UNIONS have rejected Nicola Sturgeon’s claim that the Education Secretary is making “strenuous efforts” to end the teachers’ strikes. 

The SNP leader praised Shirely Anne Somerville in parliament on Thursday, after the Tories accused the minister of showing “no energy" and "no urgency to get involved” in the industrial action.

READ MORE: EIS announce 22 more days of school strike action

Schools in Moray and North Lanarkshire were closed on Thursday as teachers walked out on the fourth day of the EIS and AHDS unions’ 16 day rolling programme of strikes.

Pupils in Angus and East Dunbartonshire will stay at home on Friday. 

Teachers are asking for 10 per cent, but the government and the councils have offered 5%, rising to 6.85% for the lowest earners.

More talks are scheduled to take place, involving the Scottish Government, Cosla and the unions, but Ms Sturgeon made clear there was still some distance between the teachers’ demands and what ministers could afford.

READ MORE: Sturgeon calls for compromise from teachers 

She told MSPs: “This is a government that values public sector workers and seeks to negotiate fair pay deals. To that end, we continue to work closely with trade unions and local government partners to reach a deal that is fair and affordable. That dialogue has been constructive. 

“There does still remain a gap between the union asks and to be blunt, what is affordable within our finite resources, and therefore, we look for further compromise. 

“The Education Secretary is in regular dialogue with the unions and with Cosla and has spoken individually with each of the union general secretaries to progress things within the past week.”

READ MORE:Scottish secondary school strike to hit every local council

Tory MSP Stephen Kerr said the strikes had caused “chaos for hundreds of thousands of parents and carers and pupils.”

He added: “The Cabinet Secretary shows no energy, no urgency to get involved and to resolve the teachers strike. That's not just my view. That's the view of the unions. The First Minister used to say that education was her top priority. Will she step in and end the strike?”

Ms Sturgeon accused the Tory of hypocrisy. She pointed to comments from UK Government Education Secretary Gillian Keegan, who said it was her job to “negotiate the pay.” 

“That’s not what we’re there to do,” she told Sky. 

Ms Sturgeon said: “As teachers' strikes loom in England, the hypocrisy of the Tories is absolutely staggering.

“Shirley Anne Somerville will continue to do everything possible to reach an agreement with Cosla and our teaching unions to deliver a fair pay increase for teachers. 

“Over the past few years teachers have already had a 21% pay increase demonstrating the value we attach to what they do. 

“Teachers in Scotland, I think, are the highest paid on average of any of the teaching professions across the UK. So we will continue to seek a fair settlement. 

“But the hypocrisy really is staggering, because Stephen Kerr talks about the efforts Shirley Anne Somerville is making and she's making strenuous efforts, the Tory education secretary in England, just in the last few days said this, 'that we didn't negotiate pay with teaching unions because that is not what we are here to do'.

“So in Scotland, the demand that the education secretary resolves it, in England, of course, the Tories simply wash their hands and dig their heels in because they don't value public sector workers.”

Responding to the comments, EIS general secretary Andrea Bradley said: “The Cabinet Secretary said recently that she would ‘leave no stone unturned’ in her effort to reach a fair pay agreement with Scotland’s teachers.

"Today, in Parliament, the First Minister has lauded the Cabinet Secretary’s ‘strenuous efforts’ in negotiations.

“Sadly, neither the apparent strenuous efforts nor the turning over of stones have yet led to an improved pay offer to Scotland’s teachers.”

Ms Bradley added: “The reality is that our members are not prepared to accept the sub-inflation 5% that has repeatedly been offered, and only a substantially improved offer from the Scottish Government and Cosla can end this dispute.

“Strike action will continue until that improved offer is on the table for our members.”