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Pay gains of early 1990s `eroded'

Unions set to seize on figures revealing how teachers' wages have fallen behind, reports Emma Burstall.

The earnings gain made by teachers in the early Nineties after the School Teachers' Review Body was set up has been eroded, new figures reveal.

The figures, from the latest New Earnings Survey from the Central Statistical Office, show that teachers, relative to other sections of the workforce, have fallen behind on pay since the 1992 general election. The statistics are likely to be seized on by teacher unions to strengthen their case for a substantial "catch up" award next year, in the run-up to the next election.

This year, average teachers' earnings rose by under 2 per cent (1.7 per cent for secondary and 1.9 per cent for primary teachers), significantly less than employees elsewhere in the economy, prompting speculation that employers have been able to fund the 2.7 per cent teachers' pay award only by getting rid of experienced staff and taking on cheaper ones.

In 1992, just before the general election, teachers received a pay boost of 7.5 per cent. Since then, however, the trend has been steadily downwards.

Figures from the Central Statistical Office . New Earnings Surveys show secondary teachers' pay increased by only 2.1 per cent in 1993, compared with 4 per cent in the economy as a whole. In 1994, their earnings went up by 2.6 per cent compared with 2.8 per cent in the rest of the economy, and in 1995 the figures were 1.7 and 3.3 per cent.

Chris Trinder, chief economist of the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA), one of the leading professional accountancy bodies for public services, said: "Teachers have done very badly recently, and the fact that average earnings increases have been below the 2.7 per cent teachers' pay award this year suggests that because of inadequate funding, employers have been substituting cheaper teachers for more expensive ones in order to square the circle. It's quite worrying."

Mr Trinder said the pre-election period tends to be a catch-up time for teachers, with more generous salary increases being awarded. (See graph).

"Whether this will happen again this time remains to be seen but it's clear that in the past, teachers' pay has tended to fall behind other sectors until a general election is imminent."

A CIPFA analysis of average earnings increases in industry since 1990, showing that education and health had held up well compared with other industries, was deceptive, he added. Although education and health enjoyed a 28 per cent increase compared with 25.5 per cent for public administration, the relatively high figure reflected gains made by teachers in 1992. Since then, earnings had fallen back, he added.

A National Union of Teachers' spokeswoman said teachers' pay had been steadily declining compared with average non-manual earnings since 1974 when the Houghton committee was appointed, and teachers were awarded a retrospective increase of 27 per cent from May that year.

However, Mike Walker, assistant employers' secretary of the Local Government Management Board, claimed that teachers had done well over the past few years compared with the rest of local government, and the 2.7 per cent pay award this year was more than most public-sector employees received.

"The picture is really fairly buoyant. All the figures point to the fact that in terms of the public sector, teachers have done very well," he added.

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