Thursday, 19 June 2014

A hidden message of a coming crisis buried in the STRB Report

Last week, the School Teachers’ Review Body delivered the predictable conclusions sought by their political masters: more performance-pay, more ‘flexibility’, an end to national pay scales. Yet, hidden in the content of the Report, their detailed research exposes the dangerous path being followed by Gove, Wilshaw and Co. in demoralising  teachers and holding down our salaries.

Teachers’ average earnings growth

First of all, the Report confirms the facts about deteriorating teachers’ incomes and the replacement of older staff by cheaper colleagues – colleagues, however, who may not stay long in the profession:

3.7 Over the last decade, teachers’ average earnings have tended to grow at a slower rate than earnings across the economy as a whole. Earnings growth across the profession has been close to zero since 2010/11. This reflects the impact of the pay freeze and the replacement of older, higher paid teachers with new recruits as part of the labour market cycle”.

3.8 In common with others across the public sector, teachers in England and Wales have experienced two years of the pay scales being frozen, followed by a 1% increase in values in 2013/14. Whilst many teachers have continued to receive progression-based increments, others (approximately 44%), at the top of their respective scales, will have seen little change in their annual salary during this period unless they have taken on new responsibilities. We have also noted that teachers, alongside the wider public sector workforce, are paying increased contributions to their pensions.

Graduate pay progression

The Report goes on to point out how poorly teaching compares to other graduate professions when it comes to pay progression:

3.16 For many graduates, an important consideration in occupational choice relates to their expectation of salary progression in subsequent years … IDS found that in 2012, average salaries of graduates with three-year tenure was 37% higher than the corresponding average starting rate; graduates with five-year tenure had an average salary some 71% higher than the starting rate

3.17 [However] teachers in England and Wales have typically seen their salaries increase through annual pay progression by 26% after three years (M1 to M4) and by 46% after five years (M1 to M6).

Regrettably, some of the authors of the Report appear to think that performance-pay is the solution to this problem, with the new legislation allowing schools to award more rapid pay-progression to favoured staff. Putting aside the difficulty of measuring individual contributions to ‘progress’ and the damage that it could do to teamwork and staff relations, schools simply haven’t got the budget to award such accelerated pay progression. For example, the employers’ contributions to the Teachers’ Pension Scheme will be increasing by 2.3% to 16.4% in 2015. Far from accelerating progress, the legislation will largely be used to block pay progression, meaning most teachers will make even slower progress up the pay-scale than the STRB has found so far.

Even the STRB has had to note:

3.18 Following implementation of our 21st Report recommendations, schools now have greater flexibility to set the starting pay of teachers, taking account of local pressures, and to determine their rate of progression based on performance, but the impact of this change on average earnings has yet to be seen in the data.

Future data will not be showing an increase in average earnings! After all, as the STRB Report later acknowledges:

3.53 The overall schools’ budget has remained flat in cash terms … We also note that forthcoming changes requiring employers to increase their contribution to meet the costs of pensions will accentuate the affordability challenge for schools.

Profession-wide earnings compared to other occupations

The unfavourable position of teachers is confirmed when the STRB looks at overall earning levels too:

3.19 Classroom teachers’ median earnings (excluding leaders) trailed those of other professionals in 6 (of 10) regions (Inner/Outer London, South East, East of England, East Midlands and West Midlands), compared with 5 (of 10) regions in 2011/12. Across the majority of regions the relative position of classroom teachers’ earnings had worsened since 2011/12. This reflects largely unchanged teachers’ median earnings in both years. While some caution is needed because of small sample sizes with the comparator data, this points to a continuing deterioration in the earnings position of teachers relative to other graduate professionals.

Recruitment and Retention

So, if teachers pay is decreasing, pensions worsening and workload increasing, what will this mean for the future supply of teachers to meet growing pupil numbers?

3.21 The latest pupil projections data for England show that ... between 2013 and 2017, pupil numbers in maintained nursery and state-funded primary schools are projected to increase by 8% (and by 15% between 2013 and 2022) … [after 2015] the increases in primary pupil numbers will start to flow through into secondary schools.

3.24 In Wales, primary pupil numbers are expected to increase by around 13% from 2013 to 2021.

3.30 Recruitment against target to primary ITT has fallen from 103% in 2011 to 96% in 2013. Recruitment for a number of secondary subjects was below target in 2013, including maths (-10%), physics (-28%), modern languages (-17%), computer science (-43%) and design and technology (-52%).

3.43 Our visits have suggested to us that some schools have advertised unsuccessfully for more experienced staff. The official [vacancy] rates also mask problems with the availability of sufficient suitably qualified specialist subject teachers. We note with concern that the average percentage of hours taught by teachers holding a relevant post A-level qualification varies considerably and can be low; examples are English (85%), maths (82%), chemistry (80%), physics (74%).

The conclusions reached need to be publicised – as they expose the real threat to the future of education if the attacks on the pay and conditions of the teaching profession continue:

3.54 We have identified some worrying signs in the recent data on initial training such as the below-target numbers of recruits to both primary and a number of secondary subject areas and have noted consultees’ concerns about the ability of the School Direct model to meet the demands of primary schools. … The increase in reported vacancies and the apparent shortage of suitably qualified subject teachers in secondary schools, evidenced by the proportion of hours taught by teachers with the relevant subject qualification, are a concern. …

3.55 We have also noted the significant impending increase in demand for teachers as increased numbers of pupils flow through the school system … These developments, coinciding with clear indications of a recovering graduate labour market, mean there is a real challenge for the sector in preserving the attractiveness of teaching as a preferred profession for good graduates.

3.56 There is clear and consistent evidence that both the starting and profession-wide pay of teachers is less competitive relative to other professional occupations in several areas of the country, and that this gap is widening. Our evidence also suggests able graduates in other professions progress more quickly in the first three to five years and have more opportunity to reach higher levels of earnings as their careers progress subsequently. This heightens the risk of those in the profession feeling under-valued and recruitment and retention suffering as a consequence.

3.57 The reforms to the pay framework in our recent reports have aimed to provide individual schools with greater freedoms within the national pay framework … We hope, and expect, that this additional flexibility will go some way to helping schools address the particular localised labour market challenges they face. School leaders will need to consider how best to use their limited budgets, and available specialist staff, to gain the right balance between quality and numbers of staff, in order to deliver the highest quality provision … However, these changes may not be sufficient to meet the wider supply and demand challenges in the medium term.

3.58 … Our analysis of the teacher labour market has highlighted areas of risk; this is despite the recent relatively benign climate for teacher recruitment and retention given the wider economic landscape. It is our view that these risks will be heightened as the economy strengthens and both graduates and existing teachers see wider employment opportunities.

So, hidden in this coded language is the truth. Government policies are putting the future supply of teachers to support a growing school-aged population at significant risk.  However, labour shortages can also help add to union strength – both in terms of reaching out to parents to expose the dangers to education and in strengthening our negotiating position. Let’s make sure that we take advantage of the STRB’s hidden warnings to bolster our campaign to defend teachers and education.

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