The NASUWT has said it will not strike this term after the news that key provisions in the teachers’ Workload Agreement are to be retained and after education secretary Michael Gove agreed to meetings with the unions to discuss ongoing concerns.
Meanwhile, the National Union of Teachers (NUT) has said that plans to walk out on March 26 remain in place, but that the imminent talks “could avert a strike”.
Since last year, the NASUWT and NUT have been involved in an ongoing campaign of industrial action in protest at changes to teachers’ pay and conditions and pensions, including the move to performance-related pay.
There were widespread fears that the recent report from the School Teachers’ Review Body (STRB) would make the situation worse by axing key working provisions for teachers.
The STRB had been asked by Mr Gove to review teachers’ conditions of service and Department for Education (DfE) evidence submitted to the review had called for limits on working hours to be scrapped and for some of the provisions in the 2003 Workload Agreement to be axed, including the stipulation that teachers should “rarely cover”.
It also questioned the list of 21 administrative tasks that teachers “cannot routinely undertake” under the Agreement, such as bulk photocopying, collecting money, administration of exams and ordering supplies.
However, the STRB’s report, published earlier this month and which Mr Gove accepted in full, endorsed current limits on working hours as well as working conditions including rarely cover and planning, preparation and assessment time for teachers.
It recommends the removal from the School Teachers’ Pay and Conditions Document of the annex detailing the 21 administrative tasks, but endorsed the emphasis on teachers’ time being dedicated to “professional teaching tasks” and supports the use of “professional judgements at local level” in these matters.
At the same time, after months of wrangling, a meeting has been agreed between the DfE and representatives of the education trade unions to discuss a range of issues. It is understood that an initial meeting will take place between DfE officials and the unions on Tuesday (February 25).
As a result, a meeting of the NASUWT’s National Executive on Friday (February 14) agreed that no strike action would take place this term, largely due to the STRB's report and Mr Gove’s commitment to talks.
The statement read: “Although the NASUWT today reaffirmed its commitment to pursue all elements of its industrial action strategy, in the light of these developments the National Executive has no plans for national strike action this term.”
NASUWT general secretary Chris Keates welcomed the STRB’s report, but warned that the teaching profession remains “on the verge of a national recruitment and retention crisis” as a result of government policy.
She warned that during the talks the union would “expect” Mr Gove to “recognise the enormous damage that has been inflicted on teachers as a result of the changes to teachers’ pay, pensions, conditions of service and job security since 2010”.
She added: “It has been deeply disappointing to teachers that the prevarication by the secretary of state has delayed meetings to seek to resolve the NASUWT trade dispute. However, his commitment to meetings to discuss the trade dispute provides a window of opportunity for genuine progress to be made.
“Teachers will expect the secretary of state to show that he is seriously committed to building trust and confidence with the profession by demonstrating in these meetings that he is prepared to listen to and address teachers’ deep concerns.
“The NASUWT will engage in the programme of talks with the secretary of state and will review progress in the talks this term.”
The NUT, meanwhile, has said that the cross-union talks could avert its strike action, but that the meetings would need to be “constructive”. A statement added: “To avoid a strike, Michael Gove must show he is willing to compromise.”
General secretary Christine Blower said: “While Michael Gove, by accepting the recommendations of the STRB, has been prevented from making teachers’ conditions of service worse, nothing has changed for the better for teachers.
“The NUT has made clear that strike action on March 26 can be stopped if the secretary of state addresses teachers’ concerns and engages in serious dialogue with the NUT on the matters of our dispute.
“The education secretary has offered a meeting with officials at the DfE on February 25 for all teacher unions to discuss talks about a wide range of matters. We will engage positively in this process but there is still no commitment to address the issues in dispute, only how the policies he has imposed will be implemented.”
Reacting to the NASUWT’s decision and statement, Ms Blower added: “It is not for us to comment on the decisions of other organisations, but the NUT continues to believe that joint action by teacher unions is the best way to defend teachers and the education service.
“Now more than ever teaching unions need to stand together to defend the members we represent and to speak with one voice.” CAPTION: Teachers join a range of workers from across the public sector during strike action in November 2011 in protest at changes to public sector pensions