The government’s claim its teacher pay deal is “fully-funded” on a national level is backed up by evidence, but ministers must be more transparent about affordability for individual schools, the statistics watchdog has ruled.
The Department for Education has agreed to publish more information on high needs funding in future school costs analysis after intervention from the Office for Statistics Regulation, amid fears national figures mask greater financial difficulty in special schools.
Officials referred themselves to the watchdog over their claim the pay offer of £1,000 this year and 4.3 per cent rises for most teachers next year is fully-funded. The National Education Union also complained about the claim.
Today the OSR ruled that although it was “not within our remit to judge the affordability of any pay offer”, the DfE “has evidenced its claim that the offer is fully funded in line with its definition”.
But director-general Ed Humpherson acknowledged “some users may interpret fully funded to refer to the individual school level”.
It follows criticism that the government’s evidence on affordability looked at an average across the school system, masking problems on the ground, for example in special schools.
“In the light of this difference of interpretation, it is important that the Department for Education continues to support understanding by being clear about its use of the term fully funded.”
Humpherson urged the government to “consider including more information on high needs funding”.
“Users made us aware that they would benefit from more detailed information on the estimates of the size of high needs funding and we welcome the DfE’s commitment to publish this in future.”
To “enhance transparency”, he also urged the DfE to “consider including its definition of fully funded” in future analysis.
‘Schools are not funded on a national average’
The NEU’s complaint to the OSR warned education secretary Gillian Keegan had “given an assurance that is not reasonably supported” by the evidence in a school costs technical note and a blog post for headteachers on March 28.
They pointed to a broadcast interview in which the education secretary claimed the pay rise would not cut into school services.
The complaint also warned of a lack of estimates for high needs funding, the use of unpublished internal modelling on teacher number projections and a lack of per-pupil price inflation figures.
The OSR said in response that the DfE had committed to sharing high needs funding details in future, that published teacher number projections had since been updated and it was not yet “possible” to calculate per-pupil price inflation for 2023-24.
The NEU said today the government “has had to accept that it failed to provide the adequate information” in evidence presented to school leaders.
Joint general secretary Kevin Courtney said education secretary Gillian Keegan “should learn from this adjudication, that she should not be using national-level costing to tell individual schools what they can or cannot afford”.
“Schools are not funded on a national average. The majority of schools will not be able to afford even a 4.5 per cent pay rise without making cuts to provision.”
But a DfE spokesperson said it had “made a pay offer to unions that was fair, reasonable, and recognised teachers’ hard work”.
“As per our published calculations, the pay offer would also have been fully funded, and we welcome the OSR’s recognition that we have communicated this transparently.”
DfE analysis ‘clearly sourced’
The OSR said it was “not within our remit to judge the affordability of any pay offer”, but had “considered the clarity of the publicly available information on this topic”.
Humpherson said the DfE had published a “considerable amount of information on the pay offer”.
The technical note, which was published before the revised offer was made to unions, set out “analysis of cost increases that mainstream schools are expected to face and how this has been considered in determining the pay offer”.
It concluded that a 3.5 per cent average rise originally proposed by the DfE before negotiations would be “affordable” for schools from their current budgets given extra funding announced at the autumn statement.
Humpherson said the analysis was “clearly sourced throughout in the footnotes and in the annex. In addition, there is a dedicated section on ‘data quality, limitations of analysis and key assumptions’.”
After the note was published, the DfE revised its offer, and also pledged £620 million of extra funding which it said, along with lower-than-expected energy cost rises, would make the new offer affordable.
Humpherson said “it is our understanding that when used in this context by the Department for Education, the term ‘fully funded’ refers to the national level rather than at the individual school level”.
He said the DfE had acknowledged in its evidence to the School Teachers’ Review Body that “as schools have different budgetary pressures, not all schools will experience the additional expenditure represented in the national average estimates”.
This is “reiterated” in the technical note, where the data quality information states “the cost increases presented are averages across all schools in England and should not be read as pertaining to individual schools”.