is rather concerning that she appears not to talk to her officials with whom Kevin Courtney and I had detailed conversations last week giving the reasons that the NEU was not able to pause its industrial action this week.

“I urge Gillian to drop the unacceptable pre-conditions and to get round the table with us and the other education unions. Let’s begin substantial negotiations.”

The NEU have stressed that they are ready to come to talks, however rejected the pre-conditions which required them to pause strike action before any progress has been made to resolve the dispute.

Failure to reach negotiations will result in an all-out teachers strike on Wednesday 15 March and Thursday 16 March in England and Wales.

Hannah Davenport is trade union reporter at Left Foot Forward

Left Foot Forward’s trade union reporting is supported by the Barry Amiel and Norman Melburn Trust

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