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.

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  1. Janet Downs

    The pay freeze combined with underfunding and the removal of the requirement for teachers in academies to be qualified undermines the English education system. The DfE advocates using more off-the shelf materials, often delivered on-line, to reduce workload. This is helped along by the tutoring scheme which outsources delivery. Since 2010, successive governments have chipped away at education in England. We are moving ever nearer to Cummings’ vision of Direct Instruction (DI) for all but the most ‘gifted’.

  2. Robert fryer

    This is disrespectful, if carried out.
    As a practicing teacher (also in my first year of teaching) I have first handedly been part of the hugely increased workload which has left myself and other teachers exhausted. It is now a legal requirement to provide online material for those self isolating (fantastic) but it is not close to being a case of uploading the work from class, a brand new online friendly version of the class material needs uploading.
    The extra meetings to ensure covid security, the extra meetings to assess students progress during isolation periods, the expectation that those who are not competing coursework catch up (1 to 1 meetings) get caught up, the intervention after school lesson.. all of these have been initiated by covid. To freeze pay now is nothing short of ignorance and disrespect (teachers pay is roughly 6.5% short of the equivalent wage in 2008, currently, and is well below the private sector way for a graduate with a degree (note PGCE pathway teachers have part of a masters)
    No teacher I know of has mentions this as we get on the it and play our part as members of the country.
    There have been many teachers quit already and has causes staff shortages. (NQT teachers are the last to be called upon to cover lessons (as per DFE guidelines) we are doing so on a semi regular basis.
    Why penalise teachers when we are putting our hearts and souls into our jobs which are demanding increasingly more and more outside of our 8 – 5 hours?

  3. Gez Parks

    Missed teacher recruitment targets for years in most subjects due to years of pay restraint or very very modest pay increases. I’m sure a pay freeze to pay for Covid will help with recruitment and retention. I for one can’t wait to escape the sinking ship. Incidentally what are they doing about the billions of pounds of money squirreled away in off shore tax havens for the rich or the numerous loop holes for tax avoidance from the wealthy. Not much I’d guess.

  4. Gez Parks

    Missed teacher recruitment targets for years in most subjects due to years of pay restraint or very very modest pay increases. I’m sure a pay freeze to pay for Covid will help with recruitment and retention. I for one can’t wait to escape the sinking ship. Incidentally what are they doing about the billions of pounds of money squirreled away in off shore tax havens for the rich or the numerous loop holes for tax avoidance from the wealthy? Not much I’d guess.

  5. Pro rata a teachers pay for holidays to anyone else who works a full time job and they are already paid very well. holidays = 1 year in 4 on holiday. Throughout covid unions have been unwilling to work more then any other industry. I have had to work in a factory throughout the pandemic and my wife an ambulance driver had to cover extra shifts. We got on with it, and had to cover child care issues. Stop moaning and do your job, or if its that bad get another job.

  6. My wife was made redundant and because of school closures is struggling to cover child care and thus be able to apply for another job. I earn £63k a year so I am having to cover both of us. Because of this I get taxed at 40%, no child allowance and work 12 hour shifts for my money. Because of the way this country is setup we would be better off financially if we both only had average jobs earning £25k each, what’s the incentive to work hard in this country? take the 1% and get back to work. 1% is more then most people in the private sector will get this year anyway!

  7. I’m a teacher (for about 5 years). I work longer hours than all of my non-teaching friends (who all work hard in respected jobs).
    Then during the pandemic I was working 14 hour days, 6 days a week, not even stopping for lunch. That was just to be coping with the basic requirement of home learning provisions.
    Since the first lockdown I have had my (already tough) job made harder by the mental, social and academic issues the children in my classes have displayed. We’ve had self-confidence, friendship, lack of resilience, emotional, family conflicts, safe-guarding, special educational needs, incredibly low academic progress and behaviour issues to deal with every day from multiple children. Then throw in the parents who are all very anxious about their child’s return and passing those concerns onto their child- it’s not good. It’s not just working the long hours during lockdown, it’s the picking up the shattered pieces of a vulnerable generation that’s going to be the challenging part. You need to have skilled professionals who are able to do that role going forward. You need experienced staff for that.

    This doesn’t include the overnight adaption to new ways of learning, constant changes in protocols, learning about new methods of content delivery, learning to use different technology to adapt curriculum content to make lessons more interesting to encourage reluctant learners. The courses we were told to attend, the parents evenings we held, the subject specialism focus days and the meetings we attended or hosted.
    To be doing all this and then have members of the public say, “Teachers are just lazy and don’t want to work and that’s why schools are shut,” is very disrespectful. We’ve worked everyday of lockdown school term and most teachers have worked through their holidays. Therefore, to say we get longer holidays so don’t deserve a pay rise means we should be paid for the days in the holidays and weekends we do work. It would be cheaper to just not freeze the pay.

    It certainly does not help when the media and politicians make out that we have been teaching children in rooms where they can be 2 metres apart and imply we only have 6 children per class. We’ve been teaching groups of 30+ from the start of the new academic school year.

    Having said all this, I’m not saying that teachers must be given a pay rise. The country’s taken a big financial hit and we are all in this together. I believe that every key worker who has worked under challenging conditions should be treated with more respect. All the supermarket workers who have taken abuse from agitated customers, the utilities providers who have kept the water, gas, electricity and internet going for everyone. The countless hours emergency services have had to put in to keep people safe and I could go on to mention so many more vital people who have gone above and beyond their job role.

    The professions which stand out in needing their increase the most are the care givers and life savers. People working as part of the NHS or in care homes. They have sacrificed parts of themselves, their mental and physical health the most, since lockdown began. They need to be looked after. Their importance made clearer than ever before. Their compassion, kindness, selflessness and generosity seen by all. Let’s not forget that as we feel our dependence on them withdraw as a nation.

    I feel I have earned a pay rise but I would put that on hold for the respect my profession deserves. My colleagues and I have worked tirelessly and some people think we’ve been on holiday or had it easy. As a teacher, that’s what hurts the most.