ETF: Pay gap between FE and schools is ‘indefensible’

Exclusive: Government needs to close the further education and schools pay gap if it wants an outstanding FE workforce, says ETF chief executive David Russell

Kate Parker

Teacher pay: Why FE colleges shouldn't compare themselves with schools

The pay gap between further education and school staff is “indefensible”, the chief executive of the Education and Training Foundation has said.

Speaking exclusively to Tes, David Russell said that if the government wanted to realise its vision for outstanding teaching in FE, as set out in the Skills For Jobs White Paper, it needed to provide for better staff pay. 

He said: “In the FE White Paper, I was really pleased that, when talking about outstanding teaching, the government didn’t make the same mistake of talking about inspection or, you know, accountability. 

“But, actually, they talked about three of the four things that really matter: recruitment, training and development. These three are absolutely crucial. The fourth thing they didn’t talk about is pay – and that is the fourth leg of the stool that needs to be addressed. The pay gap between school staff and FE is indefensible.” 


Long read: Meet David Russell, leading FE teacher training 

Need to know: FE and schools pay gap to rise to over £9,000 per year 

More: 'We're the experts – and we should be paid as such' 


In July 2020, the pay gap between school teachers and FE lecturers rose to more than £9,000 per year, when the education secretary Gavin Williamson announced a pay rise for school teachers of 3.1 per cent.

The rise saw the mean average school teacher salary in England rise to £41,822, while the ETF’s FE workforce survey put the average salary of an FE teacher in England at £32,500.

Mr Russell said comparing the two salaries was relevant and that there was no good excuse for the pay gap.

He said: “Matching with school teachers, I think, is a relevant comparison and there isn't really any good excuse for that pay gap. It’s opened up over time, and in fact, it’s reversed over time. 

“If you go back a few decades, FE staff were better paid than school teachers. But there are two phases to that: the very significant improvement in school teacher pay and the slow degradation of further education teachers’ pay.” 

A national pay scale for FE?

Currently, pay for college staff is set following pay negotiations between the Association of Colleges (AoC), representing member colleges, and the FE unions, the University and College Union (UCU), NEU, Unison, GMB and Unite. Any agreement between the two sides is, however, not binding, and it is down to individual colleges to decide whether to implement it.

The system has long been criticised by college principals, chief executives and trade unionists alike but, in an internal review, which reported back in July 2017, the AoC said it had decided against scrapping it. 

Mr Russell said he did not think any government would introduce a central pay scale for FE staff and, instead, the solutions would lie in an increase of FE funding and the prestige of teaching in the sector. 

He said: “My belief is that the great majority of it would flow through into teacher pay because senior leaders in the sector are very clear that their staff are not paid what they would like to pay them, and they would pay them more if they could. 

“Aside from the pay issue, we have to address the prestige issue as well. Higher education gets prestige from history but further education draws its prestige from the future, not the past. It’s cutting edge, forward-facing, adaptive, innovative and is preparing people for the jobs of today and tomorrow.

“If we want to attract more people from industry to teach, there are lots of practical things you need to do, like our Taking Teaching Further programme. But we also need to create high status “train-the-trainer roles”, so that it becomes part of the tradition and the culture in other trades and professions, that one of the best things you can do that marks you out as successful in your trade or profession is that you invest in the training of other people.”

UCU: ‘Real investment in the FE sector’

Jo Grady, general secretary of the UCU, said further education had borne the brunt of Tory austerity and seen funding slashed in recent years.

She said: “The government seems to have finally realised that colleges will be essential to the post-Covid recovery but the sector needs more than just warm words. We have 24,000 fewer lecturers than a decade ago, as college teachers have seen a 30 per cent real-term pay cut over the past decade.

“The time has come for colleges to deliver on their promise to staff that they would be first in line when funding arrives as, without fair pay, it will be impossible to attract and retain the staff colleges need to be able to play their role in the national recovery effort.

“Our Rebuild FE campaign is calling for real investment in our sector, a proper pay rise for staff to close the gap between school and college teacher pay, and an end to a decade of pay cuts.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: We recognise the need to provide greater support for, and investment in, the sector’s teachers and leaders. The measures set out in the White Paper come with total investment of over £65 million in 2021-22, an increase of £20 million compared to 2020-21, allowing us to deliver greater support for recruitment, retention and teacher development.

“FE providers are autonomous institutions and, as such, they are responsible for setting the terms and conditions of the staff they employ. The department currently has no role in determining or changing FE teacher pay.”

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Kate Parker

Kate Parker is a FE reporter.

Find me on Twitter @KateParkerTes

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