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Government teacher pay plans risk real terms cut for experienced teachers

Plans for increasing teacher pay could lead to real terms cuts for the most experienced staff, say experts.

11 March 2022

The Government’s plans to increase teacher pay could lead to a cut in real terms, according to new analysis.

Last week, the Government called for teacher starting salaries to rise by over 16% over the next two years, to bring them up to £30,000 by September 2023, which would fulfil one of the 2019 manifesto promises.

The DfE said in its submission to the School Teacher Review Body (STRB) that it wanted statutory starting pay to increase by 8.9% this year and 7.1% next year.

But the proposed increases for more experienced teachers are lower, with increases of 3% in 2022 and 2% in 2023, equating to an average rise of just under 4% across all teachers, the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) calculated.

The IFS said that given rising levels of inflation, the proposals for teacher pay would see a real terms cut of 5% for more experienced staff between 2021 and 2023, although starting salaries would rise by 5% in real terms during the same time period.

And as there has been a decade of real terms cuts to pay, the IFS said that this is the equivalent of a 14% pay cut in real terms between 2010 and 2023 for experienced teachers.

For those at the top of the pay scale, equating to around a third of classroom teachers, this is equal to a pay cut from £46,000 to £39,000.

The IFS analysis suggested that the real terms cut could be even worse, as there was “huge uncertainty about what the actual level of inflation will be as a result of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and subsequent sanctions”.

Its research argues that higher pay rises would be affordable under the existing school funding settlement.

“A higher average pay award of 5% for teachers in 2022 (and 7% for other staff) seems affordable in the context of a £4 billion rise in school funding in 2022-23,” the IFS said.

Luke Sibieta, research fellow at the IFS, said: “The Government’s proposals for teacher pay in 2022 and 2023 would enable them to deliver on a manifesto commitment to raise starting salaries to £30,000.

“However, smaller pay rises of 2-3% per year for most other teachers are likely to represent real-terms cuts and would follow on from more than a decade of real-terms pay cuts. There is also a risk that the highly unstable geopolitical and economic situation pushes inflation higher still.

“While there are clearly significant pressures and demand on school budgets, schools need to be able to recruit and retain high-quality staff to meet those challenges.

“An increase in school funding of close to £4 billion in 2022 means there is room for a higher pay award within planned school budgets. A higher award than that proposed by the Government may carry fewer risks than a lower one.”

On Thursday, the IFS said that Chancellor Rishi Sunak faced a “huge judgment call” on whether to borrow billions more or allow households to face soaring costs of living.

Without intervention, public sector workers face an average real-terms pay cut of around £1,750 due to inflation, while many households will struggle to keep up with bills, the analysis found.

Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the NEU teaching union, said that the research reinforced NEU calls for pay losses imposed on teachers and other school staff since 2010 to be restored.

“IFS points out that public sector workers have suffered from huge real terms cuts to pay over the past decade,” she said.

“In education this has already resulted in major recruitment and retention problems, and cuts to educators’ living standards.

“Teachers and other educators are key workers whose contribution to the pandemic response has been immense; the Government must protect their living standards instead of continuing to cut their pay.

“The real-terms growth rate in Department for Education funding announced for the Spending Review period (2022-23 to 2024-25) is 2% a year. This was already a slowing from the previous three-year period. The IFS estimates a quarter of the real-terms increase in spending will be wiped out through inflation.

“The education sector is set to lose out yet again.

“Teachers and other educators are already in the midst of a cost-of-living crisis even before the impact of higher inflation. They can’t afford any more pay cuts, but the Government can afford to invest in our public services including education.”

Ian Hartwright, senior policy adviser for school leaders’ union NAHT, said: “It is right for the DfE to suggest a move towards finally getting to the promised £30K starting salary. But after many years of real terms pay cuts, including this year’s pay freeze, all teachers and leaders need their pay to be restored.

“The current suggestion for differentiated pay would mean that higher starting salaries for ECTs (early career teachers) are essentially being paid for by lower uplifts for experienced teachers and leaders – making experienced professionals worse off. This would be yet another real terms pay cut for leaders while inflation is soaring and due to rise even further.

“8.0% and 7.1% over two years should be applied to all salaries, which would be a step towards restoring pay to 2010 levels. Once again the DfE is failing to heed the many years of evidence from both unions and the STRB.”

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