While teachers have been waiting with bated breath for news of their long-promised pay award, school business leaders have been in the unique position of having no personal, but every professional, interest in the award, as they try to work through the details of what the announcement actually means for school budgets.
So while the announcement itself is a relief, it brings with it more questions and concerns than it answers. Headteachers and governing bodies will be expecting school business leaders to produce accurate, adjusted budget forecasts to include the new teacher pay rates, but the details behind the headline figures are, as yet, far from clear.
It has been obvious that any unfunded pay award would be financially catastrophic for schools, so news of a “funded” grant to support the pay increase is being given a guarded welcome. But forgive us the quizzical raised eyebrows. We have been told that we “should” have budgeted for 1 per cent, which most school business leaders will have done; some may have gone for 2 per cent, a few for 3 per cent or higher. But how and when the additional funding will arrive is anyone’s guess.
The last school workforce census was in November 2017, so if this is the data that will be used to determine the number of teachers in any given school, it is already out of date.
There will have been a huge number of changes to the staffing profile of a school between November 2017 and the end of the period covered by this pay award. If the pay grant is dished out by a formula, what is the formula so that we can estimate and plan it? How will it be dished out and, just as importantly, will it be by local authorities? How ringfenced is it?
The period that the teachers’ pay grant covers is, in itself, in question. If the announced £508 million fund is being split between 7/12ths of the year to cover September 2018 to March 2019 (£187 million), then a further 12/12ths for April 2019 to March 2020 (£321 million), do we assume that there can be no teachers’ pay increase in September 2019, as the funding for teacher pay increases up to March 2020 has seemingly already been set?
The late timing of the announcement causes a further problem, as consultation between local authorities, their schools, and within multi- academy trusts (MATs) on how to interpret the minimum and maximum ranges into their own local pay policies will now be impossible until September – but must be completed by 31 October, in time for the new teacher-appraisal cycle.
Given that individual headteachers may not agree on a common approach across their local authority or MAT, nor will they have any accurate way of assessing the financial impact of those decisions without details of the teacher pay grant, the turnaround times are unhelpful at best.
And that’s before any governing-body ratification of pay policies and post-appraisal pay recommendations have even taken place.
So while we’re left slightly relieved at the promise of funding to support the pay award, we’re disappointed at the timing, the lack of clarity and the lack of support given by the Department for Education to enable us to plan our finances effectively in either the short, medium or long term.
And it’s vital to remember that this pay award will go straight out of schools and into teachers’ pay packets, and will in no way increase the per-pupil funding that forms the mainstay of our beleaguered budgets.
Hilary Goldsmith is director of finance and operations at Varndean School in Brighton