Pay freeze would be 'final straw' for teachers and leaders, say unions

A pay freeze for teachers next year could prompt an “exodus from the profession”, a school leadership union has warned, following reports of an impending announcement by the Chancellor.

The government is also refusing to comment on whether the reports mean that its pledge to raise teachers’ starting salaries to £30,000 by 2022 will be scrapped.

Multiple news outlets reported last night that around 5.5 million public sector workers, including teachers, will face a pay freeze next year as the Treasury moves to improve public finances in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

The chancellor Rishi Sunak is due to set out his comprehensive spending review for the next financial year next week. Launching the review in July, Sunak outlined that “restraint” in future public sector pay awards was needed to ensure public sector pay levels “retain parity with the private sector”.

But the government is yet to confirm whether this means its pledge to raise teachers’ starting salaries and adjust other grades accordingly will still be honoured. It is also not clear whether any pay freeze would also affect school support.

Geoff Barton, the general secretary of the ASCL school leadership union, warned today that the prospect of a pay freeze “will be the final straw” for experienced teachers and leaders, adding: “We are extremely concerned that it will lead to an exodus from the profession.”

He also criticised the government for trailing the announcement in the media before speaking directly to those affected, describing the move as “infuriating”.

“If the government goes down the road of imposing a pay freeze on top of everything else, it is in danger of precipitating a crisis in which many teachers and leaders decide enough is enough.”

Barton said teachers and leaders had worked “under relentless pressure during the coronavirus pandemic and are on the frontline of managing public health measures while also delivering education”.

“In addition, their pay has not recovered from a decade of austerity, their schools are underfunded, and they are subjected to an excessively harsh accountability regime. There is only so much that people can take.”

Paul Whiteman, head of the NAHT leaders’ union, said a pay freeze would be “seen as a huge kick in the teeth” for school staff.

“Undoubtedly the costs of Covid have been significant, but the government is looking for the wrong solution to the problem of balancing the national budget,” he said.

“Another slap in the face on pay, after years of pay freezes and an unbelievably challenging 2020 is an insult that many school staff will be absolutely stunned by.”

The news follows a sharp uptick in applications to teacher training as a result of the pandemic and ensuing recession.

The government has reported a 30 per cent increase in teacher training applications between February and August compared to the same time last year, prompting it to slash teacher training bursaries, including retention payments in some shortage subjects.

However, leaders warned at the time that a rise in applications would not necessarily deal with potential issues with retention a few years down the line.

The NASUWT teaching union has also condemned the reports that pay will be frozen.

Dr Patrick Roach, the union’s general secretary, said failing to invest in teachers was “failing to invest in children’s futures”.

“As children and young people try to recover from the impact of the pandemic, they need more than ever the expertise of experienced and qualified teachers in the classroom. Freezing teachers’ pay means risking the loss of that expertise.

“Any move to freeze the pay of teachers is out of step with public opinion and is a slap in the face to the teaching profession.”

In July, the DfE confirmed starting salaries for new teachers would rise by 5.5 per cent from September, with the upper and lower boundaries of the pay ranges for all other teachers rising by 2.75 per cent.

The government pledged last year to raise teachers’ starting salaries to £30,000 by 2022, an increase of up to £6,000, or 25 per cent. However, ministers said the rises would have to be funded from planned increases to school budgets over the next three years.

The DfE declined to comment, and the Treasury said it would not comment on “speculation”.

News of potential pay freezes come after the Centre for Policy Studies think tank said a three-year pay freeze could save £23 billion, or £15bn if NHS workers are exempt.