'Teachers’ salaries compared to other professions have deteriorated and it's driving the recruitment crisis'

It's blindingly obvious there is an urgent case for an uplift to teachers’ pay higher than the 1 per cent limit set by the government, says one union leader

Mary Bousted

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OK, now what everyone already knew is official. Teacher and school leaders’ pay is falling behind that of comparable graduate professions and combining with other issues (notably excessive workload) to create a teacher supply crisis.

Last week’s School Teachers’ Review Body (STRB) report is clarion clear in its analysis of the impending crisis of inadequate teacher recruitment and retention. In no particular order, the STRB concludes:

  • Recruitment and retention pressures have become more acute, creating a challenging climate for schools.
  • There are significant shortfalls in recruitment to initial teacher training (ITT) for the secondary sector and an increase in teacher vacancies, including in all the core subjects.
  • There is a significant increase in the number of teachers resigning from the profession (including higher wastage in the early years of service) at a time when pupil numbers are increasing, adding to the demand for teachers.
  • The STRB’s analysis of earnings data shows that the relative position of teachers’ earnings has deteriorated further this year and continues to trail those of other professional occupations in most regions.

The STRB report says: “We are concerned about this further deterioration in the recruitment and retention position when set against strong demand in the graduate labour market and continuing concerns in the profession about workload”.

And just what does the STRB want the government to do to tackle teacher recruitment and retention shortages? Pay teachers more. There is a case, says the STRB, for an uplift to teachers’ pay higher than the 1 per cent limit set by the government.

All this is, of course, blindingly obvious. Teachers, in common with the rest of the public sector workforce, have had their pay held down by the government in order to lower public spending. Artificially low levels of pay are now taking their toll on the number of graduates entering the profession. Around 35,000 to 40,000 new teachers are needed, each year, to replace those who retire or leave the profession before retirement (and the number of early leavers is now at its highest ever). In the immortal words of the crew of Apollo 13 as their oxygen tank exploded, “Houston, we have a problem”; something I have said before about recruitment and retention.

However, this is not a problem that is acknowledged by the government. Education ministers sail blithely on, declaring that more teachers are employed now than ever before, and that their reforms to ITT are a great success. The evidence does not support that view, but Michael Gove, the architect of these reforms, has declared that the country is sick of the views of experts. I would be very interested to know who or what is replacing evidence and expertise in the government’s policy-making?

The STRB is also concerned about the implementation and use of performance-related pay (PRP) in schools, arguing that many schools are not yet confident in using pay flexibilities to determine individual teachers’ pay. This is, frankly, unsurprising. PRP was not desired by the profession, remains unwanted, and will continue to be unfair and ineffective. I have said it before, but it bears repeating, that there is no evidence, from any education system in the world, that PRP raises educational standards, something the Department for Education (DfE) had to admit in its own evidence to the STRB.

Indeed, it seems that, having introduced PRP, the government is unwilling to examine how it has been implemented in schools, and with what consequences. This lack of evidence troubles the STRB, which rebukes the government sharply in its latest report: “We noted in our last report the importance of receiving detailed evidence from a major evaluation of the recent pay reforms, commissioned by the DfE. Disappointingly, this is not yet available.”

Ahead of publication of the STRB report, the implementation of PRP was raised during House of Commons education questions when Marion Fellows, the Scottish national party member of the education select committee, asked schools minister Nick Gibb what assessment the secretary of state had carried out on the effect of deregulation of pay scales on teacher morale and retention. Nick Gibb’s answer is instructive. He replied: “Flexibility is of course important. It enables academies to flex their salaries to recruit and retain the top-quality graduates they need. It is a very worthwhile policy and it is working.”

Look at this reply carefully. Note that Nick Gibb does not answer the question. He cannot do so because the government has made no assessment of the effect of pay deregulation and, in the absence of any evidence, the schools minister has to rely on his assertion that everything in the pay garden is rosy. (I would welcome the ability to have such an optimistic view and wonder whether the schools minister is relying on tarot cards or palm reading in place of evidence.)

Nick Gibb went on to assert that market forces would drive up teachers’ pay. Something for which there is no shred of evidence. Schools are not operating in a free market. The government has imposed limits on school budgets, which, according to the highly respected Institute for Fiscal Studies, it is cutting, in real terms, by about 8% per pupil over the course of this parliament. The only way some teachers can be paid more is for other teachers to be paid less, and when 14 out of 17 secondary subjects are now shortage subjects, there are very few areas where school leaders can afford, if they want to have a teacher in that subject, to pay them less.

Education ministers have two essential duties to perform. They must guarantee sufficient school places and sufficient teachers. The evidence is clear that they are failing on both and this should worry them greatly. But perhaps the ministerial tarot cards foretell a different future? Who can say?

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

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