Some schools have already told their teachers they cannot afford to give them the recommended pay rise announced this week, despite being promised extra money from the DfE.
The warnings have raised the prospect of industrial action at schools that do not pass on the full 3.5 per cent pay rise to all teachers on the main pay range, as announced by the DfE on Tuesday.
Education secretary Damian Hinds told schools they would have to finance the first 1 per cent of the award, which he said they should already have budgeted for.
He said the DfE would fund the rest through a new £508 million teachers’ pay grant.
However, although maintained schools must raise the pay of teachers at the maximum and minimum points of their pay ranges in line with the DfE's announcement, they have flexibility over what to pay those in the middle of the scale.
Academies have more freedom over pay, although in practice many choose to mirror what is offered in schools run by local authorities.
Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the NEU teaching union, told Tes: “We have already heard from members on the last day of term [when the pay award was announced] whose school leaders have said, ‘Well we can’t afford to pay’.”
She said the union has written to members in leadership positions to say “We expect the award to be paid in full to all members”, and said the NEU would be “monitoring that situation very closely”.
Dr Bousted said this was the first time a pay award had been partially funded with extra money for schools, and although school funding is “in crisis”, heads will have already budgeted for a 1 per cent pay rise.
She added: “We will support members who wish to take action in any school where the award is not implemented in full.”
However, Valentine Mulholland, head of policy at the NAHT headteachers' union, said it was “highly unlikely” that schools would fail to pass on the pay rise to teachers and use the DfE’s pay grant for other priorities.
She told Tes: “When schools have been funded to deliver this, they will want to deliver this because they are concerned about their teachers.
“Even those that are in horrendous deficit where the governing body may say, ‘Actually, we think we shouldn’t pay more than 1 per cent, and we will keep this to address our deficit’, I think they would be advised by the leadership team that that would be a decision that would drive them into an industrial relations disaster.”