Shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt has told teachers that Labour cannot commit to offering them a pay rise if the party forms the next government.
Speaking at the annual conference of the NAHT heads' union in Liverpool today, Mr Hunt said that, if Labour were elected, he would “make the case” to Treasury colleagues that teachers’ pay should be increased, but acknowledged the tough financial climate meant this might not be possible.
“I will be in there making the case for you,” he said. “I can deliver on workload, I can deliver on terms and conditions. I can’t yet deliver on the kind of pay improvement packages you would quite rightly be advocating.”
Mr Hunt said this was because there were “very strong voices out there in terms of us being able to only promise what we can deliver in terms of the public finances”.
He said: “There has been a tough squeeze on public sector pay and public sector finances in recent years. I think as the labour market tightens, you're probably feeling the pressure on recruitment and attracting talented candidates for advertised posts. “There are workload issues around teaching and making teaching an attractive and rewarding profession and it's not just recruitment, it's retention as well. We're seeing a massive, expensive loss of talent in our schools because of the cumulative effects of what we've been discussing.”
Mr Hunt also outlined Labour’s plans to allow new “parent-led academies” to be set up by parents, charities, community groups and local authorities. He said groups proposing new schools would have to show that they were taking an “innovative” approach, in order for their bids to be approved.
“We would hope to see as part of the application process a commitment to innovation in some form,” he said.
“That could take multiple different forms about technology or pedagogy, or sport or art or whatever, but doing something new will be the one of the bars to get through for the commissioning of a new school because the opportunity of commissioning a new school is such an exciting moment in terms of trying something new that we would want to embed that within the system.”
He also said a Labour government would pilot a “peer-review” approach to inspecting schools, and would hope to roll it out within the next parliament.
Mr Hunt also said children were arriving at school unable to speak properly because parents were not getting "down on all fours" playing and talking to them from an early age.
He said headteachers believed that children’s communication skills had got "markedly worse" in the last 10 years, suggesting the problem could be down to issues like technology, time-poor working parents or a lack of understanding about the importance of engaging with babies and toddlers. "Whenever I talk to headteachers one of the big issues is the development and under-development of speaking and listening skills, those motor skills, and what that comes from is playing and talking to children, getting down on all fours from goo-goo, ga-ga onwards," he added.