Teacher strikes

‘We’ll be forced into the red’ – heads react to ‘derisory’ pay offer

'This announcement will take broken budgets – and decimate them'

'This announcement will take broken budgets – and decimate them'

Further strike action is on the cards for schools as the NEU and NAHT launch a re-ballot of members

The government’s “derisory and demoralising” pay offer could make some schools financially unviable if it is not backed up by more funding, say headteachers.

Ministers have said they believe schools can afford to fund most of a proposed pay rise averaging 4.5 per cent – only pledging extra funding for a £1,000 one-off payment this year and 0.5 per cent of the rise for 2023-24.

But headteachers and trust leaders say unfunded pay rises will send schools into the red.

Dan Morrow, the chief executive of Dartmoor Multi Academy Trust in Devon, said all 19 of his schools already faced a deficit, following support staff pay rises and an “absolutely astronomical rise” in energy costs.

“We’re already having to put a recruitment freeze in place for any losses in staff and to see quite a significant reduction in our support staff as well.

“This announcement will take broken budgets – and decimate them.”

Morrow, a member of the National Education Union (NEU), said he would vote to reject the offer. Going ahead with unfunded rises would “see mass system failure”.

“Many schools and trusts will get to the point where they do not have the reserves or budgets to meet the needs of usual educational activities. Schools will go bust.”

‘No way this is affordable’

Michelle Sheehy, the headteacher of Millfield Primary School in Walsall and a member of the NAHT, also plans to reject the “derisory” offer.

“There is absolutely no way this offer will be affordable for my school.”

She is already losing five members of staff – 16 per cent of her workforce – in September, but is still projecting a £60,000 deficit in three years.

She will have to make further cuts if the offer is accepted. “I don’t know how I’m going to balance the books and still have a functioning school. It’s not do-able.”

In a letter to school leaders, Gillian Keegan, the education secretary, said she “firmly believed” it was a fair offer that addressed the concerns raised by teachers and leaders.

“This offer balances what is possible for schools without increasing the country’s debt further or exacerbating inflation – I hope teachers and leaders … will vote to support it.”

But Tony Davies, the head of St Matthew’s Primary School in Cambridgeshire and an NEU member, said he would vote to reject the “absolutely disgraceful” offer. He was setting a deficit budget and was already exploring ways of cutting costs.

“On top of that, an unfunded pay rise is unreasonable. We’re having to look to the PTA to fundraise for costs that should be covered by our government funding.”

Miscalculation or ‘deliberate ploy’?

Dr Paul Gosling, the head of Exeter Road Community Primary School in Exmouth and president of the NAHT, warned that the pay offer would push schools into a fresh funding crisis.

“We’re not sure at the moment whether this is a miscalculation by the government or if it’s a deliberate ploy.”

He said he was so “fed up” he planned to retire in December. “One of the only things I can do to improve the financial situation of my school is to employ a cheaper school leader.”

According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, special schools face a bigger headache because they employ more support staff, whose pay is due to rise by more than that of teachers.

Special schools harder-hit

At Frank Wise, a special school in Banbury, Oxfordshire, headteacher Simon Knight said there was a “catastrophic failure of fiscal understanding and responsibility towards special schools”.

He faced an in-year deficit of more than £300,000 as a result of the government’s decisions, adding that a “significant number” of special schools also would be forced into deficit in the next financial year.

“There seems to be no awareness that the staffing costs experienced by the specialist sector are not comparable to those in mainstream.”

Dr Paul Heery, the chief executive of the White Hills Park Trust in Nottinghamshire, said he had enough “resilience” in his budgets to cope with the unfunded pay increase.

“But it will have an impact, definitely. Decisions we might have otherwise taken to bring in more staff or refurbish the school now won’t happen.” Despite this, he has voted to accept the offer. “Continued industrial action is just undermining what we’re doing.”

He did not think it was a “good offer. But I’m very anxious that we put the disruption of the pandemic behind us – I really feel for those pupils who had to put up with so much.”

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