School support staff unions accept £1,925 pay deal

Pay deal will cost schools around £1bn, leaving budgets 'tight'

Pay deal will cost schools around £1bn, leaving budgets 'tight'

Unions representing school support staff across England have accepted a pay rise worth at least £1,925, putting to bed a long-running dispute.

Unison and the GMB confirmed this week they had backed the offer from councils, worth 3.88 per cent for the highest earners and 9.42 per cent for those at the bottom of the pay scale.

The pay rise will be backdated to April.

According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, the pay deal works out as an 8 per cent average rise for support staff.

The Department for Education said earlier this year that every 1 percentage point increase in support staff pay would cost schools £130 million, which suggests this year’s deal will cost just over £1 billion.

The IfS factored such a rise into its recent school funding analysis, which concluded that school funding would grow by 8 per cent in cash terms in 2023–24, while costs including support staff pay rises would increase by 7.2 per cent.

“This is clearly a large rise in cash terms, but is only just above the overall growth in costs. The picture in 2023–24 therefore remains tight for schools,” warned report author Luke Sibieta.

Both unions had balloted members for strike action over the pay offer, and said they had won ballots in some schools across England. But both decided not to call strikes.

GMB national officer Sharon Wilde said the “message was clear – while members are angry and strike mandates were achieved in hundreds of workplaces, the majority are struggling financially and need the money paid into pay packets now”.

UNISON head of local government Mike Short added pay rise would be “suitably adjusted for part-time and term-time workers. The priority now is to get the money into everyone’s pay packets.”

‘New framework’ needed for business leaders

The deal automatically applies to support staff employed by councils. Academy trusts don’t have to honour the deal, but in practice many do so.

Staff covered by the deal include teaching assistants, caretakers and caterers, but also school business leaders.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the NAHT school leaders’ union, said while the confirmation of the award would “provide schools with some additional clarity, it will likely further exacerbate the funding pressures that so many face”.

Paul Whiteman
Paul Whiteman

He also said that it leaves school business leaders, who will likely be at the top of pay scales, “facing one of the lowest pay awards across the sector.

“This further underscores the need for a new national pay framework for these senior roles, which better recognises the expertise and experience they hold, and which is aligned to the pay of other senior leaders in schools.”

The IfS also warned that the timing of pay announcements and agreements needed to be improved. The original offer was made in February.

Support staff salaries “have often been agreed part way through the year in which they are meant to be paid”, Sibieta warned.

“This has real consequences for schools. It creates huge amounts of uncertainty and concern about what they can afford.”

Last year’s pay award was also agreed in November.

Sibieta added the process for agreeing support staff pay “needs to be brought forward significantly, which would require better coordination between central government, local government and relevant trade unions”.

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