Shirley-Anne Somerville: There is scope for compromise in dispute with teachers

Scotland’s Education Secretary has insisted there is “potential scope for compromise” as ministers seek to end a dispute over pay which has seen strike action by teachers close schools across the country.

Shirley-Anne Somerville spoke out after talks with teaching unions on Friday, which she described as being “constructive and helpful”.

The discussions come as teachers prepare to walk out of classrooms again next week, with industrial action due to take place in primary schools on Tuesday January 10 and in secondary schools the following day.

Ms Somerville has urged members of the EIS, NASUWT and SSTA unions – who are all involved in the dispute over pay –  to “reconsider their plans for industrial action while talks are ongoing”.

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She insisted: “Strikes in our schools are in no one’s interest, including for pupils, parents and carers who have already had to deal with significant disruption over the past three years.”

The deal currently on the table would see most staff in classrooms receive a 5% pay rise, although the lowest-earning teachers would get a 6.85% increase.

However, teachers have rejected this, with unions instead demanding a 10% rise.

More talks are now due to take place on Monday, when the Scottish Negotiating Committee for Teachers (SNCT), which brings together unions along with local authorities and the Scottish Government, will meet.

Ms Somerville said she was “grateful for the constructive and helpful talks” with the teaching unions and the local authority body Cosla on Friday.

The Education Secretary said: “I took the opportunity to make clear how much I value our teaching workforce and recognise the vital importance of reaching a fair and affordable settlement on pay.

“We are open to considering options to resolve this dispute, through the Scottish Negotiating Committee for Teachers (SNCT), and potential scope for compromise.”

However, she stressed that “any deal must be fair and affordable for all concerned, given the unprecedented pressures facing Scotland’s budget”.

Ms Somerville continued: “The SNCT will meet again on Monday to discuss options.

“I hope unions will reconsider their plans for industrial action while talks are ongoing.”

The EIS, however, made clear that without a new offer, next week’s strike action would go ahead as planned.

Des Morris, the union’s salaries convener and chair of the teachers’ side of the SNCT, said, “Trade unions remain committed to reaching a fair, negotiated pay settlement for Scotland’s teaching professionals.

“In the absence of any new offer, the planned strike action for Tuesday and Wednesday of next week will proceed as scheduled.

“A planned SNCT meeting has now been brought forward to Monday of next week – at the union side’s request – in the hope of advancing discussions towards a new and improved offer to teachers.”

Katie Hagmann, resources spokesperson for Cosla, said that while there had been “constructive discussions” on Friday these were “not negotiations”.

But she stated: “It was extremely helpful to reiterate how much we value the role of teachers as part of the local government workforce.

“It was also important to outline that our aim is to ensure we can continue to effectively deliver vital education services in our communities and that means reaching a fair and affordable pay deal that not only protects the teaching and wider local government workforce, but also our children and young people’s educational experience.”

Ms Hagmann said Cosla leaders had been clear that “given the financial pressures being faced it remains the case that there is no additional funding available”.

But she stated: “I do, however, look forward to maintaining constructive and proactive dialogue, which considers all options available, with all parties, so that we limit any further disruption for pupils, parents and carers, which we all agree is in no one’s best interests.”