Teacher pay: The long shadow of austerity

Pay restraint has taken its toll

Hélène Mulholland

Picking up a penny

Ask classroom unions when teachers last received an above-inflation rise, and they’ll reply it’s been a while – a very long while.

Today’s announcement follows years of pay restraint, which school unions say is equal to a pay cut of 16 per cent in real terms since 2010.

Unions were braced for a substantial hike to help claw back the significant dents to their pay over recent years, buoyed by the offer to nurses and NHS staff of 6.5 per cent over three years.

A long run of derisory pay rises means that state-school teachers in England and Wales have not received an overall pay rise in excess of 1 per cent since 2010 – and in 2011 and 2012 their pay was frozen altogether. 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. 

Figures from the Office for National Statistics show that the cash rise in secondary teachers' average weekly pay went up by £2.30 between 2010-2016. Over the same period, primary and nursery education teachers actually had a cash cut of £12.70. 

Meanwhile, a NASUWT survey found almost one in three (32 per cent) teachers cut back how much they spent on food because of financial hardship. An increasing number of teachers and teaching assistants have been forced to turn to the Education Support Partnership, with the total value of grants rising by 122 per cent. 

Looking at the year-by-year figures on pay rises compared with the retail prices index, it is clear to see how teachers have increasingly fallen behind on pay: 

  • September 2011  
    Pay rise: 0 per cent 
    Retail prices index for the year (RPI): 5.2 per cent
  • September 2012  
    Pay rise: 0 per cent 
    RPI: 3.2 per cent
  • September 2013   
    Pay rise: 1 per cent  
    RPI: 3.0 per cent
  • September 2014  
    Pay rise: 1 per cent
    RPI: 2.4 per cent
  • September 2015  
    Pay rise: 1 per cent overall (2 per cent on the maximum of the pay range)
    RPI: 1 per cent
  • September 2016  
    Pay rise: 0-1 per cent (ie, a 1 per cent uplift to the bottom and top ends of the pay ranges)   
    RPI: 1.8 per cent
  • September 2017
    Pay rise: 1 per cent (1 per cent to teachers on the minimum and/or maximum of all pay ranges or 2 per cent to teachers on the minimum/maximum of the main pay range)
    RPI: 3.6 per cent

Research from other quarters has shored up unions’ claims that teacher pay is lagging woefully behind that of their peers. The OECD, for example, revealed that teachers’ statutory salaries in England were worth less in real terms in 2015 than 10 years before, to the tune of 12 per cent, whilst teacher pay in other advanced countries rose by 6 per cent on average. 

To the frustration of unions, schools already have discretion in terms of implementing pay rises, not least academies and free schools that are not bound by the Teacher Pay and Conditions document. This, together with the fact that schools are cash-strapped, led to most unions calling on the treasury to foot the bill, rather than schools.

Five teaching and school leader unions – the NEU, NAHT, ASCL, UCAC and Voice – made the case for a fully-funded “restorative pay rise” of 5 per cent for “all teachers and school leaders”  in England and Wales for 2018. This was to provide both a cost of living increase and act as a first step towards restoring “the real value of teaching salaries to 2010 levels".

In a joint submission, they pointed to the decline in teachers’ pay compared with levels of inflation, and the toll on the profession, with an increasing number quitting and fewer recruits signing up. 

Their submission said: "We are clear that a cost of living increase should be applied to all salaries and allowances. While some of our organisations have differing positions on the principle of performance-related pay progression, we all agree that the concept of the cost of living increase in pay should be maintained and should be wholly distinct from pay progression based on performance."

NASUWT has called for a pay rise that at least compensates for inflation (currently 3.4 per cent RPI) and goes some way to restore pay eroded since 2010.

Teachers everywhere will be looking keenly at their pay packet this September. 


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Hélène Mulholland

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