Pay cuts now 'an established feature of government policy'

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

Real-terms pay cuts have become “an established feature of government policy” it was said this week as tension builds over potential strike action.

Teaching and leadership unions have joined forces to lobby Labour and Tory politicians on issues of pay and school funding during the annual party conferences.

An eight-page briefing document is being handed out to MPs in the hope of sparking action on pay and school funding, especially after education was completely ignored in last week’s “mini-budget” announcement (for the latest on school funding, see here).

The briefing warns Westminster that 95% of school leaders report difficulty recruiting teachers, while 65% are struggling to keep the teachers they have. Pay is considered the key factor for this.

It comes after a strongly worded joint union response to this year’s below-inflation pay rises labelled them “insufficient”.

The period of consultation following education secretary Kit Malthouse’s decision to accept the School Teachers’ Review Body’s (STRB) 2022/23 pay recommendations closed on Friday (September 23). The School Teachers' Pay and Conditions Document, with the new 2022/23 pay points, can now be published.

The Department for Education (DfE) is accepting the STRB’s proposals for 2022/23 in full. It means school leaders and experienced teachers (M6, U1, U2, U3) will see a 5% increase from September 2022. Rises will be higher for newer teachers, with an 8.9% rise for M1 tapering down to a 5.5% rise for M5 in September 2022 (see table, below) (see also STRB, 2022; DfE, 2022).

However, the joint union response points out the elephant in the room – that RPI inflation is running at 12.3%, its highest level for 40 years, and is expected to rise further in the coming months according to the Bank of England.

It means that once again teachers and school leaders will see real-terms cuts to their pay this year, compounding the significant cuts seen since 2010.

Indeed, years of pay restraint have seen pay fall in real-terms between 2007 and 2021 by 8% for upper pay scale and 4% for main pay scale colleagues. In contrast, average earnings across the whole economy rose by 0.6% across the same period (Cribb & Sibieta, 2021).

The lobbying effort is taking place amid a backdrop of threatened strike action. The NEU has said it will ballot its 250,000 members this term over pay. NASUWT is also speaking to members about action. GMB and UNISON, which both represent school support staff, are also consulting members.

Even leadership unions have not ruled out action. A survey of school leaders by the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) this week shows that of 2,203 senior leaders in England, 69% favoured holding a ballot on action short of strike action over pay; 50% favoured a ballot on strike action.

In their STRB response, the unions – National Education Union, NASUWT, Community, National Association of Head Teachers, and ASCL – state: “Whatever the precise outturn for inflation, it is clear that real-terms pay cuts for teachers and school leaders have become an established feature of government policy.

“This policy position must be reversed in favour of restoring the pay lost since 2010, including protecting teacher and school leader living standards in the current cost-of-living crisis. Otherwise we will not be able to recruit, retain and value the teachers and school leaders we need.”

Pay proposals: The STRB's pay proposals for September 2022 have been accepted in full by the government (source: STRB, 2022)

It comes as the NAHT, ASCL and NEU held a fringe event on Monday (September 26) at the Labour Party Conference in a bid to lobby politicians over funding and pay. A similar event is scheduled for Monday, October 3, at the Conservative Party Conference.

A statement ahead of the events said: “(The pay proposal) will further cut pay in real-terms following a decade of pay erosion, and it comes in the midst of a severe recruitment and retention crisis which has left most schools struggling to fill vacancies and put teachers in front of classes.

“The government is not providing any additional funding to schools to enable them to afford the cost of this pay award which means that many will have to make cuts to educational provision in order to pay the award to their staff.”

The briefing document outlines how in September 2021 a teacher on M6 was £6,257 worse off than if their pay had kept pace with RPI inflation since September 2010. To rectify this, it would require a rise of 16.9%. Similarly, a teacher on U3 is £8,742 worse off (they would need a rise of 21%) while a school leader on LG1 is £9,116 worse off (requiring a rise of 21.6%).

The briefing document states: “Pay is not the only factor that impacts on teacher recruitment and retention, but it is generally recognised that it has a strong bearing on both.

“We are united in our view that the 2022/23 pay award is inadequate. The evidence is clear that a pay uplift to teachers’ and leaders’ salaries that at least matches current inflation is required, if further damage to the profession is to be avoided.”

General secretary of the NAHT Paul Whiteman added: “School leaders are in an invidious position: they have been given yet another real-terms pay cut at the same time as their schools are plunged into a funding crisis through no fault of their own.

“The spiralling energy bills, inflationary costs, and lack of funding for teachers’ pay this year means school leaders will be forced to make cuts that ultimately cannot help but negatively impact on the education and wellbeing of children. We urge all political parties to listen to the profession to truly understand the link between funding, pay, and children’s life chances, and to commit to making the investment into education that is so urgently needed.”

The STRB had recommended a 3% increase for school leaders and experienced teachers from September 2023 and a 7.1% rise for M1 tapering to a 3.7% rise for M5. However, the government is reserving judgement on these proposals, having said it will return to the one-year STRB cycle next year.

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