A slap in the face doesn’t begin to describe it: Teachers voice fury over pay snub

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Laid bare: This graph from the Institute for Fiscal Studies shows the stark real-terms changes over time in teacher salary points compared with average earnings from 2007 to 2021 (Cribb & Sibieta, 2021)

"A slap in the face doesn’t begin to describe it.” Furious teachers and school leaders have blasted the government’s plans for a pay freeze and questioned the credibility of the independent School Teachers’ Review Body (STRB).

Tuesday (September 14) saw the deadline for responses to the STRB’s 31st report (STRB, 2021), which set out recommendations for the 2021/22 pay award.

However, there is anger after the theoretically independent STRB was constrained by an incredibly strict remit from education secretary Gavin Williamson (DfE, 2020).

Mr Williamson effectively ordered the STRB not to consider or recommend any pay uplifts for 2021/22 for the majority of teachers.

In fact, the only area he permitted the STRB to look at was uplifts for those earning less than £24,000. This applies to around 6,000 teachers on the unqualified teacher pay range. Accordingly, the STRB has recommended a consolidated award of £250 to these teachers earning less than £24,000 (£25,194 in the Fringe, £27,419 in Outer London, £28,681 in Inner London).

Given the work and contribution of teachers during the pandemic, trade unions are furious.

A joint submission from the National Education Union (NEU), National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), and Voice Community slams the Department for Education (DfE) for a complete lack of evidence in its submission to the STRB.

It states: “It is troubling that in restricting the remit of the STRB and insisting on a pay freeze, the government did not present evidence in support of its case. This fundamentally undermines the evidence-based process that should be the foundation for policy and for the activity of a pay review body.”

The unions point to the “sustained real-terms pay cuts” suffered by the profession since 2010, which are at odds with salaries in the wider economy.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) says that teacher salaries for new and less experienced teachers (M1 to M6) are about four to five per cent lower in real-terms in 2021 than in 2007. Meanwhile, more experienced teachers have seen an eight per cent real-terms drop in salaries over this period.

This compares to average earnings across the whole economy, which have risen by 0.6 per cent in real terms between 2007 and 2021 (Cribb & Sibieta, 2021).

The DfE had been planning to increase teacher starting salaries to £30,000 by September 2022, but this pledge – made at the last General Election – will now be pushed back to September 2023.

In their response, the unions remind the DfE that teachers will be hit again this year by high inflation – with current forecasts for the fourth quarter of 2021 showing RPI at 4.3 per cent.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the NAHT, said: “School leaders and teachers will be rightly angry that the government’s pay freeze will deliver yet another a real-terms pay cut next year, based on the Treasury’s own predictions of inflation, and given how National Insurance, energy costs and retail prices are rising across the economy. A slap in the face doesn’t begin to describe it.”

It seems the STRB is also unhappy with its remit this year. It is notable that in its report, the STRB goes as far as to ask for more freedom to rule over the 2022/23 pay award: “We are firmly of the view that a pay pause for teachers of more than one year risks a severe negative impact on the competitive position of the teaching profession, jeopardising efforts to attract and retain the high-quality graduates necessary to deliver improved pupil outcomes.

“The Review Body urges that we be allowed to fully exercise our role in making recommendations on pay uplifts for all teachers and school leaders for 2022/23, based on the evidence, including conditions in the wider economy.”

The unions are clear that the STRB’s credibility is once again under scrutiny: “We urge you to reflect on the impact of these developments on the credibility of the STRB process. Should the government again seek to restrict the STRB in the next remit, it will once again undermine the credibility of the process and will be flying in the face of the clearly expressed view of the STRB.”

Mr Whiteman added: “Government has repeatedly constrained the Review Body’s work – this must end. The STRB must be able to do its work, free from government interference. The STRB understands the teaching workforce supply issues and once again this year asked government to allow it to review the pay structure for teachers and leaders, but was denied.”

For its part, in its July report, the STRB warns the DfE that “the number of resignations across the profession remains high, and particularly so among those early in their careers”.

It cites evidence showing that “some 27 per cent of joiners leave within three years”. It adds: “As such, teacher retention remains a pressing concern. The experience of the 2008 recession suggests that improved recruitment numbers may be relatively short-lived as the wider economy recovers.

“The profession’s ability to recruit new teachers is inextricably linked to the wider graduate labour market. Recent (pay) awards have made some progress towards making teacher pay more competitive in the wider graduate labour market, particularly starting pay.

“The latest economic data suggest earnings and pay settlements in the wider economy are showing signs of recovery. If this is indicative of an upturn in the wider graduate labour market at a time when pay uplifts for teachers are paused, then recent progress in strengthening the competitiveness of teachers’ pay will be lost. This poses significant risks to teacher recruitment and retention.”

Mr Whiteman said: “We urgently need government to take the STRB’s warnings seriously and to act on them, to support the retention of experienced teachers and leaders, and to resolve the leadership supply crisis.”

Geoff Barton, general secretary of ASCL, added: “The government has dealt a body blow to the morale of teachers with its decision to freeze pay. Its short-sightedness further reduces the incentive for people to join or remain in the profession and puts at risk the supply line of teachers which is essential for our schools to deliver a high-quality education to children and young people.”

The unions’ response also calls for the end of performance-related pay (PRP): “Our organisations have all presented strong evidence on the damage caused by PRP, its inherent unfairness and the need for it to be removed. As well as creating unfairness and reducing transparency in terms of pay, PRP significantly contributes to the excessive accountability regime and workload problems by adding an unnecessary level of bureaucracy.”

Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the NEU, added: “Teachers and school leaders are key workers who have shown their value to the country during the pandemic and will be essential to the recovery from the pandemic. The government must change course and support them instead of attacking their pay.”


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