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Ministers were warned on Thursday to “hear the anger of teachers” or risk a walk-out from classrooms later this year.
Mary Bousted, General Secretary of the National Education Union, dismissed a proposed 3 per cent pay rise as “completely inadequate”.
She also stressed the “standard of education goes through the floor” without teachers.
The threat of strikes by teachers comes after pupils have had their education disrupted for two years by the Covid pandemic.
Some students taking A-Levels and GCSEs are also now facing travel disruption to get to their exams due to the rail strikes.
Asked on ITV’s Peston show if there is a risk of weeks and months of industrial disputes, Ms Bousted said: “Very unfortunately - and what we say to the government is hear the anger, get us in, we’ve lost faith in the pay review body.”
She added: “The government proposes for teachers three percent and we’ll get somewhere around that, it’s completely inadequate. So we’ve lost faith in the pay review body, we want direct negotiations with the government, we don’t want these strikes, but we want to be listened to and we want to be heard. And that’s not just for teachers.
“Let me just emphasise this. If you lose your teachers, your standard of education goes through the floor. That’s the danger we’re in now.”
Pressed if she thinks NEU members will vote to go on strike, she explained: “Well we’re hoping it doesn’t get there. I mean, we don’t want to take our members out on strike.”
She added: “Well we’ll have to see. I mean, the strike thresholds are incredibly high, they are incredibly hard to meet and we’ve got 20,000 workplaces to try and do that in. We hope it doesn’t get there, we hope the government will come and negotiate.
“But I will say this - the anger amongst teachers now is greater than I’ve ever seen it. We did a survey, just a few months ago before our conference - it got an enormous response.
“And normally when we put pay in as a - you know, what are you most concerned about, pay or workload - and it’s usually workload is way out on top. But pay has risen up the agenda as teachers find that they cannot cope on the wages they’re getting.”
However Conservative Former Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick called for a “level of restraint within the public sector, perhaps even more so, to set an example”.
He stressed: “Because the worst thing that could happen to us as a country is that we don’t manage to get a grip on inflation. Now I’m afraid we need to have a grown-up conversation with the public that a return to the 1970s will make the whole country poorer including members of unionised public sector sectors.”