Schools

Councils offer school support staff pay rise worth almost £2,000 each

It leaves schools facing another unfunded cost increase that will further stretch budgets

It leaves schools facing another unfunded cost increase that will further stretch budgets

25 Jul 2022, 16:41

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Local authorities have offered school support staff and other council workers a £1,925 pay rise.

The offer, if agreed by unions, would mean a 10.5 per cent hike for the lowest-paid and 4.04 per cent for higher earners covered by the agreement, according to National Employers, which represents councils.

Three unions – Unison, the GMB and Unite – had demanded the higher of a £2,000 rise or a rise that matches inflation, as measured by the retail price index (RPI) – which now stands at 11.8 per cent.

They had also called for school support staff retention payments to help tackle growing staff shortages, but this was rejected – as were calls for a one-off “Covid-19 recognition payment”. But employers did offer an extra day’s annual leave.

It leaves schools shouldering another big hit to their budgets after the government upped its pay rise offer to senior teachers to five per cent without providing additional funding. DfE analysis suggests core funding to mainstream schools will rise by 6.8 per cent in 2022-23.

Pay spines for 1.4 million council staff are negotiated via the National Joint Council for Local Government Services, made up of local authority employers and unions. Individual councils choose where to place staff on payscales.

Decisions will affect many non-teaching staff not only in maintained schools and council education departments, but also employees of academy trusts which continue to follow the NJC’s so-called ‘green book’ terms-and-conditions agreement. School support staff include TAs, learning assistants, technicians, administrative and auxilliary staff.

Micon Metcalfe, a school finance expert, said the pay claim was “quite progressive” given the much larger uplift for lower-paid staff. But she warned it would be “expensive for schools, given most of the NJC workforce [is] on lower grades”.

The total cost for councils of the one-year pay offer, backdated to April, is estimated at £1.045 billion.

National Employers has written to central government saying the rising national minimum wage had a “major impact” on the offer, which is described as “mitigating step” to prevent the vast majority of non-teaching school staff falling onto the minimum wage.

Without new central government funding, “jobs and services will be at risk” and some councils will have “significant difficulty” affording the pay award.

Unions say staff can’t afford essentials

Unions will now consult staff on the offer. Mike Short, Unison’s head of education, said it was “better than employees might have expected” given previous limited rises, but “not enough” to make up for a decade of squeezed pay.

GMB national secretary Rehana Azam said the offer “warrants further scrutiny”. But Unite’s acting national officer Clare Keogh called it “another pay cut dressed up as a pay increase”.

The unions had warned in their pay claim in early June that many staff were struggling to make ends meet, and claimed average council pay had fallen by more than a quarter in real terms since 2010.

A recent Schools Week investigation revealed three-quarters of school support staff say they are struggling to afford the essentials. One East Midlands teaching assistant (TA) said she could no longer afford presents for her grandson, big supermarket shops or £3 school dinners.

It also revealed TA vacancies are now at double pre-Covid levels, with wages failing to keep pace with jobs in supermarket and pubs just as fuel and food costs soar.

But councils warned of “significant” budget pressures when unions first made their pay claim, saying they had lost £15 billion in government funding since 2010. The LGA also warned recently that the rising minimum wage and energy and other bills alone risked forcing services cutbacks.

Wider industrial unrest over school pay

The latest pay offer come after the government announced a 5 per cent rise for most teachers last week, and higher rises for new teacher starting salaries.

Teachers’ union NEU and leaders’ union ASCL both said they would consult members on potential industrial action over the rises. ASCL general secretary Geoff Barton dubbed the offer “wholly inadequate”.

But the DfE claimed that the 5 per cent rise for experienced teachers was a “responsible solution to both supporting teachers with the cost of living and the sound management of schools’ budgets”.

Meanwhile nurses were recently promised a 4 per cent pay rise, and police officers have been promised £1,400 each. In the private sector, current wages are up 8 per cent on a year ago, versus 1.5 per cent in the public sector, according to official figures.

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