An eight per cent pay rise? Latest STRB remit is ‘open but unclear’

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Could two consecutive eight per cent pay rises for new teachers be on the cards? Teachers must wait to find out what the impact of the government’s unusual two-year remit to the School Teachers’ Review Body will be.

Education secretary Nadhim Zahawi waited until December 17 before publishing his remit letter to the STRB – the independent body which makes recommendations on teachers’ pay.

The letter reiterates the government’s commitment to increasing starting salaries outside of the London pay areas to £30,000. It also states Mr Zahawi’s intention of moving to a “flatter pay progression structure”.

The STRB and its new chair Dr Mike Aldred is asked to make recommendations for pay awards in both 2022/23 and 2023/24. As part of this, Mr Zahawi has requested: “An assessment of the adjustments that should be made to the salary and allowance ranges for classroom teachers, unqualified teachers and school leaders to promote recruitment and retention, within the bounds of affordability across the school system as a whole and in the light of my views on the need for an uplift to starting salaries to £30,000.”

Teaching unions are cautiously optimistic given that in his remit letter, Mr Zahawi states: “My written evidence will set out – based on the latest evidence and data – a strong case for delivering this (£30,000) commitment, and that this should be achieved alongside significant, but sustainable, uplifts to the pay of more experienced teachers, but still with the aim of moving towards a relatively flatter pay progression structure.

“To help support delivery, and to give schools the opportunity to better plan their budgets as we make the uplifts required to reach £30,000, I would be grateful for your recommendations for both the 2022/23 and 2023/24 pay awards.”

The National Education Union (NEU) said that the remit was “open but unclear”.

Joint general secretary Kevin Courtney said: “If Mr Zahawi remains committed to implementing a £30,000 starting salary in two years' time, that is welcome. That will require an eight per cent pay rise on starting salaries in 2022 and a further eight per cent in 2023.”

The remit comes as the latest initial teacher training (ITT) recruitment figures show that only 82 per cent of the required trainee secondary teachers signed up in 2020/21. This compares to the primary phase where 136 per cent have been recruited against target.

Mr Courtney said that while he welcomed the focus on starting salaries, “we also need a pay structure that helps keep teachers in the profession thereafter”.

The NEU says that the secretary of state’s “significant, but sustainable, uplifts” for other teachers must offer similar percentage increases and “begin the process of restoring the huge real-terms pay cuts since 2010”.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies 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 (Cribb & Sibieta, 2021).

Any optimism over the pay increases, however, has been tempered by the Treasury's evidence to the review bodies last month, which heavily implied that significant, inflation-matching pay increases following the end of the public sector pay freeze should be avoided.

The public sector pay freeze in 2021 came at a time when RPI inflation was at around 4.9 per cent. The NEU is quick to point out that RPI is now at its highest for 30 years. The Treasury, however, argues that if public sector wage rises exceed or even match four to five per cent it will cause inflation to last longer by encouraging higher wage demands.

Mr Courtney has urged the STRB to act independently. The body has often been accused of bowing too easily to government demands to cap pay increases.

He said: “The STRB must act independently. To have any credibility, the STRB must resist government attempts to constrain it and must recommend a substantial pay increase for all teachers.”

The National Association of Head Teachers said that the remit “could be a good opportunity to look at teacher and leader pay from a longer-term perspective”.

However, general secretary Paul Whiteman added: “With inflation rising rapidly, it is important that workers do not lose out by being locked into below inflation rises for the next two years.

“While restarting the steps towards a £30,000 starting salary is welcome, this remit continues to demonstrate government’s complacent attitude towards the retention of more experienced teachers and leaders that we have seen too often in the past.”

Previous STRB reports have raised concerns about the lack of competitiveness of teacher pay as well as the challenges of the leadership supply chain.

Recent NAHT research shows that, from a survey of 2,047 school leaders, 53 per cent of those who were not currently a headteacher did not want to become one. This figure is up from 46 per cent in 2020 and 40 per cent in 2016.

Meanwhile, the real-terms cuts to teacher pay 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). Mr Courtney added: “The evidence is clear that cutting teacher pay against inflation has contributed to serious recruitment and retention problems as well as hitting teacher living standards.”

However, Mr Zahawi’s remit letter does not include these issues. He writes: “I would like to take the opportunity to acknowledge broader structural issues raised in your previous (STRB) reports, which go beyond consideration of annual pay uplifts. While these issues are not included in this year’s remit, I do recognise their importance and my department will set out further detail as to when and how we intend to consider such issues. I would welcome you including in your report an overview of the wider issues you think should be addressed in the future.”

Mr Whiteman added: “The government cannot hide away from the STRB’s recommendations forever. The current situation where only a few experienced teachers want to step up to senior leadership positions and even fewer can be persuaded to take on the heavy responsibilities of headship is not sustainable.”

Mr Zahawi has asked the STRB to report its recommendations “during May 2022”.

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