The meeting happened on Tuesday, February 25, and it has now been agreed that a series of weekly meetings will be held, possibly continuing until after Easter.
While the meeting involved all the main education unions, the spotlight was on relations between the DfE and the NASUWT and National Union of Teachers (NUT) – the two unions currently engaged in a campaign of joint industrial action in protest at changes to teachers’ pay and conditions and pensions, including performance-related pay.
Mr Gove did not attend the meeting, which took place instead between DfE civil servants and the unions. His decision to allow it to go ahead led to the NASUWT pledging not to take strike action this term.
However, as SecEd went to press this week, the NUT strike planned for March 26 has not been called off. General secretary Christine Blower had said that the talks could avert the strike, but the initial signs were not promising.
Speaking after the meeting, Ms Blower said: “It has been agreed that a weekly series of talks will take place which the NUT will fully engage in.
“However, the government is still insisting that they will only be used to discuss the implementation of policy. To resolve our dispute we will need to discuss the direction of government policy which we believe is wrong.”
A report of the talks on the NUT website added: “The NUT made it clear that we want to discuss more than implementation and that the direction of government policy is wrong.
“However, the civil servants were clear that their remit from Michael Gove is that the discussions must only be about implementation.
“It was agreed that, for an hour at the end of the day, unions in dispute would meet with civil servants to discuss the implications of any decisions on implementation for the trade disputes. We have reiterated that it will be impossible to settle disputes with the government without a change of government policy.”
Ms Blower did welcomed the government’s commitment to release the findings of its March 2013 teacher workload study, which as a result of the meeting was published on Friday (February 28).
Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, which is not engaged in strike action, said after the meeting: “We’re pleased the government agreed to a detailed series of discussions about the issues teachers are most concerned about in terms of pay, working conditions and school organisation.
“We look forward to making quick progress on some of these matters, and believe this will improve children’s achievement and enable schools to operate in a 21st century education environment.”
Other unions around the table, including the NASUWT, did not comment regarding the discussions. The DfE was also not ready to comment in detail, with a spokesperson simply telling SecEd: “We met with union representatives this morning to discuss the agenda for the upcoming talks.”
A second meeting was due to take place on Wednesday, March 5, as SecEd was going to press, and the first item on the agenda is understood to be the implementation of the performance-related pay policy.