Foreign Secretary says school pupils have suffered enough - teachers must return to classrooms

2 May 2023, 08:42 | Updated: 2 May 2023, 13:02

Cabinet minister James Cleverly said a "good offer" had been made to teachers over pay and workload

EJ Ward

By EJ Ward

Cabinet minister James Cleverly said a "good offer" had been made to teachers over pay and workload reduction.

"The best way of minimising disruption to students is for those teachers to be in the classrooms," the Foreign Secretary told Nick Ferrari at Breakfast on LBC.

"Many, many students have had a very, very disrupted last couple of years because of Covid and I think everything we can do to help them start their lives better through education is really, really important."

He said the Government had listened to the concerns of teachers and the unions "but ultimately these kids have been through a tough enough time as it is".

Teachers and support staff are seen on their picket line outside the Judith Kerr Primary School on Half Moon Lane in Herne Hill, South London
Teachers and support staff are seen on their picket line outside the Judith Kerr Primary School on Half Moon Lane in Herne Hill, South London. Picture: Getty

The conversation comes as up to 300,000 teachers are set to walk out as unions warn of joint action amid the long-running dispute over pay.

Members of the National Education Union (NEU) are staging their latest round of walkouts on Tuesday after turning down the government's pay offer.

Teachers were offered a £1,000 one-off payment for the current school year (2022/23) and an average 4.5% rise for staff next year. But all four education unions rejected the offer.

As a result, major disruption is expected to continue into the new school year, with unions warning that they will band together for more strike action in autumn.

Four education unions, which represent the majority of school leaders and teachers across England, have said they will join up for any future walkouts.

NEU boss defends the disruption in children’s education caused by industrial action

Joint general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU) Kevin Courtney has said schools experience disruption "every day" because of a teacher recruitment and retention crisis.

He told Nick Ferrari: "There is disruption in schools every day, not just during our strike periods, but every day."

Mr Courtney referenced research by education economist Jack Worth, who said that the Government is going to miss its secondary school recruitment target by "possibly 50%" this year and that the gap in primary education is "growing".

"The Government is getting this wrong because they aren't recruiting enough teachers and we're not keeping them in the classroom either," the union leader went on.

Accused of destroying the "hopes and dreams" of the cohort of students sitting their GCSEs and A-levels, Mr Courtney told LBC about an A-level physics class in which students are taught for only half of the timetabled lessons.

"The other half is self-study," he continued. "That is disruption on a huge scale. The aim of our industrial action is not disruption but it is to make a point that by sacrificing our salaries on these days, by getting parents' attention, getting politicians' attention, then hoping the parents will contact their MPs, that's why we're doing it.

"We don't want to disrupt education, we apologise for the disruption that is caused."

Mr Courtney added: "You should be getting Gillian Keegan on asking her how she justifies the disruption every week."

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “For unions to coordinate strike action with the aim of causing maximum disruption to schools is unreasonable and disproportionate, especially given the impact the pandemic has already had on students’ learning. Children’s education has always been our absolute priority and they should be in classrooms where they belong.

“We have made a fair and reasonable teacher pay offer to the unions, which recognises teachers' hard work and commitment as well as delivering at additional £2 billion in funding for schools, which they asked for.”

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