Unions reject teacher pay freeze and call on STRB to defy government


Four education unions representing hundreds of thousands of teachers and leaders have rejected the government’s pay freeze for 2021, and called on the School Teachers’ Review Body to defy ministers’ wishes and recommend a rise.

The ASCL and NAHT leadership unions, along with the National Education Union and Voice, warned in a joint statement today that the freeze announced for most public sector workers last year “will inflict yet another real-terms cut to teacher and school leader pay”.

Teachers and school leaders are key workers. They deserve to be rewarded and valued, not singled out for attack

They have demanded “fully-funded restoration of the real terms pay cuts since 2010”, and called on the STRB to recommend “a significant and undifferentiated pay increase for September 2021”.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced at the spending review last autumn that public sector workers earning over £24,000 would have their pay frozen this year, with those earning below the threshold set to receive a rise of at least £250.

However, evidence set out by the government this morning in its submission to the STRB revealed that it expects just 6,400 unqualified teachers to be eligible for a rise, because the overwhelming majority of teachers earn more than £24,000.

The STRB makes recommendations to government on teacher pay based on a remit set by ministers. In this year’s remit letter, education secretary Gavin Williamson ordered the body to “reflect the government’s policy on exercising restraint on public sector pay awards” in its recommendations.

Review body should ‘refuse to be constrained’

But in their joint statement, to the STRB, the four unions urged it to “refuse to be constrained by the Government’s political choices and to reflect in its report the full range of factors relevant to the pay and conditions framework”.

“We also call on the STRB to set out in its report the pay increase it would have recommended for September 2021 – and we call on the STRB to present that as a formal recommendation,” they said.

Teacher pay has gradually increased in recent years following a period between 2013 and 2018 when public sector pay rises were capped at 1 per cent, leading to real-terms cuts in pay.

Pay for some classroom teachers rose by 3.5 per cent in 2018, but the government ignored the STRB’s recommendation that the rise be applied across the board, giving more experienced teachers a rise of just 2 per cent and leaders 1.5 per cent.

In 2019, ministers accepted the STRB’s recommendations of a 2.75 per cent rise across all pay ranges. And last year, ministers raised salaries for new teachers by 5.5 per cent and other grades by 2.75 per cent.

The unions said “attacks” on teacher pay since 2010 had “caused lasting damage”.

Announcing the pay freeze for 2021 last year, Sunak said he could not justify a “significant across the board pay increase for all public sector workers” given the “difficult context” faced by the private sector.

Government accused of using pandemic

But the four unions today accused the government of trying to “use the impact of the pandemic to justify further attacks on pay, despite the huge contribution made by teachers and school leaders to the national response”.

“Teachers and school leaders are key workers. They deserve to be rewarded and valued, not singled out for attack. A demoralised and under-valued workforce is unlikely to be able to deliver the ongoing support our children and young people need, particularly those who have suffered a detriment due to the disruption caused by the pandemic.”

They have also repeated warnings that the increase in teacher recruitment seen last year, used by the government to further justify the pay freeze, would be “temporary and limited”.

The DfE itself has admitted the gains as a result of the pandemic and ensuing financial crisis would be “short term”.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of ASCL, said freezing teacher and leadership pay would be a “false economy”.

“Not only does it send a terrible message to loyal public servants, but it will also damage staff retention and undermine the government’s mantra that education is a national priority.”

Paul Whiteman, leader of the NAHT, said the government “needs to make the case for a decades-long career in teaching, and routinely freezing pay is no way to do that”.

A DfE spokesperson said: “Last year we announced the biggest pay rise the teaching profession has seen since 2005, with above-inflation rises to the pay ranges for every single teacher in the country. We are also committed to introducing a £30,000 starting salary.

“Teaching remains an attractive and rewarding career with the opportunity to inspire and shape the lives of millions of pupils. Our reforms to teacher training, early career support, ongoing professional development and teachers’ pay are key to the Government’s plans to raise school standards.”

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