Teacher pay

This pay award confirms my decision to leave

This 'best and fairest pay deal' is a timely reminder of why I decided to leave, writes Will Yates. Schools and their staff are just not taken seriously

This 'best and fairest pay deal' is a timely reminder of why I decided to leave, writes Will Yates. Schools and their staff are just not taken seriously

20 Jul 2022, 13:00

Anyone who has worked in a school will be familiar with announcements like the new teacher pay settlement we heard about yesterday. At 5:15 on a listless Tuesday just before the end of term, some SLT member you’ve never seen but who is apparently new and very highly paid rushes in, presents a half-baked solution (expected two months ago) to a chronic problem, blames its shortcomings on unavoidable circumstances and then leaves you to deal with the consequences.

You almost have to admire James Cleverly’s efforts to cosplay a harassed school leader while enjoying a six-figure ministerial salary and openly disavowing comprehensive education. Unfortunately, the DfE’s pay offer solves none of the problems that are pushing teachers like me out of the workforce, and it will do little to attract bright and ambitious graduates to the public sector over the private one.

Sure, the pay offer throws around some big and exciting numbers. But anything more than a cursory glance at the figures reveals their promises to be illusory. Amid a well-documented cost-of-living crisis, the government’s 2019 commitment to £30,000 starting salaries for teachers feels like a figure existing at a distance from financial reality. This 8.9 per cent rise will do little to dissuade bright graduates from joining the private sector, where salaries are growing five times as fast.

What’s worse, the rise for experienced staff is just 5 per cent is way below a rate of inflation set to hit 11 per cent later this year. And the previous commitment to a further rise next year is gone. Not only does this mean a harsher real-terms pay cut for the teachers most likely to have dependents, it also amounts to a reinforcement of the government’s short-sighted approach to retention. The implicit message of these pay awards is that the government is so desperate to get new teachers through the door that it has forgotten about the very teachers who will take on the burden of supporting, training and managing them. It’s desperate stuff.

Support staff did not even warrant a mention in yesterday’s announcement

This would all be bad enough if these pay rises were funded, but in a less-than-shocking twist, schools have been asked to cover the cost themselves. The emphasis on a multibillion pound investment in the school system masks the fact that the actual funding increase amounts to under 2 per cent per pupil, with funding for free school meals rising by just £10 per head for the whole year.

Staffing costs in most schools are likely to rise by about 5 per cent following the pay award, and the ASCL union claims that some schools are already seeing energy bills soaring by up to 300 per cent (with further price hikes expected in the autumn). The only way schools can expect to cover these costs is by ripping up their meticulously-constructed budgets for next year and imposing swingeing cuts, most likely focusing on support staff.

Despite taking on an ever-increasing workload thanks to the pandemic and cuts to public services, these vital colleagues did not even warrant a mention in yesterday’s announcement. As a result, students hit hardest by the widening gulf in educational attainment are likely to have less support than ever before to catch up. Meanwhile, teachers are going to spend more time on tasks that support staff normally do with incredible skill and efficiency, limiting their time to achieve the government’s ambitious progress targets. So much for ‘levelling up’.

Today marks the last morning of term at my school. My suburban English department has seen a staff turnover of over 50 per cent this year. I am sad to be adding to that number, but last night’s announcement is further proof the profession is not taken seriously. It’s an inadequate stopgap that will harm pupils and forces schools into the paradoxical position of imposing pay cuts they can’t afford, and it will do nothing to buoy the recruitment and retention market.

Perhaps a more stable government will review the situation in the autumn. But for now, it’s our time they’re wasting.

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