The announcement of the 2.75 per cent teachers’ pay award this week was cleverly timed by the DfE.
The fact that it was made at the start of the school holidays meant teachers’ minds were elsewhere: packing suitcases, travelling to airports, driving the length of the country to see family, or simply sitting in the garden doing nothing.
And that meant any chance for simmering discontent over the deal to gather momentum and grow into something bigger has immediately been dissipated.
A casual observer might ask why there would be discontent over something that, on the surface, appears to be good news? After all, it’s above the rate of inflation (currently at 2 per cent), and it’s more than police and prison officers and senior civil servants are getting – and it’s more than last year (if you’re on the upper pay scale or a headteacher).
First of all, consider the context. A long run of derisory pay rises means that teachers did not receive an overall pay rise in excess of 1 per cent between 2010 and 2018. But over the same period, the increase of the retail prices index (RPI) – the higher of the two inflation measures, which includes housing costs – was 21.9 per cent.
And there is also devil in the detail because cash-strapped schools are having to fund the lion’s share of the latest deal – a rise of 2 per cent – from their own budgets. This will be as difficult as juggling frogs, one headteacher told Tes.
The truth is that because of the funding pressures that schools are under, some teachers may not receive a penny extra.
Even the School Teachers Review Body, which advises the government on teacher pay, says some schools will find it a challenge to pass on any pay rise – even though it recommended the 2.75 per cent.
Schools will feel just as squeezed as they did last year when the NASUWT teaching union revealed some of the psychological tactics used by heads to avoid passing on the pay rise to all teachers. They included telling teachers that a pay rise would mean their colleagues losing their job, or warning that they would have to do more cover because the school wouldn’t be able to afford supply teachers.
And this week, it emerged that heads are already saying that funding the latest teacher pay deal will mean they have to make staff redundant in their schools.
Yes, the DfE has stumped up a £105 million pay grant to fund the remaining 0.75 per cent hike in the deal. But as the NASUWT has pointed out, just as it did last year, the grant isn’t ring-fenced specifically for use on teachers’ pay.
That could mean it’s spent on anything from educational psychologists to new teaching assistants or new gym equipment.
And, as the DfE says, the pay rise only applies to teachers on the maximum and minimum points on the pay scales, so schools are under no obligation to pay it to those in-between anyway.
What's the take away? Teachers should enjoy the summer weather – some may not feel quite so sunny when they open their payslips next term.