Today's pay deal is another education policy scrabbled together

Education requires stability and long-term planning – the rushed pay announcement demonstrates the DfE is unable to provide it

Geoff Barton

Pay deal delay_editorial

The devil is always in the detail. Today’s long-awaited pay award for teachers looked great at first glance. A fully funded 3.5 per cent pay award no less. At last, a real sign that the government has listened to our concerns over the erosion in the value of teachers’ pay caused by years of pay caps and pay freezes. That it is taking positive action over the teacher recruitment and retention crisis.

But then that initial burst of optimism began to unravel as it became apparent that it was not quite as good as it first seemed.

For a start, the government’s definition of fully funded is not the same as our definition. We think it means providing all the funding necessary to implement the pay award. The government thinks it means “the difference between this award and the cost of the 1 per cent award that schools would have anticipated under the previous public sector pay cap.”

So schools, which have already had to sustain years of cutbacks because government funding has fallen in real terms, will in fact still have to find 1 per cent of the pay award from their own coffers. If this doesn’t sound like very much, it is worth remembering what the Education Policy Institute said in a report on school funding published in March:

“We find that around 2 in 5 state-funded mainstream schools (around 7,500 schools) are unlikely to receive sufficient additional funding in 2018-19 to meet the single cost pressure of a 1 per cent pay settlement. This rises to nearly half in 2019-20 (close to 9,000 schools).”

And then that 3.5 per cent does not actually apply to all teachers but only to those on the main pay range. The good news is that it will cover many of those starting out in the profession and that will make it a more attractive proposition for graduates. But those teachers on the upper pay range will get only 2 per cent and those in the leadership range will receive a miserly 1.5 per cent. 

Given that this is an award that is meant to reflect the rising cost of living, it is pretty unfair to give different rates to different people. It also contradicts the central recommendation of the Independent School Teachers’ Review Body. For the avoidance of doubt, here it is:

“For September 2018, we recommend that all pay and allowance ranges for teachers and school leaders are uplifted by 3.5 per cent.”

Those teachers who find themselves with a lower pay award, despite that recommendation, will be entitled to feel aggrieved. It will feel like a kick in the teeth after all their hard work and commitment. And we need to bear in mind that the crisis in recruitment and retention is keenly felt at all levels. We need people to stay in the profession and progress to leadership posts. At the moment, about 40 per cent leave within the first 10 years.

Then there is the issue of where the extra funding comes from. At the time of writing, we’re still waiting for some detail. But it seems that the DfE has been left to raid other pots of money in the education budget to come up with the funding. This is presumably because it has run into the brick wall of the Treasury. But this will undoubtedly have consequences because those pots of money have been allocated for a reason.

And this begs a deeper question. Isn’t it a basic job of government to provide pay awards for its public servants? It is surely short-termism of the worst kind to rely on spending cuts to public services in order to discharge that responsibility. Don’t we have a right to expect a better long-term strategy from government, not just in respect of education, but in terms of how it manages our public finances?

If this all seems like a negative response to a positive announcement, I apologise. There is cause for some celebration. Today’s pay award improves on those of previous years and the secretary of state deserves credit for finding the money that is needed to at least partially fund that award. We shouldn’t underestimate what a big step forward that is in the context of the recent past. It shows that the department for education has listened to the concerns of the sector, and has done its best within tight constraints.

But it does also show that we need a better way of doing business. Today’s announcement is a scrabbled together compromise on the last day of Parliament and after schools have already broken up for the summer holidays. Education requires stability and long-term planning and we should be able to expect the government to provide a clear course.

Geoff Barton is general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders

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Geoff Barton

Geoff Barton

Geoff Barton is general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders

Find me on Twitter @RealGeoffBarton

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