Unions fear little will change on workload front despite pay rise

TO state the obvious, it is difficult for anyone to judge the merits of this week's announcement on pay without knowing the likely salary increases on offer.

Teachers' unions are at pains not to rule out a three-year deal, because there are positive precedents. Last year's McCrone agreement in Scotland, after all, offered a 23 per cent uplift over three years.

And the country's largest union, Unison, talks favourably of a three-year deal north of the border two years ago which offered its members a minimum wage of pound;5 an hour.

But the Government reiterated this week that McCrone-style figures are not on the table. So what can teachers expect? Big clues are provided by last month's comprehensive spending review.

That revealed that council education budgets would rise by around 6 per cent a year, or 3.5 per cent in real terms, to 2006. The rise would be 19 per cent over the three years - not far short of Scotland's McCrone deal.

This gives a good initial guide as to the likely increase in the overall salary bill, as pay makes up around 80 per cent of school budgets.

However, if schools take on thousands more support staff, as the Government indicates they must as it seeks to "remodel" the profession, each teacher is unlikely to see such a large annual increase, because more people will have to be paid.

Schools could be free to use the extra money coming to them directly from Government through, for example, the standards grant or funding for specialist college status. But the bulk of the salary bill will still come from core budgets.

As a result, salaries are likely to rise, but not of the order of the Scottish deal. Increases more in line with this year's 3.5 per cent rise might be expected.

Unions also fear that ministers could attempt to buy off teachers with a big increase next year, followed by smaller ones in 2005 and 2006.

The Government will be able to back its proposals in the autumn with a package designed to cut teacher workload, to include guaranteed non-contact time for all staff and extra administrative support.

But unions are already worrying that their members will not see much change on the workload front this year. Couple this with the prospect of being locked into a three-year pay framework offering relatively low annual increases, rising militancy could be on the cards in the autumn.

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