The government has been accused of making an “unacceptable attack” on teacher pay, after the education secretary instructed the body that oversees the matter not to recommend rises for most teachers.
Gavin Williamson has written to the School Teachers’ Review Body (STRB) asking for its recommendations on “uplifts” for the lowest-paid teachers only.
The STRB makes recommendations to the government on teacher pay based on a “remit” provided by ministers each year.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced at the spending review that public sector pay for those earning above £24,000 would be frozen in 2021-22. Those below that threshold can expect rises “of at least £250”.
In his remit letter, Williamson confirmed to the STRB that the government will “not be seeking a recommendation from STRB for pay uplifts in 2021/22 for the majority of teachers”.
Patrick Roach, general secretary of the NASUWT teachers’ union, said the move to limit the remit of the STRB was “an unacceptable attack on the independence of the pay body and on the transparency of the process of determining teachers’ pay”.
Williamson pointed to the fallout of the Covid-19 pandemic as a contributing factor to the pay freeze, claiming it was “right to temporarily pause pay awards for the majority of the public sector as we assess the impact Covid-19 has had on the wider economy and labour market”.
However this approach has been condemned by the general secretaries of the NAHT, ASCL and the National Education Union in a joint statement.
They said the “narrow remit” issued to the STRB “excludes the crucial and central issue of teacher and school leader pay, reflecting the government’s unacceptable pay freeze policy”.
“Teachers and leaders have contributed so much to the country’s response to Covid, yet the Government is effectively using the pandemic to justify further attacks on their pay.”
The unions also said the STRB should be “asked to say what it would have recommended but for the pay freeze”, and warned that the teacher supply crisis had been exacerbated in recent years by “below inflation differentiated pay rises”.
The number of people starting initial teacher training courses in England jumped up by 23 per cent this year, with the government achieving its recruitment target for the first time in eight years.
But unions have warned any Covid-related boost could be shortlived, and accused government of “breathtaking complacency”.
“Temporary improvements in recruitment and retention driven by the Covid pandemic do not mean that the deep-seated problems in teacher recruitment and retention have been solved,” the NEU, NAHT and ASCL leaders said in their statement.
While Williamson informed the STRB that his “priority continues to be improving recruitment and retention”, he admitted the pay restraint meant progress towards achieving the government’s pledge of £30,000 starting salaries “will be slower”. Ministers had said this would be met by 2022-23.
The education secretary also asked for recommendations on how the uplift for lower-paid staff could be implemented “in away that minimises distortion of existing pay spines”.
He also asked them to consider how the government could best avoid lower-paid staff getting a pay rise from “leapfrogging” those just over the £24,000 threshold, and said government “will consider modest, necessary awards in excess of the £24,000 threshold to avoid structural issues” if there was a “strong case”