'The campaign for teacher pay is far from over'

Today's announcement is a step forward, but we cannot stop fighting for a 5 per cent increase for all, says Mary Bousted

Mary Bousted

Covid-19: 'We must invest in our young people's future'

When is a fully funded pay increase not a fully funded pay increase?

This question may sound like the start of a joke but it's actually the reality of the long-awaited government response to the STRB’s latest report. The “fully funded” pay uplift requires schools to contribute almost a third of the extra for main pay scale teachers, half of that for those on the upper pay range and two-thirds of leaders’ rise.

That is far from ideal. We must not, though, lose sight of some hard-fought gains in this pay round. More teachers and leaders will see a noticeable rise in their payslip than at any other point this decade. For those starting out in the early years of their teaching careers, we have – at last – an above-inflation pay increase. And for the first time during the funding crisis of the past few years, the government is recognising the importance of teachers and providing a special grant to schools specifically for pay.

For those on the main scale, this will be an increase in the region of £800-£1,200 on salaries. For many, that will really help with the cost-of-living pressures they and their families are facing. And given that today’s announcement arrived over two weeks later than the election and referendum-delayed STRB reports in 2017 and 2016 respectively, governors and leaders will be relieved that their summer isn’t going to be spent trying to squeeze budgets for the whole uplift.

In that, and the secretary of state’s recent warm words to the profession, we can see some key arguments won: that pay levels must begin to change to address the recruitment and retention crisis; that current levels of school funding are insufficient to provide the education that pupils need; that teachers deserve a pay rise. We learn that seemingly intractable government positions and policies can be broken down by evidence and commitment to what is right, necessary and just.

'Divisive' teacher pay deal

The National Education Union has been proud to lead parents, pupils, teachers, leaders, support staff, fellow unions and the wider education community in campaigning to end and redress school cuts and to have collaborated with teacher and headteacher unions to call for a 5 per cent pay rise in 2018.

We didn’t quite get that for the profession this year but we have succeeded in getting the highest rise of the decade, departmental money to reach individual schools plus – and this is crucial – forcing the secretary of state to make the case to his cabinet colleagues in the Treasury for more money for schools. More than that, he made public his argument that education is a special case for funding. I agree.

The campaign is unfinished though. Whilst readers may also make a passionate case for why education is special and must be properly funded, the Treasury, of course, demands a different sort of evidence. But here we call upon the STRB economists who have been convinced that “the pay and allowance framework is central” to addressing the continued decline in the state of teacher supply over the past year. We have won the case with them that pay levels undervalue teachers and they are clear that the position of teaching in the graduate labour market has deteriorated. This leads the independent body to conclude that “the teachers’ pay framework … needs to be addressed as a matter of priority”.

The government took a step towards that today. A first serious step that is welcome. But the campaign continues. STRB recommended 3.5 per cent for all pay and allowances, not a differentiated award that divides the staffroom and fails to reflect the cost-of-living increases for all. Given rising inflation, the increases announced today are just 0.3 per cent in real terms for the main scale, and a loss in real value for those earning more. The 5 per cent pay claim was measured and moderate – if the government repeats 3.5 per cent each year for which OBR inflation forecasts are available then in 2022 main scale pay will still be over 10 per cent lower in real terms than it was in 2010.

And most of all, we can’t have teachers and heads pitted against each other amidst insufficient school funding – the whole of the education sector needs funding raised.

We should take heart from today that we can win that case, too.

Mary Bousted is joint general secretary of the NEU teaching union. She tweets @MaryBoustedNEU

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Mary Bousted

Mary Bousted is joint general secretary of the National Education Union. She tweets @MaryBoustedNEU

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