The Education Secretary has written to teaching unions inviting them to “formal talks on pay, conditions and reform” on the condition that strike action next week is cancelled.
The Department for Education said it hopes to find a “fair and reasonable settlement” in a bid to resolve a pay dispute which threatens more walkouts in England and Wales in the coming weeks.
Union leaders have spoken of being “pleased” to be invited by Gillian Keegan to further talks about pay.
However, the National Education Union (NEU) has said “there is nothing substantial” in the letter to suggest planned strikes next week should be called off.
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “The Education Secretary has written to teaching unions inviting them to build on the constructive discussions that have already taken place and move into formal talks on pay, conditions and reform.
“Our hope is that we can find a fair and reasonable settlement that recognises the vital role teachers play, while acknowledging the wider economic pressures facing the country and the Government’s priority to halve inflation.
“A condition of these talks will be that the National Education Union calls off next week’s strike action.”
Regional walkouts by NEU members are planned for February 28, March 1 and March 2 – with national strike action planned for March 15 and March 16.
Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the NEU, said he is pleased the Education Secretary has agreed to move into formal talks.
However, he said there is “no suggestion” the Government is willing to talk about pay rises this year.
Mr Courtney went on: “We are willing to talk at any time but there is nothing substantial in the Secretary of State’s letter that suggests to us we should call off strikes for next week.”
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “While today’s talks were polite, they were frankly meandering, and with industrial action on the horizon once again it is actions that are now required.
“We are pleased to have been invited to further formal talks on pay with the Secretary of State later this week.
“We hope these discussions will have a greater degree of urgency and ultimately result in the long overdue improvements to teacher pay and conditions that are needed to end this dispute.
“That is surely in the best interests of children and young people.”
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said: “We welcome the invitation to intensive talks with the Department for Education over the coming days in an attempt to resolve this dispute.
“We fully expect discussions on pay to be central to those meetings and a fair offer will be key to moving beyond the polite discussions so far to a point where we can hope for tangible progress towards an agreement.
“However, we have no control over action by a fellow union and it would be naive beyond belief for the DfE to pull the plug on these talks even before they have begun on that basis.
“That would demonstrate a government out of its depth when it comes to industrial relations with little clue about what it takes to come to an agreement.”
It comes as teachers could be set to see a 3.5% bump in their pay packet in the 2023-24 financial year, following a recommendation to the School Teachers’ Review Body.
In its submission for next year’s review, the Department for Education said: “The department’s view is that an award of 3.5% (3% awards for experienced teachers, plus awards to raise starting salaries to £30,000) will be manageable within schools’ budgets next year, on average, following the additional funding provided at autumn statement.”
However, the department said that difficulty forecasting energy costs could mean more money than expected could become available.
The submission said: “Different energy scenarios mean that more headroom could be available than the 3.5% currently estimated.
“This could allow for additional investment in areas which benefit pupils, including, for example, a higher pay award.”