Education secretary Gillian Keegan has warned the School Teachers’ Review Body (STRB) to consider the impact of next year’s pay recommendations on inflation.
In her remit letter to the body, published today, Keegan said it was “particularly important that you have regard to the government’s inflation target” when drawing up proposals for 2023-24 pay awards.
She said they must “strike a careful balance, recognising the vital importance of teachers and other public sector workers, whilst […] not increasing the country’s debt further, and being careful not to drive prices even higher in the future”.
The government has set the Bank of England a target to keep inflation at 2 per cent. The current rate of inflation in the UK is 11.1 per cent.
The STRB is expected deliver its proposals on salaries for teachers, unqualified teachers and school leaders for the next academic year in May.
It comes after teacher pay rises announced by the government this year were unfunded, meaning schools have been forced to find other ways to cover the cost.
Keegan’s letter advises the STRB to take into account the “cost pressures that schools are already facing”. The chancellor’s autumn statement tomorrow is expected to set out school spending levels over the next few years.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said: “This strongly suggests the government has no intention of providing any additional funding to enable schools to pay the award to their staff.
“Schools simply cannot afford the cost of unfunded pay awards and they will be driven further into the red unless the government provides the necessary funding.”
Government to consider wide role for pay body
The Department of Education (DfE) can choose to be more explicit in the remits it sets for the STRB, as it was when public sector pay rises were capped at 1 per cent between 2011 and 2017, or when pay for most staff was frozen in 2021.
This prompted accusations that the DfE was seeking to “constrain” the supposedly-independent review body.
But Keegan’s latest letter is broader, with no specific constraints placed on the rises it can recommend.
It asks the STRB to “take into account” the government’s commitment to boost starting salaries to £30,000. It does not state that this aim must be achieved by next year, although government has previously committed to delivering this.
In its 32nd report, published in July, the STRB set out its desire to review and make proposals for a “coherent [pay] framework” that “incentivises” teachers amid ongoing recruitment and retention policies.
Responding in her letter today, Keegan invited the body to come up with “an initial view” on areas within its scope that would “most benefit from future exploration” to support this aim.
If DfE decided to progress, “it would consider engaging the STRB through the remit process for future years”.
Letter comes amid looming strikes
The DfE awarded experienced teachers a 5 per cent pay rise from this September. The STRB had recommended a 3 per cent rise and higher rises to starting salaries in 2023.
Starting salaries also rose by 8.9 per cent as planned, as part of the pledge to raise starting pay to £30,000.
But unions argue the increases do not go far enough. Ballots on industrial action over pay are currently being held by the teachers’ union NASUWT, as well as school leaders’ union NAHT.
The National Education Union (NEU) is also balloting teachers on strikes, which have been pencilled in for the end of January.
An analysis by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) estimated the value of experienced teacher pay will be 14 per cent lower in real-terms than in 2010.
Reports suggest chancellor Jeremy Hunt is considering sticking to the 2021 spending review allocations, which would see school funding increase by 2.2 per cent in real-terms by 2024.
But the IFS has said current inflation means schools will be 3 per cent worse off by then than they were in 2010.