Spending Review 2021: Questions and fears remain over teacher pay rise

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
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The Spending Review has signalled the end to the public sector pay freeze, an additional £1.8bn for education recovery, and an extra £4.7bn for the schools’ budget by 2024/25. But questions – and fears – remain. Pete Henshaw reports

As the public sector pay freeze is lifted, ministers should not restrict the work of the School Teachers Review Body (STRB) as it makes it recommendations for teacher pay from next September.

Teacher and leadership unions have also called for pay rises to take into account the expected high rates of inflation and to be fully funded for schools.

Unveiling his Spending Review in the House of Commons on Wednesday (October 27), chancellor Rishi Sunak confirmed that the public sector one-year pay freeze will end next year.

The Spending Review states: “Public sector workers will see pay rises over the next three years as the recovery in the economy and labour market allows a return to a normal pay-setting process. The government will be seeking recommendations from pay review bodies where applicable.”

In education, the pay freeze had affected school leaders, teachers and support staff earning more than £24,000. However, we are still none the wiser as to what teacher pay rises may look like next year.

All eyes will now turn to education secretary Nadhim Zahawi to see what kind of remit he will give to the STRB as it makes it recommendations for next year’s pay awards.

In recent years, teachers and school leaders have been regularly frustrated that the supposedly independent STRB has been constrained in its work by limited remits from the DfE.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), said that the government has “repeatedly constrained and ignored the STRB”. He continued: “This must end. The STRB must be able to do its work, free from government interference.”

The NASUWT and National Education Union (NEU) went as far this week as to write to the education secretary calling for the next report of the STRB to be “truly independent”.

NEU joint general secretary Kevin Courtney added: “The last round was hindered when the chancellor put out of bounds any consideration by the STRB of a pay increase, regardless of the evidence in favour of one. And that evidence is mounting … that is why it is so essential that the next review by the STRB is not prevented from reaching a full and truly independent verdict.”

This is not the only concern. With current forecasts for the fourth quarter of 2021 showing that inflation (according to the RPI) will likely be running at 4.3 per cent, teachers are worried that any pay rise will be cancelled out in real-terms.

And unions are also calling for any pay rises to be fully funded amid fears that schools will be left to find the cash themselves to fund increases, which would risk not all teachers receiving any uplift.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “We are gravely concerned about where the money will come from to afford the cost of future pay awards. Budgets are under huge pressure and cannot absorb additional costs.

“The reality is that many schools and colleges would have to make savings elsewhere or run deficit budgets, or both, if faced with unfunded extra costs. It is therefore essential that pay awards are fully funded by the government and that it does not expect schools and colleges to foot the bill.”

Mr Courtney added: “The pay freeze this year was nothing short of an insult, but the hint of a pay rise may still prove to be a con. If the chancellor expects to meet a pay rise through existing budgets, then we will see further cuts and impossible decisions for school and college leaders attempting to balance their books.”

The end of the pay freeze comes against a backdrop of long-term, real-terms cuts to teacher salaries. 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.

Mr Whiteman said teachers would have to wait and see just what the news will mean for their salaries come September: “It remains to be announced how much school staff might receive. It needs to be enough to begin to make up for the losses seen over the past decade. We have seen real terms pay cuts for teachers of up to eight per cent. This is contrast to 7.5 per cent real-terms growth in economy wide average earnings.”

However, it comes at a time when the government has abandoned plans to raise teacher starting salaries to £30,000 by 2022/23. The first part of the move towards £30,000 came into force this September, involving a 5.5 per cent rise in the minimum point of the main pay range.

The new target for £30,000 is now reportedly 2024, although the Spending Review does not confirm this, stating simply that “the government has also committed to increase teacher starting salaries to £30,000 a year”.

School funding boost

Elsewhere, the Spending Review confirms the government’s plans to invest an extra £4.7bn into the core schools’ budget by 2024/25. This is “over and above” the 2019 settlement for schools, which covered the period until 2022/23.

In his address to the House of Commons, Mr Sunak claimed this funding would “restore per-pupil funding to 2010 levels in real-terms”.

There is also an additional £1.8bn for Covid-19 education recovery, bringing the government’s total spending for education recovery to £4.9bn.

This includes a £1bn recovery premium for the next two academic years to help schools to deliver evidence-based approaches to support the most disadvantaged pupils.It also includes £324m in 2024/25 for additional learning hours for 16 to 19-year-olds.

Critics were quick to point out that the £4.9bn is nowhere near what the government’s former education recovery tsar Sir Kevan Collins had said was needed before he quit the role in protest.

As ever with Spending Review announcements, the devil will be in the detail. Back at ASCL, Mr Barton said schools would have to wait for more information before they could understand the implications of the new funding.

He said: “We hear the chancellor’s claim that the investment in schools will restore per-pupil funding to 2010 levels. However, we will need to see the detail of the overall spending plans and commitments before knowing the full implications.

“Even in the best-case analysis this still represents no growth in school funding for 15 years, and this commitment does not address the stark reality in 16 to 19 education where the learner rate is far too low. What we do know is that school and college budgets are very thinly stretched, and the financial situation continues to be extremely difficult.”

He added: “The additional funding for education recovery following the Covid pandemic is nowhere near what is needed.”

Mr Whiteman echoed the concerns, adding: “The increase in per pupil spending announced by the government takes us back to 2010 levels. This is no proud boast, as it represents a failure to invest in children’s futures for over a decade. Schools will do their best with what they are given, as they always do. It is important that schools are able to spend recovery money flexibly on the programmes they know work best for the children in most need in their schools.”

Mr Courtney was equally blunt: “Taking so long to restore the cuts made from 2010 onwards should not be a matter of pride for any government, but one of embarrassment.”

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