A deal can still be done over pensions to prevent head teachers from walking out for the first time since their union was set up 114 years ago, their leader said on Wednesday.
National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) general secretary Russell Hobby told Reuters he had been encouraged by the government's latest offer, but warned members would no doubt walk out if nothing more was forthcoming.
The NAHT's stance will come as some relief to the government which is facing the prospect of a strike by a coalition of unions representing some two million workers across a wide range of public services on November 30.
Hobby spoke as headteachers in primary and secondary schools across England, Wales and Northern Ireland voted overwhelmingly in a favour of a national walkout at the end of the month.
Turnout for the ballot was 53 percent, with three quarters in favour of a strike, the NAHT said.
I think there is a chance (of a deal). There is a gap between now and then and we could call off action at any point even up to day before, Hobby said in an interview.
There is still quite a lot of ground to cover. There are a number of holes to plug that damage the profession, but the fact that they have started to talk now means we are a lot more optimistic than we were last week or the week before, he said.
If there is no further change from where we are, then I think we really will be on strike, he added, emphasising that teaching heads were not natural backers of strike action.
If the stoppage went ahead it would be the first time head teachers had walked off the job, closing hundreds of schools and colleges and disrupting learning for millions of pupils, while causing headaches for working parents.
NAHT members work in 85 per cent of state primaries and 40 per cent of state secondaries in England Wales and Northern Ireland. They are also in charge of around more than one fifth of private schools -- some 600.
Their action will coincide with stoppages by other teaching unions -- like the National Union of Teachers and the Association of Teachers and Lecturers who have already voted in favour of a strike -- and unions representing ancillary staff like dinner ladies causing more disruption across the education system.
Hobby said last week's government offer, which includes protecting final salary schemes of those within 10 years of retirement and giving more generous terms for younger staff earning less, had been a step in the right direction.
Danny Alexander, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury and a principal negotiator in the dispute, has accused some union leaders of being hell bent on strikes.
Despite the conciliatory tone Hobby said more still needed to be done. About 50 percent of our membership is further than 10 years away (from retirement)and I care just about them as the other half. So there is still a lot of damage being done to the younger part of the workforce.
Hobby said other sticking points which had to be bridged in some way included moving away from the final salary scheme to career average, the rise in the retirement age -- which was still angering members -- and the rise in future pension contributions.
He said teachers were being asked to pay an extra 3 percent annually towards their pensions, while school chiefs were being asked to fork out an extra 5 percent, doubling current payments to 12 percent or the equivalent of several thousand pounds per year.
Hobby said the anger across the profession was palpable.
Heads work very hard an average of 55 hours a week ... you are under a lot of stress and scrutiny and there isn't the sort of job security you might have had years ago and so people expect a decent pension at the end of it. So it does fell like a bit of a stab in the back.
(Editing by Keith Weir)