Michael Gove has thrown down the gauntlet to teachers' leaders over their threats to take strike action over pay and pensions – provoking fury from them on the eve of crucial debates at their annual conferences.
The Education Secretary said he was “very happy” to meet the two unions concerned – but that he would forge ahead with plans to increase pension contributions and scrap automatic annual pay rises.
In letters to Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers (NUT), and Chris Keates, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT), he said: “While I’m happy to discuss any issue you have, I shall stress in advance that on changes to teachers’ pension and pay arrangements the direction of travel is now fixed.”
His letter comes on the eve of strike debates at the two unions’ annual conferences when delegates are almost certain to back a plan for rolling strike action around the country in the summer and autumn term.
The unions are proposing a series of regional strikes starting with a one-day stoppage in the North West on June 26. There will also be a national one-day stoppage before Christmas – when millions of pupils could be sent home. The unions represent nine out of 10 teachers in England and Wales,
On pay, Mr Gove – where teachers have asked him to postpone his reforms – he said: “I have no intention of suspending the process in response to your announcement.”
The proposals, backed by the profession’s independent pay review body, will mean automatic incremental rises up the pay scale for all teachers will cease from September with headteachers being given the power to award performance related pay increases instead.
“I believe the changes they (the review body) have proposed are a wholly good thing,” he said. “They will reward excellence and raise the professional status of teaching. They will mean all schools can pay good teachers more – something I hope you would agree with.
“There is widespread public support for these changes.”
He added that linking pay to performance would end the current arrangements “under which all full-time classroom teachers on the main pay scale automatically move to the next pay point every year”.
Citing research showing disadvantaged pupils made 1.5 years progress in a year with an effective teacher and 0.5 with a poorly performing one, he added: “The reforms will therefore greatly improve the life chances of children attending schools in disadvantaged areas.”
Heads could use their “pupil premium” money – given for every free school meal child they take on – to reward good teachers.
On pension changes, he added that the changes to the scheme made it “sustainable and affordable and means the teachers’ scheme remains one of the very best available”. The new contribution rates come in on April 1.
He concluded by saying: “I look forward to meeting with you to discuss how we can end your dispute.”
However, this afternoon it looked as though his intervention had cut no ice with teachers' leaders.
“Teachers and most reasonable people will see this letter – issued on the eve of the NASUWT and NUT conferences – for what it is: a blatant attempt to provoke the teaching profession,” said Ms Keates.
“This is a serious situation which requires a more measured response than this display of arrogance and belligerence of the Secretary of State.
“As far as we are concerned, we remain committed to engaging in genuine discussions and our original demands remain on the table.”