Talking makes better sense than walking

18th April 2008 at 01:00
Teachers are the backbone of our education system. Everyone wants well paid, highly motivated, highly skilled professionals teaching our children. That is why over the last 10 years the Government and the teaching profession have made massive strides in improving children's education and teachers' pay and conditions.

Teachers' pay has increased by 19 per cent in real terms since 1997, and this is without the salary increases that teachers receive as they work their way up the pay scales. With normal salary progression, a newly qualified teacher who started in 1997 on pound;14,280 would now receive pound;34,281. This represents a cash increase of 140 per cent and a real- terms increase of 86 per cent.

An experienced teacher at the top of the classroom teacher pay scale in 1997 received pound;21,318 in England and Wales. An equivalent teacher at the top of that pay scale is now on pound;34,281. In inner London, the same teacher would have received pound;23,379 in 1997 and pound;41,004 now, a real-terms increase of 36 per cent.

Partnership has delivered other benefits, including more protected planning and preparation time, and has helped teachers to focus on what they do best. They are now supported by more than 100,000 new teaching assistants. Altogether, there are now 39,000 more full-time equivalent teachers than 10 years ago.

Ed Balls and I are determined to maintain the position of teaching as an attractive, high-status profession. That is why earlier this year we announced we would accept the pay recommendations of the independent School Teachers' Review Body (STRB) in full and without staging.

We accepted the review body's recommendations for a three-year award, with a 2.45 per cent basic pay rise for teachers from September 2008, additional increases for many London teachers, and increases of 2.3 per cent per year for the following two years.

Of course, teachers must be properly rewarded. But it is because teachers have mortgages too that I know they understand the need for a pay deal that helps deliver low inflation, low interest rates, and a stable economy.

The pay-review-body process involves proper consultation with all the unions, including the NUT, with whom I met to discuss the recommendations. It has delivered real gains for teachers over the long term, and it is an ongoing partnership.

Last week we published our response to Part 2 of the STRB's report, and again invited comments from all the teaching unions on this and wider issues. It is this kind of process through which matters such as pay and conditions for teachers should be decided.

So, we do understand that some teachers are concerned about pay and workload, and we are committed to further discussions. However, it is also clear that the majority of teachers don't want a strike. The NUT ballot was backed by less than a quarter of their members - only around one in 10 of all teachers. None of the other teacher unions has chosen this course.

We believe that all teachers should be teaching and talking - and not walking out next week.

The right way to discuss and decide on questions of pay and conditions is through a transparent and independent process, the outcome of which all parties respect. That is the course we have chosen, and by working together we can continue to strengthen the teaching profession and continue to deliver excellent education for all children and families.

Jim Knight, Schools Minister.

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