'If the government does not act, teachers will walk because of poor pay and overwork'

Once inflation is taken into account, teachers have, on average, faced a real-terms pay cut of £2,273 since 2010 – this cannot go on, writes one union leader

Mary Bousted

Retention, teacher pay and conditions

Teachers need a pay rise. In 2011/12 the government imposed a two-year pay freeze on public sector workers which was followed by a one per cent pay cap until 2015/16 – a cap which has now been extended for another four years. Between 2010 and 2016, accounting for inflation, teachers have, on average, faced a real-terms pay cut of £2,273.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) has commented that: “The government’s announced 1 per cent limit on annual pay increase for a further four years from 2016-17 is expected to reduce wages in the public sector to their lowest level relative to private sector wages since at least the 1990s”. This, argues the IFS, “could result in difficulties for public sector employers trying to recruit, retain and motivate high-quality workers”.

This warning is echoed by the School Teachers’ Review Body (STRB) which found, in its 2016 report, that recruitment and retention was problematic, with increasing vacancies in all core subjects and difficulties in recruiting trainee teachers and retaining them in the profession.

The STRB stated: “The relative position of teachers’ earnings has deteriorated further this year and they continue to trail those of other professional occupations in most regions”. The STRB argued that there is a case for an uplift to the 1 per cent pay cap if teacher recruitment and retention problems are to be tackled successfully.

More recently, research by the Education Policy Institute (EPI) has shown that starting salaries for teachers in England languish 16 per cent lower than the average for the OECD countries. Young teachers in England have a heavier workload and their pay is considerably worse than that of their international counterparts.

Pay does matter.  It is a concrete, tangible way that society signals to teachers that their work is valued and that their heroic efforts on behalf of the nation’s children are recognised. This government believes that the public sector pay cap is essential to keep borrowing under control. But teachers’ patience can only be stretched so far.

The latest Department for Education (DfE) statistics show that 30 per cent of state school teachers who qualified in 2010 had quit by 2015. And the EPI found that only 48 per cent of the teaching workforce in England has ten or more years’ teaching experience. The rate of those leaving the profession has to be addressed if educational standards are going to be maintained, never mind rise.

In the end, faced with catastrophic teacher shortages, the government will have to take the brake off, and raise teachers’ pay substantially, which is what happened in the 1970s, and every decade thereafter.

When low pay is combined with an impossible workload, heavy handed and inappropriate workplace monitoring of performance, and constant government policy changes, the resulting mix is toxic.

No specifications, no resources, just a £30,000 bill

Just this week a school leader contacted me with another example of the unintended consequences of rushed, and botched, qualification reform. He wrote:

“I have just been working through the implications of the new maths A-level for this school, due for teaching from September 2017. It is relevant that maths is our biggest A-level subject with seven ‘sets’ in Year 12 and seven in Year 13. In April 2016, the DfE published the final summary of the new content. In summer 2016, draft specifications appeared from the examination boards. With less than a year to go, we do not have final specifications or resources to review (our sixth form open evening is in two weeks, the brochure has been published!).

"The new specification requires content to move from A2 to AS and vice-versa, content to be deleted, and content to be added. Our mapping of the content shows we would need to use five different textbooks (or homemade resources) to cover the topics – unless new textbooks are available to purchase.

"Since Year 13 students will be examined at A2 on all the material, we will need to let them keep Year 12 textbooks – this doubles the textbook demand.  140 students (seven classes) in Year 12, 130 in Year 13 = 270 students at £40 per student for books (under-estimated) = £10,800 = four times our annual maths budget.

"The new course appears to require access to computer suites for the statistics components (or laptops in maths rooms). We have four computer suites; they are fully timetabled for ICT, the new GCSE and A-level computing. Fourteen A-level maths classes will need periodic computing access – probably two class sets of Wi-Fi laptops costing £20,000.

No additional resources have been provided to implement this change (or any other of the recent examination changes).”

In summary: less than a year to go, no final specifications, no published resources, an anticipated bill of £30,000.

He added: “My maths colleagues are an exceptional team: on outcome measures the best department in the school. They work incredibly hard. They were hard to find! It is highly likely that they will start next year having had minimal time to prepare, inadequate resources and uncertainty regarding the IT equipment.

"Quite simply, as professionals, they deserve better … and it would be so easy to actually do these new curriculum implementations properly, but it seems no-one at the DfE (or Ofqual) cares ‘one jot’ for the most valuable component in the delivery of these course: our teachers.”

To which I would add only that maths teachers are hard to recruit, hard to retain, and have skills and knowledge that they could put to good use in many other professions, all of which would pay considerably more than they currently earn.

My fear is that the government, which currently disputes that there is a nationwide teacher recruitment problem, will do too little and act too late. Teachers will walk because of poor pay and overwork – both caused by lack of care for the profession. And, yet again, it will be the pupils who suffer.

Dr Mary Bousted is general secretary of the ATL union. She tweets as @MaryBoustedATL

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Mary Bousted

Mary Bousted is joint general secretary of the National Education Union. She tweets @MaryBoustedNEU

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