Some teachers barely earn the minimum wage, warn union leaders

Some new teachers are barely earning the national minimum wage because of their pay and the hours they work, the leaders of the National Education Union have warned ahead of a conference set to be dominated by issues of funding and teacher welfare.

Dr Mary Bousted and Kevin Courtney, the joint general secretaries of the National Education Union told a press conference this morning that concerns over pay are “rising on the agenda of members” following the government’s unprecedented decision last year to ignore the recommendation of the School Teachers’ Review Body of a 3.5 per cent pay rise for all teachers.

Courtney said the union had been contacted by teachers who are earning just over the minimum wage – currently  £8.21 an hour for over-25s – and can’t afford to buy clothes or live in London.

“We get newly-qualified teachers who tell us that they have worked out how many hours they work a week and divided that by the amount of pay they get per week and they come up with numbers that show they are only slightly – 10 per cent – over the national minimum wage on those hourly rates.”

According to Courtney, a recent survey of London teachers revealed stark choices faced by school staff in the capital.

“Teachers are telling us they can’t afford to buy new clothes,” he said. “Many of them are living at home with their parents.”

At the NEU’s conference in Liverpool next week, the first since the NUT and ATL officially merged, delegates will debate a motion calling for a 5 per cent pay rise for all teachers and a commitment to strike action if demands are not met.

“I think this motion is going to show the anger of the delegates that this is the first government in 27 STRB reports not to implement the report,” said Bousted.

“I think you’ll also hear lots of concerns from delegates around the secretary of state’s attempt to constrain what the STRB can do in this next round, giving them a letter saying the award has to be affordable when we don’t know what affordable will be because we’re going into the comprehensive spending review and the secretary of state plucking a 2 per cent figure out of the air.

“It’s been workload, workload, workload for the last five or six years, we think pay is now becoming more salient to members as an issue as they get poorer and as they see more than they can’t do.”

The union has also revealed plans by its executive to amend a motion to the NEU’s conference which calls for a consultation over possible strike action against school funding cuts.

Instead of immediately consulting over possible industrial action, as advocated by some members, the executive wants to further develop its campaign on school funding and prepare for an indicative ballot of members to determine what action should be taken. The last indicative ballot did not reach the turnout threshold to move forward.

The executive’s amendment does not explicitly mention strike action, but Courtney today insisted that did not mean it was off the table.

“We wouldn’t agree that the language is watered-down. We will consult members when we think it will work and when we think we can use it to take the campaign forward.

“We’ve got lots of steps coming in the funding campaign, and going back to members and saying it’s the right time to call industrial action is something that we’re completely open to.”

Delegates will also debate two motions which call for the abolition of Ofsted, which Bousted said reflected the concern about the impact of inspection on NEU members and over the new inspection framework, set to come into force this September.

Motions on academies, SEND funding, workload and teacher supply have also been tabled.

The union has also announced that the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn will address the conference in Liverpool next week, though his appearance will depend on parliamentary business. 

A DfE spokesperson said teachers got the “biggest pay rise” in almost a decade last summer, with classroom teachers the “big beneficiaries”.

“Whilst we know pay is an important issue for teachers, there are also other factors which can affect recruitment and retention, which is why this year we unveiled the first ever integrated recruitment and retention strategy in England,” they added.