Millions of pupils face disruption this term as teachers’ leaders plan for a national strike in English schools before Christmas in protest over their pay, pensions and working conditions.
The two biggest teachers’ unions - the National Union of Teachers and National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers - yesterday announced plans for regional strike action in October - followed by a one-day national stoppage before the end of term if there is no progress in their dispute.
They accused Education Secretary Michael Gove of “recklessness” and “megaphone diplomacy” over his failure to hold serious negotiations over their demands.
He, in his turn, accused them of painting a false picture of the profession in claiming morale was low, arguing “it has never been so high”. However, he said he was prepared to meet them “any time, any place anywhere” to discuss their grievances.
The teachers’ dispute is over increased pension contributions, the Government’s move to scrap annual increment pay rises for all teachers in favour of performance related pay and the erosion of their working conditions as a result of education cuts.
They announced the first of two regional strikes - in eastern England, the east and west Midlands and Yorkshire and Humberside - would take place on 1 October during the Conservative party conference. A second in the north-east, London, the south-east and south-west will follow on 17 October. Wales has been exempted from the regional strikes because the Welsh Assembly has embarked on negotiations with the unions.
The two union leaders said they would review the situation after the regional strike action - but that plans were being made for a national stoppage before Christmas.
Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT, said: “No one wants to be disrupting children’s education. Our experience is that parents understand that if you attack teachers’ pay and conditions you are putting at risk children’s education.
“Since June Mr Gove has taken to going from one public platform to another using megaphone diplomacy rather than sitting down and engaging frankly. It is a reckless and irresponsible way for a secretary of state to behave.”
Christine Blower, general secretary of the NUT, added: “Clearly some parents will be voluble and aren’t happy but actually on balance there is parental support because there is opposition to what the Government has done.” She added that “the last thing teachers want to be doing” at the beginning of the school year “is contemplating strike action”.
“There’s no choice this year other than to move in that direction given the brick wall they are facing,” she added.
Mr Gove, after a speech to the Policy Exchange think tank in central London, said: “There is no excuse for going on strike.”
He later added: “I fear the reasons for this strike is there are people in the leadership of the teaching unions who are on, for ideological reasons or whatever, some sort of kick.”
“The problem with industrial action is that parents suffer as their routines are disrupted, they have to get childcare - the poorest lose out,” he said.
He made clear his disappointment at what he believed was strike action by teachers aimed at stopping talented staff receiving higher pay increases.
In his speech he criticised Ms Keates describing the teaching profession as being “in crisis” with morale at “rock bottom”, arguing that there was “growing enthusiasm” for entering the profession, adding: “Opportunities for teachers are now better than ever.”