The National Education Union should “seek clarity” from the statistics watchdog about its claim the government has “failed to provide adequate information on funding” for teacher pay, the education secretary has said.
The Office for Statistics Regulation ruled last week that the government’s claim its teacher pay deal is “fully-funded” on a national level is backed up by evidence, but said ministers must be more transparent about affordability for individual schools.
In particular, the watchdog urged the DfE to “consider including its definition of fully funded” in future analysis of school costs, to “enhance transparency”.
In response, the NEU, which had complained to the OSR about DfE claims about the offer, said the government “failed to provide the adequate information on funding to school leaders” in a blog post on March 28.
Today, education secretary Gillian Keegan wrote to NEU leaders Dr Mary Bousted and Kevin Courtney.
She said the OSR judgment “appears to contradict several statements on your website”, though she only pointed to the one about inadequate information.
“I am sure you will endeavour to seek clarity from the OSR, as I have done, and correct those statements if necessary.”
She added that “as a leader and public figure, I know I have a duty to act with integrity, objectivity and accountability”.
“That is why I was keen for the UK Stats Authority to review my department’s presentation of the facts and supporting evidence. I believe all parties in this dispute should seek to uphold these standards as we seek resolution to the teacher pay dispute.”
The letter stated that “polling evidence from Teacher Tapp suggested that teachers would have accepted the offer had they believed it was funded”.
Fourty per cent of teachers said they would accept the government’s teacher pay offer if it was fully funded. Just under a third said they would not accept it, while a quarter were unsure.
DfE was urged to define ‘fully-funded’
Last week 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.
Keegan claimed the OSR’s response had been “unequivocal”, and noted that the STRB evidence and school costs technical document “are clear that the Department’s approach focuses on averages across all schools in England”.
She also said the OSR had concluded the claim of fully-funded was evidenced “in line with the definition used in the evidence that the department provided to the School Teachers’ Review Body, and in the Schools’ Costs Technical Note, both published in February”.
However, a search of the documents reveals that the phrase “fully-funded” is only used once in relation to National Professional Qualifications, not in relation to pay. Both documents were also prepared before the government made its improved pay offer in March.
In a response to Keegan, Bousted and Courtney noted her letter “doesn’t include that definition – and this doesn’t aid public understanding of these issues”.
“The NEU estimates that 70 per cent of schools will receive less from you in increased funding than your estimate of their increased costs.
“To aid public understanding could you clarify what proportion of schools you believe will receive increases in funding which are less than their increases in costs?”
The DfE was approached for clarification about what definition Keegan was referring-to.
The lack of a definition of “fully-funded” in analysis was also a bone of contention for the OSR. To “enhance transparency”, Humpherson last week urged the DfE to “consider including its definition of fully funded” in future analysis.