‘The delayed decision on teacher pay is disrespectful’

Teachers and heads need to be told now what the 2018-19 pay deal is going to look like, writes Kevin Courtney

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The National Education Union, alongside other teaching unions, has written to the education secretary demanding to know when he will publish both the School Teachers’ Review Body report and the government’s response to it on teachers’ pay for September 2018.

Time is ticking away. It is almost the end of term – for schools and MPs alike – and education secretary Damian Hinds has still not appeared in Parliament to make his announcement on the teachers’ pay increase for September. Parliament's last day of sitting is 24 July. Will he leave it that long?

This year’s announcement is now even later than last year and the year before. And at least the government then had the excuse of a general election and a referendum.

The announcement has to happen before Parliament rises, or it cannot happen until the Autumn. But even if he makes the announcement tomorrow, headteachers will have no time to work out how the pay rise affects their budgets for the new school year. Governors will have no time to consult on the pay scales they propose to adopt next year. Teachers will leave for the summer break not knowing how much they will be paid in September.

This is so disrespectful to headteachers, who have to plan budgets. It is disrespectful to teachers. It is confusing to students contemplating which career path to start down.

And all of this is completely unnecessary. The secretary of state should have acted so much sooner. He has had the STRB report since 1 May – nearly two months ago.

When Mary Bousted and I met the School Teachers' Review Body earlier this year, it was clear from its “body language” that it was very concerned about teacher recruitment and retention. When we met Damian Hinds subsequently, he made it clear that this was one of his top prioritises. We hope that they all accepted that tackling the teacher supply crisis requires genuine action on pay, alongside action on workload. But we, and heads and teachers, are still waiting to find out what the STRB said and what Damian’s reaction to it is.

Tackle the teacher shortage

We hope the STRB has recommended a substantial pay increase in its report. Alongside the Association of School and College Leaders, the NAHT and other unions, the NEU proposed a fully funded 5 per cent increase, as a sign of serious intent to improve teachers’ pay and deal with teacher shortages.  

We hope he is intending to announce that teachers will receive a significant pay increase, and that schools will receive the extra funding to support its implementation, alongside the increase already agreed for support staff. But we are still waiting to find out. If, instead, he proposes an increase that won’t begin to deal with teacher shortages, or an increase that isn’t funded there will be deep anger in the profession – and rightly so.

When you visit the NEU website, you’ll see a countdown clock that is counting down the hours and seconds left to make the announcement before Parliament goes on holiday. With every second that passes, concern grows about the delay, which is putting headteachers in an increasingly difficult position and treating teachers badly.

Teachers’ pay has to be increased. Eight years of Conservative-led governments and austerity measures have cut the real value of teachers’ pay by around 15 per cent. Pay in teaching is falling behind pay in other graduate professions. Graduates’ job opportunities elsewhere are, increasingly, numerous and better paid. Recruitment figures this year were lower than last year and, even though pupil numbers are still rising, more teachers left than joined the profession for the first time in many years.

The most positive reading of the delay is that Damian Hinds is locked in negotiations with the Treasury with the aim of securing more money for schools. If that’s the case, then we wish him well – and we would be pleased to press for more money alongside him. But he needs to be much more open about that – and the announcement cannot be left much longer.

Kevin Courtney is joint general secretary of the National Education Union

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