Teachers' pay: Difficult decision looms for education secretary

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

Squeezed school finances, a Treasury that looks unlikely to budge, recruitment and retention problems, and a teacher workforce threatening strike action all look set to place the education secretary in a difficult position this month.

An analysis of the teacher pay negotiations has highlighted seemingly “irreconcilable differences” as we await publication of the School Teachers’ Review Body (STRB) recommendations for the 2022/23 pay awards.

James Zuccollo, director for school workforce at the Education Policy Institute (EPI), says that we are facing “one of the most difficult teacher pay negotiations for many years, with a large gap between the settlement offered by the government and the amount being requested by the unions”.

His analysis highlights that teachers’ pay in England has fallen behind, both in real-terms and versus teacher pay in many other countries.

Indeed, analysis by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (Cribb & Sibieta, 2021) shows us that between 2007 and 2021 pay has fallen in real-terms by 8% for upper pay scale and 4% for main pay scale colleagues.

At the same time, teacher supply problems continue for the Department for Education (DfE) with its own forecasts showing a need for 5,000 more teachers between 2021 and 2025. However, secondary recruitment targets are not being met and 31.2% of teachers quit after five years at the chalkface (DfE, 2022).

The STRB is currently considering pay rises for the next two years (2022/23 and 2023/24) and in March the DfE submitted its own proposals (DfE, 2022).

The DfE wants to see the starting salary for new teachers rise to £30,000 by 2023/24. This would require 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. There would be “commensurate uplifts to the remaining early career pay points (M2-M6)”. The DfE proposes lower uplifts for teachers in London as salaries in the capital are already higher.

For more experienced teachers, the DfE wants to see a 3% uplift in 2022/23 and a 2% uplift in 2023/24.

However, the main education unions have rejected the plans for differentiated pay increases, with calls from some for a 12% pay rise across the board this September.

The cost-of-living crisis is only making the workforce angrier with the National Education Union among others demanding pay rises to match the current record levels of inflation, which stand at 9.1% (CPI) and 11.7% (RPI).

But a pay rise of this nature would put the squeeze on school budgets unless additional funding is forthcoming from the Treasury, which seems unlikely to budge from its Spending Review settlement and has pushed back against the idea of linking public sector wages to inflation.

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

Mr Zuccollo writes: “Given the rising cost of living, the government will need to consider increasing spending on teachers’ pay if it wants to avoid further recruitment and retention problems, and even strike action. The DfE may be spending more than ever in cash terms but rising inflation, energy costs, and pupil numbers will rapidly eat into that.”

In his analysis, Mr Zuccollo says there is a case for differentiated pay increases given that teachers outside of London and under-30 earn 10% less than other professionals their age, while those in their 50s earn only 3.5% less. However, this approach risks the wrath of the unions.

The analysis points out that if the government does increase its pay offer to match private-sector wages, it will need to consider the implications for schools’ budgets. Staff costs account for 70% of schools’ spending, meaning that a 1% increase in teachers’ pay will cost schools about £250m in 2022/23 and more in the following years.

Mr Zuccollo adds: “With other costs rising, the DfE’s evidence recognises that a larger pay raise than they propose would leave headteachers struggling to invest in other priorities, including education recovery, without additional funding. Unfortunately, the Treasury seems reluctant to reopen the spending review to allocate more funding to education for teachers’ salaries.”

The situation took a further twist this week with the promotion of education secretary Nadhim Zahawi to the position of chancellor and the appointment and then resignation of Michelle Donelan.

Writing before this development, Mr Zuccollo added: “This puts the secretary of state, who makes the final decision, in a difficult position. (She) can stick with the lower pay offer and risk both industrial action and the loss of talented teachers, (she) can increase the pay offer and squeeze schools’ budgets to the point that other activities are cut, or (she) must face the Treasury and ask for more money as real incomes fall.

“Targeted pay increases for teachers most likely to leave are a step in the right direction but allowing the pay of experienced teachers to fall behind that of other professions and risk industrial action could have consequences for children’s education. It may be that (the education secretary) will have to reopen negotiations with the chancellor if he is to succeed in his negotiations with teachers.”

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