'The more you examine teacher pay, the worse it looks'

Will higher starting salaries for NQTs mean cash-strapped schools hold back salaries higher up the scale? asks Dave Speck

teacher pay

Lurking beneath the positive-sounding headlines in last week’s Department for Education teacher pay proposals lies a sobering reality.

On the surface, a 6.7 per cent rise in the starting salary to £26,000 from next year looks appealing. And even better: this will rise to £30,000 by 2022.

But by the DfE’s own admission, there’s a good reason: 9,000 more teachers are needed by 2025 to cope with an increase of 15 per cent in the number of pupils in secondary schools.

Read: How experienced teachers are losing out in pay deal

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At the same time, there’s a projected decrease of 8 per cent in the number of 21-year olds between 2019 and 2023, which means the pool of university graduates is already shrinking, and there’s even greater competition from other professions to recruit new talent.

So you can see why DfE has introduced what it refers to as the “biggest sustained uplift to the teacher pay ranges since 2005”.
It also hopes there’ll be an impact on retention, and that the pay rise (which amounts to 3 per cent across the total pay bill) will mean more than a thousand teachers each year will stay in the profession who would otherwise have left.

Time will tell if this will stop the “haemorrhaging” – to borrow a word from the Association of School and College Leaders – of teachers from a profession already under the cosh from accountability and workload.

But how will the higher starting salary affect pay for teachers’ pay further up the ranges?

Again, proposed increases in those salaries look favourable on the surface.

The new pay structure the DfE is suggesting would mean, for example, that teachers on M2, M3, and M4 pay points would get 5.8, 4.8 and 4.1 per cent pay rises respectively. However, the situation is less rosy for the M6 and the whole of the upper pay points – which would see an uplift of just 2.5 per cent.

And the picture darkens further when you consider that the majority of these pay points are only “advisory” and that, under today’s deregulated performance pay system, schools will be under no obligation to use them.

Then consider the huge financial pressure that so many schools are under. Could the expense of the new higher starting salary – which they will have to pay – end up forcing them to overlook pay rises for more experienced teachers?

Could the situation emerge where an NQT is on only slightly less (or even more) than a teacher with two or three years’ experience?
But the more you examine the reality underpinning the latest teachers' pay deal, the worse it looks. ASCL is already warning that schools can’t afford next year’s pay rise – and that schools will have to cut jobs if the government doesn’t put more money in.
What if they decide that holding down other teachers’ wages is preferable to actually getting rid of people? Either option is unlikely to make schools better places to work and help Mr Williamson’s ultimate goal of improving teacher recruitment.

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Dave Speck

Dave Speck is a reporter at Tes

Find me on Twitter @Specktator100

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