The past decade has not been a positive one in terms of teacher pay.
For a long while, it was pay freezes. Then, when increases finally came, it was never that clear whether it was for everyone or just those on the ends of the scales.
More recently, we had recommendations for higher pay rises – which the government only partly agreed to.
And, all the while, those responsible for managing schools’ budgets have winced with each announcement, wondering how the new increases will be paid for.
Teacher pay increases
The recommendations from the Department for Education this week were slightly different. For a start, if the government is true to its word, then the funding is already lined up to cover planned pay increases.
There will be those who argue that the funding is not enough to cover that and everything else that schools need – and I think they’re probably right. But it’s nothing like the past few years, when schools have had to budget for rising pay from falling income.
The government also seems to have conceded that schools and their teachers appreciate a clear and common structure for pay scales.
My own local authority currently has pay scales that mean teachers on most points of the main scale earn less than they might if they moved to another county – mainly because of the lack of clarity that came about from removing the official scale points.
It seems that the DfE has seen the error of its ways, and its latest recommendations represent a return to the six-point scale and three upper spine points.
Speaking of which, the government seems to have seen the light on that front, too. Although not proposed for this year, the department’s submissions to the pay-review body do suggest that maybe it’s time to scrap the artificial boundary between main and upper pay scales and bring them all back into a single scale.
When it was introduced, the upper spine was intended to keep good teachers in the classroom longer; in practice, it’s just meant a compression of the pay spine.
When the upper pay range was first introduced, the top of the scale was very nearly double the bottom: a teacher reaching UPS5 (for it was a five-point scale at first) earned £30,000, compared with £15,000 at the starting point of the main scale.
Money to the bottom of the scale
Over the next few years, the DfE says it wants to see an NQT salary rise to a minimum of £30,000 – twice that of 20 years ago.
If a similar rise were applied to those at the top of the upper range, you might expect to see salaries in the region of £60,000. But no such luck: experienced teachers will reach only £43,000.
I’m not one to argue that teaching is poorly paid. But it’s certainly becoming clear that recruitment demands are resulting in money increasingly being directed towards teachers at the bottom of the scale, at the expense of more experienced colleagues.
Over that same 20-year period, prices and average salaries in the country have risen by something like 70 per cent.
Nobody in teaching has kept up with that, but the NQT salary is closest with a rise of around 60 per cent. Experienced teachers, on the other hand, have seen rises of about 35 per cent – nowhere near keeping up.
All in all, there’s no question that pay for teachers is not what it once was. Even with the new rapid increases for those at the bottom of the pay scale, they’ve not caught up with earnings from 2000.
But at least this year we should expect to see a pay rise, and the funding streams coming into schools to pay for it. Now there’s just all the other funding issues to sort out.
Michael Tidd is headteacher at East Preston Junior School in West Sussex. He tweets @MichaelT1979