The Knowledge

How is the cost of living crisis affecting teachers and schools?

Iain Ford sets out what we know about the state of teachers' finances - and what the rising cost of living might mean for recruitment and retention

Iain Ford sets out what we know about the state of teachers' finances - and what the rising cost of living might mean for recruitment and retention

14 Feb 2022, 5:00

With rising food costs coming amid a surge in energy prices, the increase in the cost of living will be forcing many to tighten their belts even further. It comes after 14 years during which the IfS says early-career teacher pay (M1-M6) has effectively fallen by between four and five per cent, while more experienced teachers have seen a real-terms pay cut of eight per cent.

So what does that mean for teachers, and what could it mean for schools? To create a picture of the impact of rising prices on the profession, Teacher Tapp asked over 7,500 teachers about the factors that are a drain on their incomes.

First and foremost, in spite of the IfS figures, the average teacher actually feels like they currently live reasonably comfortably, with 86 per cent saying they have enough money to live on and to save throughout the year. In fact, the pandemic appears to have slightly helped teachers’ funds, as this represents a small increase from the last time we asked, in January 2020.

However, If we’ve learnt anything from the mutant algorithm fiasco it is that it would be remiss just to look at averages. That would ignore the 13 per cent who say they are just scraping by and one per cent who report that their incomes fall well short of what they need. If this holds true across the population, almost 150,000 teachers are scraping by!

As discussed in these pages recently, many teachers have to resort to driving in order to get to school each day. This reliance on the car drives up costs, particularly for those in more rural regions, and it’s made worse by rising fuel prices. In Yorkshire and the north-east, 38 per cent of teachers report spending over £200 per month on travelling to school and back alone.

Living in a high-rent, high-travel area is enough to cause a huge strain on take-home pay

London’s teachers report the lowest travel costs, with eight per cent not spending a penny on their commute, but their average is still over £100 per month. And what Londoners save in travel expenses, they more than make up for in mortgage or rent payments. Almost one-third of teachers in London spend over £1,000 per month on these, compared to a national average of around £650 per month.

Considering these two expenses alone, it’s no surprise that a significant percentage of teachers are living uncomfortably. And we haven’t even mentioned the 22 per cent of teachers who pay for childcare costs, or the monthly cost of bills. Living in a high-rent, high-travel area is enough to cause a huge strain on take-home pay.

Teachers who are struggling are making sacrifices elsewhere, and many are opting to make themselves potentially poorer later in order to make ends meet now. As many as ten per cent say they have at some point in their career opted out of the Teachers’ Pensions scheme because they couldn’t afford it, and those who say they are scraping by are more likely to opt out of it.

Some teachers may go even further to make ends meet as prices increase. Ten per cent already report earning some extra money through tutoring. And with classroom teachers routinely working on average around 45 hours per week and already reporting high levels of anxiety, adding on extra responsibilities can only be interpreted as a measure of last resort.

This picture is only a snapshot and it seems inevitable that the percentage of teachers who say they are scraping by or not earning enough (an already quite shocking 14 per cent) will increase over the coming weeks and months.

And the impact is unlikely to be just on them. Those same IfS figures I mentioned earlier drew a direct link between declines in teacher pay and worsening recruitment and retention.

With the rest of the economy recovering, and wages across the piece now higher than before the financial crisis, it’s no surprise that the NFER’s Jack Worth is reporting that this week’s DfE figures show recruitment down, “and not on a healthy trajectory”.

The cost of living crisis may put a real squeeze on already struggling schools too.

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  1. Annelies

    I am a supply teacher. We are very much in demand at the moment. But … I am working in a school an hour’s drive from home – that is a lot of fuel!
    I choose to stay there because it gives the students a degree of continuity at a difficult time when their normal teacher is off.
    But part of me thinks I could work in a school 5 minutes away for the same money and not have to spend 2 hours travelling and face ever increasing fuel costs 🙁

  2. Amy Stephens

    Now imagine those who are forced into working through agencies, due to a lack of direct employment opportunities.

    Often paid less than M1, work cancelled whilst you are already travelling to an assignment, no access to teachers pension scheme, weeks where no work is available despite the teacher making themselves available through numerous different agencies.

    End the agency rip off!