Happiness and gratitude were presumably what teachers were expected to feel when a key ally of Boris Johnson yesterday announced that it was time to show them “some love”.
“The days of pay freezes are over,” said health secretary Matt Hancock in comments reported as representing the intentions of the favourite to become our next PM.
“Now that there's money available, we need to show the public sector some love – they do a brilliant job for the country,” he continued.
Put aside for a minute the not insignificant question of whether this pledge will actually amount to anything extra for teachers.
The language he used implied that a pay rise for teachers would be some kind of extra gift, a bonus from a generous, benevolent employer, who recognises their “brilliant” contribution.
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But Mr Hancock neglected to mention the reality of why teachers desperately need more money – that since 2005 teachers in England have taken the second biggest pay cut in the developed world, that the starting salary for an NQT has fallen in real terms by 10 per cent between 2010-17, and that most teachers were handed another real-terms pay cut in September.
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His language also failed to acknowledge the national necessity of paying more to teachers for a schools system going through a recruitment crisis, which needs 47,000 extra secondary teachers in the next five years, with 40 per cent of the existing workforce expected to quit over the same period.
Mr Hancock’s choice of words betrayed a worrying gulf between the perceptions of those at the top and the reality for those teaching in our schools.
It is dangerous to view more pay for a profession struggling to recruit and retain essential staff as a political bauble, a treat that our capricious masters can toss out to the grateful workers when they’re in a good mood.
There isn’t just a moral obligation to pay people properly for the essential work they do, there is a national imperative to make sure our schools have the good teachers they need.
And, unfortunately, it’s not the first time we’ve seen this kind of attitude. Remember chancellor Philip Hammond’s out-of-touch comments about giving schools more money for the “little extras” just as they were laying off teachers and cutting courses in what is the biggest school funding crisis for a generation.
The fear is that Team Johnson’s pledge betrays a wider truth about how little regard a largely privately schooled elite has for state education.
Then there is the question of what the promises would actually amount to. Where teachers are concerned, the pay freeze is already officially over anyway – thanks to the fact that the minority of the profession on the main scale was awarded a 3.5 per cent pay rise last year (although it seems many are not actually receiving the rise).
So fulfilling Mr Hancock’s words could actually amount to precisely nothing extra for teachers. Like Mr Johnson’s pledge to redress geographical unfairness in school funding, ending the teacher pay freeze is a policy that has, in fact, already been put into practice, albeit with less than overwhelming results.
Obviously, we know that detail has never been Mr Johnson’s thing. But the fact that he and his team have failed to grasp the current reality on both school funding and teacher pay – or even keep policy pledges alive for a day – does not bode well for the future.
William Stewart is news editor at Tes