STRB under pressure to take a stand against pay austerity

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

With the recruitment crisis continuing, the STRB is being urged to call for an end to years of real-terms pay cuts for teachers. Pete Henshaw reports

Trade unions representing the majority of teachers in England and Wales have come together to call for action to end seven years of real-terms pay cuts in education.

The School Teachers’ Review Body (STRB) is currently considering its recommendations for the September 2018 pay award and the deadline for the submission of evidence falls today (Thursday, January 25).

The unions argue that the teaching workforce has endured seven years of austerity, meaning that pay levels in 2017 are worth 16 per cent less than in 2005 in real-terms.

They see more competitive pay as one of the keys to ending the on-going recruitment crisis, which has seen the government’s initial teacher training targets missed for the last five years.
They are also frustrated that the independent STRB has not done more to stand up to government-imposed pay caps in education.

The public sector pay cap has been in place since 2010. It was initially set at 0 per cent and then rose to one per cent.

However there are signs that things might change. In September chief secretary to the Treasury,

Liz Truss MP, wrote to STRB chair Dr Patricia Rise setting out the government’s “overarching approach” for 2018/19.

She wrote: “The government recognises that in some parts of the public sector, particularly in areas of skill shortage, more flexibility may be required to deliver world class public services including in return for improvements to public sector productivity.”

This letter has given teachers hope that the STRB may now recommend an increased pay award when it produces its final report and advice to the Department for Education in May.

Up until last year, the STRB had toed the government’s line on teachers’ pay, recommending rises only in line with the public sector pay cap.

However, last year, in its report for the 2017/18 pay award, the STRB did recommend a two per cent uplift for the minimum and maximum of the main pay range only.

And a year earlier, in July 2016, it said in its report that “there is a case for an uplift higher than one per cent to the national pay framework, to strengthen the competitive position of the teaching profession at a time of growing demand for graduates” – although did not ultimately recommend this.

The unions want to see more and are calling for a five per cent pay increase from September 2018 “as a first step to restoring pay levels in real terms”.

The unions behind the call are the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), National Education Union (NEU), National Association of Head Teachers, Voice, and the UCAC in Wales.

In an open letter to the STRB this week, they said: “We believe that after seven years of reductions in the real pay of the teaching workforce, it is now time for the government to make a restorative pay award to teachers and school leaders to ensure that they are fairly and appropriately rewarded.”

The unions also want to see an annual cost of living pay increase for all teachers separated from potential performance-related pay awards.

The letter adds: “As a matter of justice and fairness, all teachers and school leaders require an annual cost of living increase to ensure that their salaries keep pace with rising prices, so that no teacher or school leader is worse off in real terms from year to year.”

The unions are also calling on the government to fully fund any pay increase recommended for 2018/19: “Without additional funding to achieve this, schools may find themselves in a position where a choice must be made between teachers and school leaders’ remuneration and funding for the curriculum.”

This issue is key given clear evidence that many teachers have not received the one per cent pay increases from recent years or indeed last year’s two per cent increase.

The NASUWT has previously highlighted how the pay cap combined with increasing pay flexibilities for schools means that not every teacher has benefited.

Research from early 2017 found that thousands of teachers were in the dark on the one per cent pay rise for 2016/17, with Black, minority ethnic, disabled and female staff more likely to have not received the increase.

Further evidence from an NASUWT December 2017 survey found that almost three-quarters of teachers on the main pay range have neither received nor had confirmation that they will receive the two per cent award.

Writing in SecEd last week, NASUWT general secretary Chris Keates said many schools were flouting the law and refusing to give teachers the pay increase: “Thousands of teachers have started the new year without having received the pay award or pay progression to which they are entitled.”

The joint union letter, meanwhile, is clear that the unions would like the STRB to be more forthright in its recommendations to government.

It states: “The STRB has allowed its recommendations in recent years to be constrained by the government’s pay policy and the funding position of schools. We therefore ask the STRB also to set out what would be, in its view, the appropriate levels of pay for teachers and school leaders if unconstrained by such matters, in order to set a benchmark for the longer-term restoration of pay in the profession.”

Geoff Barton, ASCL general secretary, said: “After seven years of government-imposed austerity, teachers need and deserve a decent pay rise, not only because it is the right thing to do, but because it is essential in tackling the on-going recruitment and retention crisis.”

Kevin Courtney, NEU joint general secretary, added: “Children’s education is at risk – insufficient recruitment and retention of high-quality teachers is a very real problem. To begin to address this, it is essential that teacher workload is reduced and that the government now commits to reducing a restorative pay rise, starting with a significant real terms increase in 2018, which is fully funded.”

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