Teaching unions have entered into “intensive talks” with Education Secretary Gillian Keegan over their demands to be paid more for less work.
The National Education Union (NEU) has agreed to talks on pay, conditions and workload reduction after shutting more than half of schools in England to some or all pupils during two days of strike action this week.
The union has demanded inflation-matching backdated pay for the present academic year, as well as an inflation-matching pay rise for next year.
The talks come after health unions recommended an average 5 per cent pay rise offer to nurses, midwives and ambulance workers in 2023-24. The offer also included a one-off bonus worth two per cent of salary for 2022-23, as well as an “NHS backlog bonus” worth at least £1,250 per person.
The Treasury has not confirmed any additional funds to cover the bonuses, which means it could come from efficiency savings.
Luke Sibieta, an economist at the Institute for Fiscal Studies, warned that taxpayers will have to foot the bill if teachers are offered a similar one-off payment.
He told The Telegraph that schools would have “little to no wriggle room for backpay for this year”.
He added: “They will already have spent most of their budgets for this year. I can’t see how the Government does this without providing additional funding.”
Mr Sibieta suggested that a bonus payment could come from Treasury emergency reserves.
Mark Lehain, head of education at the Centre for Policy Studies, said: “Anything for this current year would have to be extra, via a pay grant.”
Schools were given £2.3 billion additional funding for 2022-23 at the last Autumn Budget. However, that money has gone towards costs such as 5 per cent pay rises for most teachers this year and energy bills.
Teaching unions are demanding extra cash for future pay rises, on top of the extra £2.3 billion they were awarded for this year and next year in the Autumn Statement.
Mrs Keegan has proposed a 3.5 per cent salary increase for next year. The NEU said the offer failed to come close to its demand for pay rises to “at least match price increases, and for any pay rises to be fully funded in school budgets”.
Teaching union leaders started talks with Mrs Keegan on Friday and they plan to continue negotiations over the weekend. The Association of School and College Leaders, the National Association of Head Teachers and NASUWT teaching unions, which have not secured mandates to strike in England, are participating in the negotiations alongside the NEU.
The NEU has been in a stand-off with Mrs Keegan for weeks over its refusal to suspend planned strikes in order to move to formal talks. In a joint statement on Friday, the Department for Education and teaching unions said they have “agreed to move into a period of intensive talks”.
They added: “The talks will focus on teacher pay, conditions and workload reduction. “In order for talks to begin and, we hope, reach a successful conclusion, the NEU has confirmed it will create a period of calm for two weeks during which time they have said no further strike dates will be announced. The Education Secretary and all unions will meet today, beginning intensive talks, which will continue over the weekend.”
A Treasury spokesperson said: “We are absolutely committed to ensure the NHS has the funding it needs and these pay rises won’t impact on frontline services or the quality of care that patients receive.”