Gillian Keegan says teachers don’t need to threaten strikes

Education secretary says she looks forward to ‘de-escalation’ as unions in England ballot over industrial action

The education secretary has made a veiled plea for teachers in England to “de-escalate” and avoid industrial action, arguing that progress can be made on pay and other concerns without the threat of “harmful” strikes.

All four major teaching unions in England are balloting their members on possible strike action over pay, with the National Education Union and NASUWT saying that the pay rise given in September – about 5% on average – is inadequate given rampant inflation and the cost of living crisis.

Writing in the Guardian, the education secretary, Gillian Keegan, said Rishi Sunak and the government had made clear their appreciation of the difficulties that schools were in, by giving an extra £2.3bn a year in the autumn statement at a time when budgets in other departments were facing cuts.

“The significance of this investment should not be underestimated given the backdrop of recession and high inflation,” Keegan said.

“The support we are providing is significant. It recognises both the immense value of this profession and the challenges it is currently facing. Given that, I look forward to seeing a de-escalation from unions, many of whom are balloting. As a government we have listened and are continuing to listen.”

Keegan’s plea is likely to be aimed at school leaders represented by the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) and the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL). The ASCL last week launched its first-ever consultative ballot on national industrial action, with its members alarmed at the strains on teacher recruitment and school budgets.

Keegan said: “We know there are further challenges we need to work through around pay, training, retention and recruitment, and I am determined to continue conversations about how we can address these issues. I am already having these with union leaders and I look forward to making progress without the threat of harmful strike action.”

Keegan highlighted that this year’s pay deal meant new teachers would get a rise of almost 9%, as part of the government’s pledge for starting salaries to reach £30,000.

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Richard Adams Education editor

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