The Prime Minister does not want to see children’s education further disrupted as the biggest teachers’ union warned of industrial action over pay and workload, No 10 has said.
It comes as the Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi has called any such move “unforgiveable”, while a senior Conservative MP said that industrial action would amount to another “lockdown” for children.
Mr Zahawi wrote in The Daily Telegraph: “Young people have suffered more disruption than any generation that’s gone before them and to compound that now, as recovery is in full swing and families are thinking about their next big step following school or college, would be unforgivable and unfair.”
The National Education Union (NEU) has said it will consult its members in the autumn, “strongly encouraging them” to back industrial action if the Government does not respond to its concerns in the next few months.
Pay cuts and high workload are among the major gripes the trade union has raised.
Concerns were expressed again on Thursday by Downing Street about any such industrial action later this year.
A No 10 spokesman said: “Young people have suffered more disruption to their education than any generation that’s gone before.
“And it’s vital that teachers continue to help those pupils get back on track, and the last thing we want to see is anything that would risk undermining that work.”
Pressed again on whether Boris Johnson agrees with Mr Zahawi’s position, the spokesman said: “Well, the Prime Minister agrees with what Nadhim Zahawi has said that, as I’ve clearly stated, that we don’t want to see children’s education being impacted any more than it has been, given the amount of disruption that was caused by the pandemic.”
Robert Halfon, chairman of the Education Select Committee, expressed similar concerns.
“Our children have been damaged massively over the past few years because of Covid, because most children were not in school,” he told the BBC’s World At One programme.
“We know the damage that’s done to their educational attainment, their mental health, their life chances, their safeguarding, and to put children into de facto lockdown by having a strike wouldn’t just cause misery to the children but also would cause huge problems for parents because of course, many of them have to be in work whilst their children are at school.
“So this is not the way to solve these problems,” he said.
The NEU has criticised the Government’s evidence to the School Teachers’ Review Body proposing a 3% pay increase for most teachers in England, which it said would mean a “huge” pay cut on the basis of Wednesday’s inflation figures of 9.1% on the CPI measure and 11.7% for RPI.
Mr Halfon said he would like more help for staff on lower wages, such as assistant teachers and support staff.
“If there could be a focus on the lower paid professionals in school, I think that would help.”
Discussing the rail strikes this week and the prospect of more action this year, he said the Government was in a difficult position.
“I think the Government has a very difficult tightrope to walk because there is not a lot of money sloshing about sadly.
“The irony of course, these train strikes are going to cost the economy around a billion pounds.
“That means less revenue coming to the Treasury because the economy is damaged.
“That means less money that the Government have in order to be able to fund pay increases so it’s an unvirtuous circle of damage.”
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