THE overwhelming rejection of the latest pay offer to teachers has raised the spectre of the first national walk-out over pay since the 1980s.

Teachers across the UK, including Scotland, took to the streets in 2011 to protest over cuts to pensions.

However, the prospect of the first Scotland-wide school lockdown on pay since Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister will be something the Scottish Government will want to avoid.

At the heart of the dispute is the current three per cent offer for all staff which teaching unions argue is not enough to restore the decline in the value of salaries after nearly a decade of public sector pay caps.

The Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS), backed by other unions, is calling for teachers to be given a 10 per cent pay rise instead.

The current offer is confusing because it also seeks to address problems schools have been having in recruiting new staff and retaining more experienced teachers.

As a result, the Scottish Government has stumped up an additional £25 million to support a restructuring of pay grades which would see all staff on the main scale receiving at least a five per cent increase - with some teachers receiving up to 11 per cent in one year in conjunction with annual progression.

Both the Scottish Government and council umbrella body Cosla argue this is both fair and the best deal affordable in the current economic climate.

The ballot results from the EIS, as well as the Scottish Secondary Teachers’ Association (SSTA) and the NASUWT, show teachers do not agree.

Larry Flanagan, general secretary of the EIS, argues the strength of reaction is not just down to concern over sliding standards of pay, with the campaign a lightening rod for a host of other concerns.

He said: “Scotland’s teachers sent a strong message about their deep discontent when well over 30,000 took to the streets of Glasgow to march in support of our pay campaign.

“I have been a teacher since 1979 and this is the biggest ballot turnout in 40 years since then and the biggest single rejection of a pay offer.

“It shows there is deep discontent about pay, but also workload, the cuts to additional support needs staff and the general impact of rising class sizes and resources reducing.

“The threat of industrial action has never been more real in living memory.”

Such threats of industrial action will understandably cause concern amongst parents.

Eileen Prior, executive director of Connect, said families wanted teachers to be paid a fair wage, but she added: “Strikes will affect parents’ ability to go to work, they interrupt children’s learning and they can put vulnerable children in risky situations.

“If children can’t access their school meals or have nowhere else to go, they are clearly at risk and parents can’t always make alternative arrangements.”

Joanna Murphy, chairwoman of the National Parent Forum of Scotland, added: “We like to see teachers valued, but we don’t want strike action. It is very disruptive particularly with pupils who are approaching exams.”

The future is uncertain. To avoid strikes the Scottish Government will almost certainly have to return to the table with an improved offer.

If more money is found there may be a backlash from other public sector workers, including vital school staff such as janitors, classroom assistants and cleaners.

There are also concerns over the seemingly endless cycle of attritional teacher pay talks which follow the annual budget settlements for local government.

Alison Evison, president of Cosla, said there was no spare money available and attempts to address years of austerity in a one year budget settlement was impossible.

She said: “We have a settlement that doesn’t acknowledge the impact of years of austerity and we need a settlement in December that recognises the valuable work council employees do in delivering services.”

Gail Macgregor, resources spokeswoman for Cosla, added: “If we could give more to teachers we would, but as budgets reduce we have to think about what we would have to cut if we were to pay teachers more.

“There are other areas within the local government workforce like social care, social work, care at home and children’s services which are creaking and they all need proper consideration.

“Cosla has a policy of parity and it is incredibly unhelpful if one part of the workforce ends up receiving more than another part of the workforce. It creates a sense of them and us and creates a morale issue.”