Anger at DfE's 'casual' claim that schools can afford pay rises

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

It is “patently not the case” that the government’s proposed increases to teacher pay over the next two years are affordable from existing school budgets.

School leaders are concerned at the “almost casual” manner in which the Department for Education (DfE) has claimed that schools can afford what will be the biggest increase to teacher pay for years.

And as the DfE pushes for bigger increases for early career teachers than more experienced colleagues, five education unions have taken the unusual step of submitting a joint statement to the STRB urging equivalent pay rises across the board.

The DfE has set out its proposals in its evidence to the School Teacher Review Body (STRB), which has been asked to recommend pay awards for both 2022/23 and 2023/24.

In its evidence, the DfE reaffirms its commitment to raising the starting salary for new teachers to £30,000 by 2023/24. It proposes what it calls “significant uplifts” to the M1 to M6 pay range over the two years “such that M1 reaches £30,000 at the end of this period, with progression between each pay point at 5.5%”.

This would mean, if adopted by the STRB, an 8.9% uplift to the statutory minimum (M1) for qualified teachers in 2022/23, followed by a further 7.1% increase in 2023/24 to reach £30,000. The DfE adds: “We propose commensurate uplifts to the remaining early career pay points (M2-M6).”

However, the DfE is proposed lower uplifts for teachers in London given that salaries in the capital are already higher. It proposes that in year one, starting salaries rise to £34,247 in inner London (up 6.5%), £32,308 in outer London (up 8%), and £29,239 in London fringe (up 8.5%).

In year two, it proposes uplifts to £35,500 in inner London (3.7%), £33,700 in outer London (4.3%), and £31,000 in London fringe (6%).

For more experienced teachers, the DfE wants to see a 3% uplift in 2022/23 and a 2% uplift in 2023/24. The 3% figure would be, the DfE claims, the highest pay award for teachers since 2006.

However, the DfE maintains that, should the STRB go along with its recommendations, schools will be able to afford the pay rises from existing budgets.

It cites its own school costs technical note, updated this month, which claims that over 2022/23 and 2023/24, funding for schools will increase by 9.8% and costs by 3% compared to 2021/22, “making available £2.9bn for new spending, including both pay awards and other priorities over the two years”.

In its evidence to the STRB, the DfE says that after the recent spending review, the core schools budget is to increase by £7bn by 2024/25, compared to 2021/22.

Its submission says that schools will need to plan ahead, perhaps “choosing to leave some of 2022/23’s new spending uncommitted in the medium term to make it available for pay awards and other long-term spending priorities in 2023/24”.

The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) has welcomed the renewed commitment to £30,000, but says some aspects of the DfE’s plan are “very unsatisfactory”.

Julie McCulloch, ASCL’s director of policy, is concerned at the flattening the pay structure so that more experienced teachers will see a lower uplift and the DfE’s proposal not to apply the same uplift for early career teachers in London.

She said: “(The DfE) does not seem to understand how fed up people are with the significant erosion of salaries that has taken place over the past decade and that retaining our experienced staff is just as important as recruiting new teachers into the profession.”

ASCL is also angry at the government’s suggestion that the increases are affordable for schools.

Ms McCulloch added: “The government almost casually suggests that this is all affordable within the existing funding settlement for schools when this is patently not the case and will put huge pressure on budgets which are already stretched to the limit and beyond. This adds up to a completely unrealistic picture of how to fix the on-going problem of teacher shortages, while adding to the financial pressure on schools.

“We once again call upon the STRB to assert its independence, recommend a significant across-the-board increase for teachers and leaders that begins to repair the damage of the last decade, and for the government to put its money where its mouth is and ensure that schools have sufficient money to pay their wages.”

In its STRB submission, the DfE says that its £30,000 policy will address recruitment challenges: “A £30,000 starting salary and overall reform of the early career pay offer targets pay awards at the greatest recruitment and retention challenges. It will improve the competitiveness of a career in teaching; have strong public impact to raise the status of the profession; provide a memorable and impactful offer; support progression from ITT into the classroom; and drive greater competition into teaching to improve teacher quality.”

The National Education Union is also concerned at the flattening of the pay structure and says that with rising inflation – RPI is currently running at around 8%, its highest level in 30 years – the proposals, if accepted by the STRB, would mean a majority of teachers facing a real-terms pay cut.

Kevin Courtney, NEU joint general secretary, said: "Imposing lower increases for more experienced teachers and headteachers is deeply unfair, will damage morale and will actually increase the retention problems already facing the profession.

"With inflation climbing ever higher, the government's proposals would not only be divisive but would result in yet another significant real-terms pay cut for most teachers.”

Feeling on the issue is running so high that five education unions – NASUWT, NEU, ASCL, NAHT and Voice Community – have submitted a joint statement to the STRB calling for equivalent increases for all teachers.

It states: “The impact of the (2021) pay freeze remains a live issue for our members. Our members continue to see the impact of the pay freeze, as each month their pay remains frozen but inflation continues to rise.

“The real value of teacher and school leader pay has fallen hugely against inflation measured by the RPI. Pay freezes and below-inflation pay cuts in the 2010s were followed by last year’s pay freeze. The cumulative impact of these unjustified attacks on teacher and school leader living standards has been devastating.

“This will only be made worse from April 2022 with the increase in National Insurance contributions and the 54% increase in the energy price cap from April 2022, meaning that households bills will rise dramatically.

“The evidence is clear: teacher and school leader pay has been cut against inflation; pay has been frozen as pay in the wider economy has grown; and the severe recruitment and retention problems which emerged as pay was hit year after year still remain.

“The STRB must look at the whole picture on teacher pay and conditions and recommend undifferentiated pay increases for all teachers and school leaders that are significantly higher than RPI inflation, so that we see an urgent restoration of the pay cuts in 2022 and 2023.”

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