Scotland’s largest teaching union has rejected an improved pay deal from employers, moving schools across the country closer to possible strike action.
Leaders of the EIS trade union will hold talks on Friday to consider their next steps after members voted against the deal by 57% to 43%.
The local government body Cosla is offering a 9% increase, with a further 3% next year, to be funded with Scottish Government cash.
More than fourth fifths (81%) of eligible members took part in the ballot, with the union having demanded a 10% rise.
EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan said union members “have voted, by a very clear majority, to reject this pay offer”.
He added: “They have also expressed their willingness to move to a ballot for industrial action in pursuit of an improved pay settlement for Scotland’s teaching professionals.
“Although this was not a strike ballot, both the turnout and the number indicating a willingness to move to industrial action would have exceeded the strict thresholds set by the UK Government in its restrictive Trade Union Act.”
The result of the ballot was announced shortly after leaders of the SSTA teaching union revealed its members had voted in favour of the deal.
Almost two thirds (64%) of STTA members voted to accept the pay rise, on a turn out of 76%.
But its general secretary Seamus Searson said: “The Government must not see this decision as a boost to teacher morale as many members were voting to get a pay rise that has been long overdue.”
Thousands of teachers and their supporters marched through Glasgow in October as part of their campaign for a larger pay hike.
With the EIS executive committee due to meet on Friday, Mr Flanagan said they were still “open to further negotiations”.
But he was clear: “Failing an improved offer, we will be initiating the process towards strike action.”
Labour education spokesman Iain Gray said: “Nobody wants to see industrial action in our schools but this is a result of the SNP’s mismanagement of schools over the years, and a failure to listen to legitimate concern of teachers over the erosion of pay and the increase in workload.”
He demanded Education Secretary John Swinney “start listening properly to teachers now, and come up with an acceptable offer which shows he really does value teachers and that education actually is this Government’s top priority”.
Liberal Democrat education spokesman Tavish Scott meanwhile called on ministers to “recognise the pressures on teachers”, adding: “This is not just about pay. It is about the reality of classrooms the length and breadth of Scotland.
“That is why I have long argued for a full independent review of teachers’ terms, conditions and the demands placed upon them.”
Scottish Greens education spokesman Ross Greer said: “Industrial action is not something teachers would take lightly but the ball is now back in the government’s court to avoid it. A deal is clearly within reach.”
Gail Macgregor, education spokeswoman at Cosla, said the offer that had been rejected by the EIS was “at the absolute limits” of what councils could afford.
She stated: “We absolutely value the education of our young people and throughout these negotiations have re-iterated the value we place on our teachers and the work that they do.
“That is why a very fair offer, at the absolute limits of what we could afford, was presented to our teachers and I am disappointed with today’s rejection.”
Ms Macgregor added: “Industrial action in our schools is in nobody’s interests and it is for this reason we will continue to engage as positively as we can with Government and the trade unions.”
Deputy First Minister John Swinney said: “The offer put to teachers is the best pay deal in the UK for any public sector worker.
“A large number of teachers voted to accept the offer which clearly demonstrates the advantages they saw in the deal.
“This strong offer remains on the table. Industrial action in any of our schools would not be in the interest of teachers, young people or parents.”