The likelihood of widespread industrial action by public sector workers over pensions increased today when the union representing headteachers said it will hold its first ever strike ballot, and fresh talks with the Government failed to break the deadlock.
Members of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) will vote from September 29 on whether to strike for the first time in the union's 114-year history.
The ballot result is due on November 9, a few weeks before the TUC's day of action on November 30 in protest at the Government's controversial plans to increase pension contributions for millions of public sector workers.
The union represents 28,500 headteachers, as well as deputy and assistant heads, in schools across Wales, England and Northern Ireland.
Talks between union leaders, Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude and Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander ended with the two sides still a "long way apart", according to TUC general secretary Brendan Barber.
He said after the two-hour meeting at the Cabinet Office that unions remained committed to continuing with the long-running talks but were pressing ahead with planning for industrial action.
The two sides talked about the future funding limit that might be applied to each of the public sector pension schemes and further discussions will be held, he said.
"There has been no dramatic change and unions will be stepping up their efforts to ballot their members and planning for industrial action.
"We have put some serious proposals on the table but regrettably the ministers did not accept them and are continuing to press ahead with very damaging changes to pensions."
"It is not helpful for me to give a point-by-point account of the talks - but we are still a long way apart," said Mr Barber.
A Government spokesman said: "We are continuing to engage fully with the TUC on reforming public service pensions and have had another constructive meeting today.
"This meeting is part of an ongoing series of talks on pensions reform to which the Government committed with the TUC."
Russell Hobby, general secretary of the NAHT, said: "With great reluctance, faced with a refusal by the Government to negotiate on the basis of a proper valuation of the scheme, we feel we have no option but to demonstrate our anger at this attack on the teaching profession.
"Like everyone else, teachers have paid the price for the recession in taxes and pay cuts. They are now also being taxed to pay for the mistakes of others.
"We fear for the future of a system with a demoralised and devalued profession. We fear that we will not be able to attract people to become heads at a time when targets and workloads are rising.
"No school leader wants to strike and it is a symbol of their anger over this issue that they are even considering it as an option.
"For many, the attack on pensions is more than a question of attacks on individual retirement plans but a threat to the future of education itself.
"Teaching is a vocation and no one entered the profession to get rich. However, we do need to ensure that teaching is an attractive career choice for the most talented graduates. Future pupils deserve nothing less."
The result of the ballot will be known in time for the NAHT to call a strike on November 30 if there is a yes vote.
Several unions, representing a range of public sector employees from council and health workers to teachers and school heads, are now preparing to hold ballots for industrial action ahead of the November 30 day of action, with the aim of co-ordinating stoppages.