Gillian Keegan is set for crunch talks with teaching unions today as 70,000 university staff continue a three-day strike.
The Education Secretary will meet with leaders of the National Education Union (NEU) in a bid to end the ongoing row over pay and prevent more walkouts.
It will be the first time Ms Keegan has met with the union since it launched devastating strikes that crippled the country two weeks ago.
Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the NEU, said there is little ‘hope’ of a deal being made.
He said: ‘I could tell you that I was expecting to be hopeful for some sort of change but I’m not.
Education Secretary Gillian Keegan (pictured) will meet with leaders of the National Education Union (NEU) in a bid to end the ongoing row over pay and prevent more walkouts
Schoolchildren joined the National Strike Action Rally in Birmingham city centre on February 1
‘There still is some time [before the next strike] but for me, it’s like not having a serious attempt to look for a solution.
‘We think we’ve got strong support across all demographics, for the industrial action, or majority support across all demographics and industrial action.
‘We think there is even stronger support for the notion that there needs to be an investment in this generation of children’s education and in the people who provide it.’
Tens of thousands of teachers left their posts and stood on picket lines in a general strike in all but name on February 1.
Dubbed ‘Walkout Wednesday’, they joined 100,000 civil servants, 70,000 university staff and thousands of train drivers and Border Force officers in staging industrial action.
The disruption has prompted ministers to urgently examine whether to tighten the law to close a loophole that prevents headteachers from knowing which staff are taking part in strikes.
The action caused misery for parents, many of whom were left in limbo after the union encouraged teachers to refuse to tell heads in advance whether they would turn up for work.
It meant some schools were forced to close unnecessarily, disrupting their pupils’ education and forcing parents to take unpaid leave or pay for extra childcare.
Yesterday, tens of thousands of University and College Union (UCU) members walked out again, beginning the first of three successive days of industrial action across 150 universities.
On Monday, the union announced that it will reballot its members to allow university staff to take further industrial action through the rest of the academic year if their demands are not met by employers.
The Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA), which represents 144 employers, has made a pay offer of between 5 per cent and 8 per cent, which has been rejected by the union.
A child with a whistle marches with striking teachers in central London on February 1
UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: ‘Staff are striking because they are sick of being denied a decent pay rise, secure employment, and proper pensions.
‘And students are standing with us because they know that staff working conditions are their learning conditions.
‘Our union is determined to reach a negotiated settlement which allows staff to get back to work and students to continue their studies uninterrupted.
‘But that can only happen if vice chancellors come out of hiding and use a fraction of the sector’s vast wealth to make serious, well-rounded offers to staff.
Around 100 members of the PCS union at the British Museum working in visitor services and security teams are also striking this week as part of a dispute over pay, pensions, redundancy terms and job security.
A Universities UK (UUK) spokesperson said: ‘We understand that missed teaching time is unsettling and universities are working hard to ensure they can continue to provide a high-quality learning experience.
‘If students feel their studies have been negatively impacted and alternative arrangements are inadequate, they should contact their university in the first instance. All universities have complaints procedures in place and the processes will be explained on their websites.
‘If students are not satisfied with the response from their university, they are able to escalate things.’
Dr Patrick Roach, General Secretary of the NASUWT, said: ‘Whilst we welcome the opportunity to meet again with the Government to discuss our ongoing pay dispute, we now need to hear specific proposals from the Education Secretary which will address our members’ concerns.
‘After a number of meetings, it is unacceptable that Ministers have still failed to come forward with any proposals for our members to consider.
‘Our members’ patience is being sorely tested. Further dithering and delay will only deepen the anger of teachers who are enduring excessive workload pressures coupled with the largest real-terms cuts to their pay on record.
‘Resolution of our dispute can only be achieved if Ministers are prepared to put proposals on the table which can provide a basis for negotiation and agreement.
‘Ministers cannot continue to play for time. We need to see concrete proposals from the Government which can form the basis for a negotiated settlement of this dispute.
Yesterday, tens of thousands of University and College Union (UCU) members walked out again
UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: ‘Students are standing with us because they know that staff working conditions are their learning conditions’
‘The NASUWT will again be pressing Ministers on measures to address the significant real terms decline in teachers’ pay and to address the underlying causes of the continuing teacher recruitment and retention crisis which is blighting children’s education.’
Mr Courtney said Keegan must make a ‘concrete’ pay offer for teachers in talks to avert further strikes.
He added: ‘We would like for there to be an offer which would put us in a position of being able to suspend the action on February 28, March 1 and March 2. That would be great.
‘That’s what we think the Secretary of State should be doing. That’s where our hopes are.