Exclusive: Morgan offers unions olive branch of new pay and workload talks

Nicky Morgan is seeking a fresh start with teaching unions through an invitation to new in-depth talks on pay, workload and other areas of concern, TES can reveal.

Eleanor Busby

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It is understood that the education secretary is seeking to establish a new relationship with unions following months of angry discord on everything from academisation to primary testing.

She is due to meet with leaders of classroom teaching and heads unions on Wednesday to discuss their concerns. It is understood they also include the importance of qualified teacher status, which the unions believe ministers have undermined.  

In a letter to members of the Teacher and Headteacher Union Roundtable – which holds regular meetings between unions and the Department for Education (DfE) - Ms Morgan has said she wants to:

*Continue to listen carefully to the arguments that unions are making

*Move forward in a constructive way and continue discussions on the issues the unions have raised with her

*Have a conversation about a new series of talks to allow greater depth on certain topics (i.e. pay, conditions, workload and qualifications)

The attempt at rapprochement follows a period of increasingly strained relations as issues including forced academisation, chaotic primary assessment, teacher shortages, and squeezed school budgets have led to heavy union criticism of ministers.

Ms Morgan was heckled and jeered by teachers at the NASUWT’s Easter annual conference when she told them to “step up” and stop being negative.

The education secretary also faced a tough crowd at the National Association of Head Teachers annual conference last month when school leaders shouted “you are not listening” as she spoke to them about SATs and forced academisation.

But her new letter has been welcomed as a “step forward” by the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL).

Leora Cruddas, the association’s policy director, told TES that the roundtable had been pushing for deeper discussions with ministers on a specific range of topics. 

Unions in the roundtable currently meet with DfE officials for wide ranging talks but ministers are understood to attend infrequently.

Ms Cruddas said: “We welcome the letter from the secretary of state and the opportunity for deep and meaningful discussions over pay and conditions, workload and teacher qualifications.

“ASCL feel very positive that she appears to be in listening mode. This is Nicky Morgan saying ‘I have heard your concerns that you want better engagement at ministerial level’.”

She added: “It is vital that the government listens to the profession over both the formulation and implementation of policies in these critical areas.”

Deborah Lawson, general secretary of Voice union, said Ms Morgan’s attendance at the round table had been “sporadic” since the group was set up. “I don’t remember when she last came,” she said.

“Obviously the unions want to be involved with policy development at the earliest possible stage as we think that’s the best way forward,” she said.

A DfE spokesman said: “As part of her ongoing discussions with unions, the secretary of state has invited teacher and headteacher unions to a new programme of talks to discuss the issues raised by their members and how we can work together to address them.

“We have always made clear that we want to work constructively with the sector to ensure every child has access to the excellent education they deserve.”

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Eleanor Busby

Eleanor Busby is a reporter at TES 

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