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Teacher strikes could disrupt exams, as union boss clashes with BBC’s Nick Robinson

The Independent logo The Independent 28/03/2023 Adam Forrest
Teaching union leader accuses BBC host of 'outrageous slur' after 'extremist' claim

School exams in England could be disrupted by a further wave teachers’ strikes after union leaders recommended rejecting an “insulting” pay offer from the government.

National Education Union (NEU) co-leader Mary Bousted has said teachers do not want to walk out on exam days – but refused to rule it out if members agree to turn down the pay offer.

It comes as the NEU leader clashed with BBC host Nick Robinson, accusing him of an “outrageous slur” after he referred to the union’s deputy leader as an “extremist”.

Following weeks of talks, the Rishi Sunak government offered teachers what the NEU says amounts to a £1,000 one-off cash payment for the present school year and a 4.3 per cent pay rise for most teachers the following year.

But the NEU, which is England’s largest teaching union, has recommended that members vote to reject this.

Ms Bousted told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme the executive committee found the offer “really insulting and that the union had to offer advice to members, who will either take that advice or ignore us.”

Asked whether strikes could disrupt exams, she said: “We really hope that that doesn’t take place … let’s see if we can get an offer that members will find respectable.”

Pressed on the issue for a second and third time, Ms Bousted said: “We have conference next week, and conference will decide the plan of action, but no teacher wants to disrupt exam dates at all, so it’s up to the government.”

The NEU is also holding an election for its next general secretary, with members to vote for either Daniel Kebede or Niamh Sweeney.

Ms Bousted clashed with Today presenter Mr Robinson when he asked her whether she considers Mr Kebede to be an “extremist” who would plan strikes on exam days.

“I think that’s an outrageous slur,” she said. “We’re not getting into personalities four days before an election. “I wouldn’t describe either of my successors as an extremist. I think this is quite outrageous, actually.”

The union leader added: “You’re bringing what is a really serious issue about the future of teachers, about the current state of teachers in the classroom, down to personalities. I think that is really base, it demeans the programme. I’m very sorry you’ve done that.”

Striking members of the National Education Union (NEU) (PA) © Provided by The Independent Striking members of the National Education Union (NEU) (PA)

Downing Street said it would be “hugely disappointing” if strike action disrupted exams for England’s schoolchildren.

Mr Sunak’s spokesman said: “It’s children who were among the hardest hit during the pandemic, with their education severely disrupted and to have that disruption continue over the summer at a time when teachers are being offered a significant pay rise … would be very disappointing.”

The government has described its pay offer as “fair and reasonable” and “a good deal for teachers that acknowledges their hard work and dedication”.

A Department for Education (DfE) spokesman said: “The offer provides an average 4.5 per cent pay rise for next year, puts £1,000 into the pockets of teachers as a one-off payment for this year, and commits to reducing workload by five hours each week.”

Smaller teaching unions, including the NASUWT and the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), have said they will ask for feedback from members on the pay offer.

The headteachers’ union, NAHT, said its national executive committee will consider the details before deciding its next steps.

Meanwhile, nurses, ambulance crews, physiotherapists and other non-medical NHS staff are also voting on whether to accept a pay offer made by the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC).

Health secretary Steve Barclay described this as a “hugely positive step” after “weeks of constructive talks” However, the British Medical Association (BMA) has said no “credible offer” has been made for junior doctors, who will be staging a 96-hour walkout from April 11.

Civil servants, driving examiners and Passport Office staff will also continue to strike throughout April over pay and conditions. The Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union has suspended strikes which had been scheduled for 30 March and 1 April to engage in further talks with the Rail Delivery Group.

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